Necessity of Critique in Revision: Giving & Receiving

FMWriters is traveling the web via the Merry Go Round Blog Tour. Site members have grouped together to write monthly on themed topics and turn the blog tour concept on its head: we’re not the ones touring: you are, as you read one writer’s perspective after another. This is my contribution to the
Merry Go Round Tour. Enjoy your ride. ~ Dawn

I’ve been writing for many years, revising for about half those. The critiques –and subsequent improvement in my own writing — didn’t happen soon enough.

I took part in several critique groups on my favorite website (www.fmwriters.com), and picked up bits and pieces from writers of various levels of ability. I put those tidbits to use and start revising smarter. In addition, I read some books and started reading about how to fix all those things my critiquers mentioned seemed off/excessive use of/not even use of. Yes, there’s a lot they said. I mentioned some of the same for other writers as well, but most of it was either really obvious to me, or a repeat of what I was doing wrong myself.

I also joined OWW (www.onlinewritingworkshop.com) where, since I was now paying for the service and privilege of critiquing, I took it much more seriously. I started critiquing stories that were way above my level. I also had my writing
critiqued by people beyond my own ability. I learned more that first year than
I thought possible. I learned revising a story once wasn’t enough, and revising
it ten times was too much. Each revision had to count: no fly-by revisions
anymore.

Between the two sites, I’ve received 76 critiques on my work and given 122 critiques (including 2 novels) for other writers. I’ve learned to analyze a story for critical elements and how to see the shining light in poorly written story. I’ve seen in stories what I don’t want to repeat in mine, grammar issues as well as plotting/character issues. It wasn’t until I involved myself in the exchange of critiques that I gained the confidence to make my manuscripts bleed. I’m vicious on my own writing. I tear my stories apart, line by line.

It wasn’t until I revised like a maniac that I started submitting. As a result,
I’ve had one short story published, placed three times in the Writers of the
Future contest (once as a semi-finalist), and am currently short listed for
publication in one lovely zine (I’m still crossing my fingers on that one). The
point is: you need feedback.

All writers need feedback. Some find their first readers and harshest audience in
their spouse or best friend. Some find it in critique groups. The best thing
you can do, is find someone who a) will be brutally honest with you and that
you can take it from them, and b) knows what they are talking about.

I have writers I go to for full critiques. I have friends I go to for basic
reader reaction (I’ve referred to them as my First Readers). It’s amazing what
you think you know about your character or world, that these people will point
out. Whether it’s an area they have expertise in, or something they simply
couldn’t believe, it’s important.

My current revision method involves giving the first draft a decent revision then
I send it out to the first readers. One or two people usually get back within a
week or so and let me know what stood out. If I agree, I fix it, give it a
major polish, and submit it to one of my critique groups. After their feedback,
I revise what I agree with. If by chance it was a difficult revision or several
elements were rewritten, I’d send it back to someone for more feedback.
Otherwise, it’s a major polish and I submit the story.

I am grateful to anyone who has offered feedback, and here I offer you my
heartfelt thanks. I know some of you have felt bad reporting the issues, but
you shouldn’t. You’ve helped me grow as a writer. Even Stephen King and Dean
Koontz had their support. I need it, too. And if you’re a writer, so do you.

It’s why so many writers apply to workshops like Viable Paradise and Clarion and Odyssey and attend conventions. It’s why places like Muse Online exist (free!) and sites like FMWriters and Absolute Write are sponsored by appreciative writers.

If you’re a writer and don’t have a critique group or your 1st Person,
I challenge you today to go find one. Learn, revise, and submit. And if you’re
not a writer but know one? Ask if they want feedback when they offer to share
their work with you. If they’re new to writing, a gentle hand may be in order,
but NEVER lie.

We need each other, for without the growth of writers, there wouldn’t be enough
stories to read.

Write happy, Read happy.

~ Dawn

Today’s post was inspired by Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round August topic ‘Revision’. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read about their ideas on Cross-Genre Fiction, then check out the Merry-Go-Round
Blog Tour
.   The next Merry Go Round writer is Bonnie. She’ll be posting her take on this same topic on the 5th for your reading pleasure.

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4 responses to “Necessity of Critique in Revision: Giving & Receiving

  1. Great advice on writers needing feedback. It’s true, receiving unbiased suggestions can do a writer a world of good when starting out or at the professional level of storytelling. I have found it difficult at times to weed out the unhelpful-just-plain-mean advice, especially when it comes from seasoned writers. But all artists go through that and I truly believe I have gotten better in the revising journey.
    Great post.

    • I need distance when looking at the critiques, so print out them and review with a highlighter and a pen. The advice that resonates with me gets highlighted, and the advice that I either don’t agree with gets an X penned next to it. If it’s truly horrible advice, it just gets crossed out. If you’re not sure of its usefulness, circle it for review later. I’ve gotten advice that is more for the critiquer overreacting to advice that was given to them, and now they’re hypersensitive to every occurrence of that mistake they made… Part of the key to this is waiting to review the critiques. Wait until you have a little distance, then you can judge each comment/line by its own worth. If you can listen to that little voice inside you, you’ll be able to ask two important questions to decide on the tough ones: 1) do I agree with this? and 2) does it improve my story?

      You don’t need a yes for both questions, but question 1 serves to satisfy your artist’s ego (we all have one and it does require some special handling) and question 2 determines whether or not to take the advice. It takes a big painful step to make a change you might not initially agree with, but that’s when I copy that section into a separate document and work on it apart from the story to see if just maybe the critiquer was right. It can be copy+pasted back in if need be, or deleted if they were wrong.

      It’s not easy dissecting the advice. But one of the best guidelines I’ve heard in the online writing community: they might be right about that something’s wrong, but not with the fix. It’s up to you to sort that out.

      Thanks for visiting!

  2. We DO need feedback — and I’m so grateful when I get it from some of the editors who reject my work. I just wish they all could take a minute to tell me what they didn’t like about my stories, but I know: they’re too busy.

  3. If wishes were horses, I’d have a full ranch by now…. 🙂 While we appreciate what the editors make time to provide, writers have to help each other grow. And I’m seeing a lot that online in the past years. I’m really impressed with the the communities I’ve joined. Writers helping writers – that’s what it’s about.

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