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
Processing Hard Feedback:
Fast and Free Tips:
~ Everyone hears it
~ Do you want to publish just to publish or do you want a great story?
~ Reviews last forever, hard work will only last for a moment
~ Do the hard stuff; it’s going to be great
~ Never expect perfection
~ It’s not personal
~ Your critique partner is on your side
Everyone hears it:
There’s something comforting in realizing that you’re not alone. If the greats are being corrected, then why shouldn’t you be? If your favorite author stares down criticism and pushes her way through to a wonderful story, then why can’t you?
Once you grasp that you’re not alone, that every book you’ve ever enjoyed had been through the wringer, then you can let the pain roll off of you and get back to work. Being distracted by your wounded feelings will only keep you from your goal.
It’s not personal:
Despite how you feel, the comments are not personal. Your critiquer still likes YOU, she just thinks you need to dig deeper or clean up your writing style. So don’t take it to heart.
They’re on your side:
Instead of taking it to heart, side with your critiquer and view the draft as the “enemy.” Correct the draft. They really do want to see you publish your best story. An honest critiquer is hard to find, so don’t feel bullied when you have one. Listen and learn. They only want to help you. And the story you love so much is worth it.
Do the hard work:
Listen. The simple fact is that a great story IS hard work. If writing is too easy, you’re doing it wrong. I guarantee you that if writing has become too easy, simply switching critique partners will change that for you. You’ll suddenly be challenged and stretched.
Don’t cheat yourself, your beloved characters, or your readers with a story only half done because you rushed the publication process. Put in your best effort. And if that means you sweat a little and take months longer to complete the novel, then so be it. Reviews will last forever, the work will not.
What to do with conflicting feedback:
Fast and Free Tips:
~ Consider the results of both options
~ Re-examine your story’s purpose
~ Consider the level of expertise offered by the critiquers
~ Just because only 1 person says it, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
~ It’s ultimately your story and your decision. Never forget that.
~ If a reviewer made the same comment would you be upset?
Listen and pray:
Just like in our other sections, pausing to process, listen, and pray is vital. There’s no need to rush into anything.
Consider the results of both options:
Sometimes there is no “wrong” answer, there are just two different options. So take time to truly consider both options. How would your story change if you did A? How would it change if you did B?
Re-examine your story’s purpose:
After you’ve taken some time to consider how A and B would change your story, you need to take a closer look at your purpose. What is the theme or purpose you really mean to express with this story? Does A or B take you closer to that goal or further away from it? Is your original goal still the goal you want? Maybe after considering one of the options you realize that the change takes you further away from your original goal but closer to what you’ve now discovered you want to express.
It’s okay to change your mind. And it’s okay if you choose not to change your mind. The key is to KNOW without a shadow of a doubt what you mean to do with this story and challenging your ideas is never a bad thing. Weigh your options. Test the ideas. Then make a decision.
It’s your story:
While it’s healthy to challenge your ideas, in the end, it’s your story. As my friend often reminds me, she only has an opinion but it’s my name that has to be on the cover. YOU had better be pleased with the outcome. Don’t feel bad if you go in a different direction. Sometimes that happens.
The important thing is that you took the time to weigh your options before brushing an idea aside. Your critique partner should respect that.
If a reviewer made the same comment your critiquer did, would that upset you?
I have personally faced this in my writing. My critique partner said that my plot needed more tension. And she wasn’t wrong. After examining the types of tension I could add, I did add some but kept it fairly light because to add more would have taken me away from my intended goal. I did decide to set her advice aside for the most part and press on. And I have heard from the occasional reviewer who agrees with her. And you know something, it doesn’t bother me. If I hadn’t been challenged beforehand, the reviewer comments might have upset me. But I could agree with their comment and walk away with confidence knowing that, while I saw what they were saying, I did what I meant to do and wouldn’t have chosen differently.
Your critiquer is your first line of defense. So listen closely. The next person to say it just might be a reviewer. How would you feel if it was?
There’s not always power in numbers:
There’s a reason why we hear conflicting advice, and it’s because we have differing strengths. While it’s a must to take note of repeated comments, don’t be so quick to brush aside the lone ranger comment. There’s a reason you’ve asked this person to critique your work. They’re not stupid. And if they’ve worked for you in the past, their opinion should hold even more weight with you. Sometimes only 1 person can see the problem but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. So tread lightly and take time to pray for wisdom and clarity.
Consider the level of expertise:
Let’s say you have 2 conflicting critiquers. It’s possible that both are right. But it’s also possible that one is wrong and one is right. But who? Maybe one says she loves it as is while the other said it was shallow.
Consider the level of expertise being offered here. Again, you asked them on your team for a reason. Could it be that the author is pointing out a problem while the reader is praising it as is? If you find yourself in this position, you’d be wise to side with the author in most cases. And the reason is that they’re qualified. They’ve studied the craft. It stands without reason that they’ll pick up more than the average reader will.