I’m assuming that many of my readers have at one point been, if not currently are, part of a critique group. If not–join one! They are truly invaluable–as well as an excellent test of character and patience! This post, however, is not to espouse the virtues of critique groups, but rather to discuss what to do after your manuscript has been shredded–I mean properly and rigorously critiqued–by your group of writing experts. Your options are:
3) learn and grow from the comments
Let’s move directly to #3, since you’ve probably already tried #1 and #2 and discovered they were both rather unproductive.
The first thing to do after receiving your well-commented on manuscript is to make sure that you actually understand everyone’s comments. Do this immediately. If you wait too long, the person may not fully remember why she wrote what she did and what was going through her mind at the time–which is the precise information you need to have. Don’t assume you know exactly what someone is talking about in regards to a suggestion that has been made. If you’re not 100% positive what the comment means, ask.
Similarly, if you’ve received comments suggesting that you do something differently, or don’t do certain things, but there are no examples of alternative ways of doing it, again, ask if you’re not sure. For example, if a critiquer writes “Dialogue not believable in this scene,” find out why it’s not believable and what the critiquer’s idea would be to change it into something more believable. If you don’t know how to make your work better based on a critique, then the critique is useless.
Once you know that you have total understanding of all the comments, start with the small stuff–the quick and easy fixes–like grammar, small plot or character inconsistencies, re-writing awkward sentences, and so forth. This will help remove some of the clutter of notes off your manuscript, and you won’t get bogged down with details while you’re working on the larger revisions.
For the bigger issues, take each comment to heart, giving them serious consideration. We’re often too quick to dismiss good advice because we may not immediately agree with it. Think through how your story or nonfiction piece would change if you applied your group’s suggestions.
Don’t be too quick to revise after a critique, unless you are certain that the particular suggestion is 100% on target. Mull over the comments for a while and allow those parts of the manuscript to sit. Not only will this help you view the comments more objectively by distancing yourself from your emotional attachment to what you’ve written, but you may be able to see your manuscript from your critiquer’s perspective more clearly after you’ve been away from your manuscript for a while.
If you do decide to incorporate suggestions, but don’t know exactly how, ask your group for help. Have a brainstorming session with them to help generate ideas of how you can effectively make their comments work for you. That’s what they’re there for!
Remember that you are ultimately the one in control of your book. If a comment doesn’t set right with you and the direction your story is heading, simply toss it aside. Along those same lines, when you do send your manuscript back to your group for another read, don’t feel you must defend your position. Your group members will respect your decision, whether or not you’ve used their suggestions, because they know their turn is next!