We’ve all written a masterpiece, taken it to our critique group, and then listened to it get shredded with completely undeserved criticism. It must be their fault for not understanding. We’re the geniuses. We’re the ones with talent. We’re only bringing it to them to share our brilliance and allow them the chance to read it before it’s on the best seller list. Except…maybe that’s not quite true. Maybe there’s a time when we should listen to what our critique group has to say.
First, consider the source. Who is telling you to fix it? If you write romance, and someone who loves horror tells you that she doesn’t like your love scene, maybe that’s not the best advice to believe. Imagine the bell curve. Is the comment an outlier? That’s not saying it’s bad – in fact, sometimes they’re the gems because you have that one person with excellent perception. But if no one else – including you – agrees with it, then maybe it isn’t such a good idea.
I had a story critiqued by a group of aspiring writers and three professionals at a bootcamp. Most of the writers and the pros agreed on a number of points, but one of the other writers told me that not including the father in the story meant that it was rubbish because, obviously, the father was the most important character. Absolutely no one else even asked about the father. No one else mentioned the father. And, to tell the truth, the father had nothing to do with the story because it was a single mother with two daughters. That’s an outlier, and one I chose to ignore.
Second, always give yourself time to rest. It’s easy to rush home and make – or not make – changes. But let them sit and stew. Go for a walk or a job. Take a shower. Go for a drive – but be ready to pull over if inspiration strikes (no writing and driving, please!). That time can make all the difference. As an English professor, I even tell my students the same thing. Let things rest.
I know that I have gotten comments on stories, wasn’t too sure about them, and then re-read my story and slapped myself in the forehead. Duh! Why didn’t I see that to begin with? Or, even better, I’ll have a comment that I suddenly know how to address. I had a short story where I had multiple people in my critique group tell me to describe a character better because they were surprised by the age of the character when it became obviously. But how could I do that? No one was sure, but they all wanted to see it. Taking that time off worked – I was on an exercise bike when it suddenly hit me, and I typed it into the Notes on my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget it.
Third, and final, don’t be afraid of change. But don’t feel that you have to change. It might sound like it’s a bit of a contradiction, but it’s true. Here’s what I mean. I had a novel I’d been playing with, and when I went to a crit group that involved an editor from a big publishing house, she told me that my writing was good, but she felt that the magic my characters did wasn’t “sexy” enough. I hadn’t intended it to be “sexy.” But I had intended to try to sell it. So while I might not have been pleased to hear that my original idea had a problem, I thought about it, bent it about in my head a bit, and then came up with a new version that made magic more “sexy.”
I could have ignored that advice. The other readers in the group liked it. Maybe I could have found a small press who would have liked it, or maybe I would have found another big publisher who didn’t mind the lack of “sexy.” But I didn’t mind changing. I didn’t feel that I had to change; I wanted to. Don’t let someone else tell you how to write your story, but if you like their feedback and ideas, there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself take those ideas. You’re not selling; you’re selling.
Go into your critique group with an open mind. We’re all in a process of continuous improvement. We’re always helping each other. We’re always getting better.