Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You Think I Should Change THAT? No Way!

Love your critique group, but hate some of the advice you get? We've all been there - that stomach roiling reaction to suggestions you don't agree with and the urge to argue rather than maintain the old listen-with-lips-closed demeanor. Instant critique rejection. Happens all the time.

Think you're right to instantly reject a critique comment? Think again.

Becky Levine writes about critique groups. Click on her blog Moving Forward on The Writing Path, and read her great post "Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time."

How often have you instantly rejected a critique suggestion instead of letting it age like fine wine? Did that suggestion eventually improve your story?


  1. This is so true, Gale. It's that balance between conscious and unconscious writing. Our writer brains are working even when we may not be fully aware. Combine it all with time, and some of those comments that smarted the most, make total sense.

  2. "Sit on it." "Let it brew."
    All^ good advice.

  3. Becky Levine's post certainly hit home for me. I think of comments I rejected and later accepted that most surely improved one of my PB's.

  4. I've gone through this more times than I care to admit and every time it makes me feel awful. I do think there's some wisdom in "letting it sit" but your book will not be all things to all people, so trying to fix everything based on a critique can make you crazy. It has to really ring true and I think you have to carefully weigh the difference between something that is just a person's opinion and what will really serve your novel.

  5. Robin,

    You're so right! Critique suggestions have to fit into your overall vision.
    But sometimes a seemingly insignificant critique comment will spur your thoughts in a new direction.

  6. Gale - Actually going through the "seemingly insignificant" thing at the moment. Having a strong reaction to something usually does mean it might be something worth thinking about...doesn't mean I have to like it, lol. :)

  7. Great post, Gale! I know that instant rejection feeling too well. :o) And sometimes, if I can get past those instant rejections of mine, those critique suggestions have turned into great revisions!

    Also, sometimes even if the suggestion for a revision doesn't work for me, the suggestion can help me to recognize a flaw in my manuscript that I can solve in my own way. And recognizing the flaw can be really helpful!

    Recently I went through an interesting reverse of this instant rejection situation. At first, I loved a revision suggestion about changing the beginning of my manuscript. Then I changed it and loved it... until I noticed it brought about a new problem. My characters weren't introduced well enough. Finally, weeks later, I realized I could start in the new way, but I had to make more changes to really make it work. (Sorry if this is complicated, but after all those revisions, I think I might finally have a beginning that works. Yay! :o) )

  8. Brianna,
    That's the problem with fiction - too many ways to say something! In a recent article, John McPhee, who writes non-fiction, wrote "Fiction, in my view, is much harder to do than fact, because the fiction writer moves forward by trial and error, while the fact writer is working with a certain body of collected material and can set up a structure beforehand."

  9. As a writer that also studied philosophy for several years, I'm all for an argument about an interpretation or suggested change. In fact, I think you learn more by arguing than you do just by passively sitting and trying to digest what people are saying. First, arguing helps reveal the author's intent (which may not always be apparent). If she gets to defend her work, she can make clear what she was trying to do. This can lead to further discussion about why that intent didn't come across and where, perhaps, she went awry. Second, this forces the other person to really back up what they say and demonstrate that they made a good faith attempt to understand the work. By doing so, it prevents the author from dismissing the comment as trivial, and signals to them that this is a comment worth listening to. If you just sit and listen quietly without argument, of course you're going to be more likely to internally reject the comment--nothing has happened yet to show that there is a good reason to take what may initially seem like a misguided or confused comment to heart.