This month in the Christian Fiction Writers’ Clinic we’re focusing on critique partners. I want to share some things that I’ve gleaned over the years.
Note: I’m using the phrase critique partner but this applies to beta readers or whoever else reads and offers feedback to an unfinished work with the intent on shaping the draft. This does not include grammar or line editors.
The Critique Partner series will be broken into 3 parts.
Part 1: How to find a critique partner and how to be a good critique partner
Part 2: Preparing yourself for feedback and what to do with the feedback once it arrives
Part 3: Dealing with hard to swallow feedback and conflicting feedback
Prepare Yourself for Feedback:
Fast and Free Tips:
~ Expect to be challenged
~ Pray for yourself
~ Pray for the critiquer
~ Remember the 1st draft is a jumping-off point
~ Never expect perfection
Never expect perfection:
The biggest mistake authors make is thinking that their story is perfect as is. I admit I’ve been guilty here. The truth is, we work and work and work on that draft. We wouldn’t pass it along to a critique partner unless we knew it was ready (unless, of course, we knew it wasn’t and needed their help finding the problem). Because we brought it to a place where we thought it was ready, we’re prone to believe there will be no corrections to make. And THAT will hurt you when the feedback comes rolling in and you’re proven wrong.
It’s a jumping-off point:
The first draft isn’t meant to be the final draft. It’s meant to be the first solid place for you to launch. If you can establish this mindset now while your draft is out, you’ll be prepared to hear what needs to be changed.
Expect to be challenged:
You should EXPECT your partner to have work for you to do. And if your partners have little to no work for you, it’s a good sign that you’ve outgrown them. The more you grow as an author, the more you’re going to need to be challenged. That’s why it’s vital that you don’t stick with only your momma and favorite readers as critique partners. They don’t have the skill set to help you to improve any more than you already have. You need writers who are also learning and growing in the craft to help you find where you can continue to grow. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that you’ll arrive someday. Every great book, every talented author, is proof that drafts are revised again and again.
Pray for your critiquers to have clarity and to be able to explain to you what the problems are. Pray for a blessing on their time. They’re doing you a big favor! Pray for them to have the courage to speak up and point out what they find. It’s not easy to give painful truth with grace. So pray for them. (Note: If your partner cannot be honest with you, drop them! The #1 goal of a critique partner is to be faithfully honest.)
And don’t forget to pray for yourself! You’re about to have the rug pulled out from underneath you. Feedback is coming that may very well knock you back and make you question your path as a writer. You’re going to need to be protected. You need to know that you can survive this. You need the ability to accept what they’re saying and to truly listen. You need to be able to take sides against your work as if the draft is the enemy and not your critiquer. You’re going to need some thick skin. You’ll need clarity.
There are verses all throughout Proverbs about a wise man accepting advice or rebuke. One of my favorites is Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
Find and pray over these verses while your draft is out.
What to do with feedback:
Fast and Free Tips:
~ Read it and set it aside
~ Do NOT touch it
~ Take notes
~ Look for common comments
~ Separate minor and major comments, then tackle separately
Read it and set it aside:
Step one is to simply read it. Don’t expect you’ll understand everything or agree with everything. Your first job is to simply read what is written. That’s it.
Do NOT touch it:
Seriously. Walk away. Don’t start dismantling the entire draft. Just set it aside.
How long? That depends. You might come back after a few hours or the next day. Chances are the seeds have been planted since you read it and you’ll begin mulling over the comments, especially anything that confused you or something you didn’t agree with. Let things marinate for a little bit before picking it back up.
Your next step after your break is to read it again. This time take a piece of paper with you and just jot down some notes. Not every note, but some things that stood out to you. Maybe the comments kept pointing out that something was wrong with your heroine. You’re still not ripping it to shreds, but you’re wading through it. You’re still processing what has been said. Jot down questions you have for the critiquer.
This is so vital. Don’t throw it away. Don’t fistfight your critiquer. Just listen. Hear what they’re saying. Take sides against your draft and see if they’re actually right. A lot of times they are. But you’re not going to think they’re right the first time you hear what they’ve said. It’ll be later when you begin to see things differently. That’s why taking a break is so vital.
Look for common comments:
Ideally, you’re working with more than 1 critiquer. Look for those common threads. If everyone points to your heroine in some way or another, you know you have a problem. They may say something different but if your attention is drawn again and again to something, it’s a clear trouble area.
Separate minor and major comments:
Minor comments would be something that can be cleared up in a single line or single paragraph. It might be missing a detail or confusing line. Maybe a telling line that can be shown instead.
Major comments will require larger widespread rewrites. You’ll have to dig deeper into your character development and weave more detail throughout the story. You might have to cut or add chapters. You might be adjusting your plot and outline.
After you’ve read it a couple times, read through it again and start separating the comments. Make a list for major and minor revisions. Pending on the major revisions, you might want to start there if you have a lot of rewriting to do. But sometimes getting the quicker list done is a confidence boost. There’s no wrong way. Both need to be done, so whatever works best for you and your draft is acceptable.
Personally, when critiquing I like to highlight and comment directly on the draft. This is a great way to pinpoint exactly where the problem is. Consider the difference in getting only a summary letting you know that you need more tension compared to finding notes inside the story pointing out various places where tension was lacking.
But when I’m finished reading, the big picture problems are standing out to me, so while I have some notes on the subject sprinkled throughout the draft, I’ll also summarize the problems and praise in an email as I send it back. I’ll let them know that there’s a tension problem and add more detailed information if it isn’t already in one of the comments in the document. I also take the time to leave praises throughout the document as I come it and I’ll summarize some of their strengths in the email too.
My critique partners follow the same pattern. That’s a freebie for anyone who isn’t sure what to expect from a great critique partner or who is attempting to be a critique partner for the first time and aren’t sure how best to help out.