I sent out a manuscript to my new critique group on March 3rd. YIKES! Learning to listen to others critique your work is a skill in and of itself, I think. You have to press down your inner urges to scream, “No! I can’t cut that part – that’s like – what got the whole story going!” or “What?? How can you not get that?” and “But that changes the entire plot!??” and so many other thoughts that jumble around in your mind and the wrenching of your gut as you realize that the story is not the instant best seller you wanted it to be ! Haha….such is the life of a writer.
Finding a critique partner or group is an important aspect of the writing process in my opinion. We writers get very attached to our characters and words we write on the paper and can not always look at our work with an unbiased opinion. We need that 2nd or 3rd opinion to point out things that we may never see for ourselves because we are just too emotionally attached.
But just as important is learning how to critique someone else’s manuscript. I joined another critique group over a month ago and spent some time doing some major research into learning how to do just that…. And I’m not done yet. There is so much to learn. But I did find some major sources to help me learn the process and sources I will consistently refer to as I work on improving.
My favorite sources thus far have been the following:
The Critique: An Important Tool (Paul Czajak)
The Critique: An Important Tool Part Two (Paul Czajak)
Perfecting Your Critique (Alayne Kay Christian)
And, of course: the forums at SCBWI and 12 x 12. SCBWI doesn’t seem to post manuscripts anymore…at least, not from what I’ve been able to see so far. I remember years ago that they did that and I learned a lot back then. On 12 x 12 people can post the first 250 words. It’s a learning experience just to sit and read the posts and the comments people make. I can read and see what people make the most comments about – what are they complimenting? What things stick out as quality aspects of a manuscript? What are the things people react against the most strongly? Even if it’s not my own manuscript, one can learn a lot just by reading comments on other people’s work.
The biggest pointer I’ve learned is when you critique a manuscript, you should read it first, clear thru – out loud, and then just walk away and think it through before writing down anything or making any definitive comments. And not just for five minutes. Maybe a few hours – maybe a day. Think about it. Did you like the story? Did you not like the story? What is the biggest thing that sticks with you even hours later? Of course that’s not possible if you are in a sit-down group, face to face, but most critiquing seems to occur online these days and gives us ample opportunity to do that.
When you receive a critique, it’s important to do that same thing. Read it…. Try not to let your feathers get ruffled…. Get up, walk away…. Come back to it later. I’ve often taken something personal the first time I’ve read a manuscript critique of my work only to come back later and think, “Oh…. I see… yes, they are right about that.” Take time to digest it instead of feeling those first moments of conflict within yourself because of that reluctance to change what you have spent hours creating.
I also, this month, have taken the opportunity to send a manuscript into this amazing blog site hosted by published children’s authors: Rate Your Story. It’s a little nerve-racking waiting to hear back… I must keep in mind, whether the manuscript rates well or not, it’s a learning process. It’s a process to make my writing stronger.
So what are your thoughts on the critique process? Is there a source you like to use? A service you like to use? Please share with me and my readers!