Making the Most of a Story Critique

A Guest Post by Tal Valante

2015-06-08 EditThe first critique I got for my first novel is memorable. That is to say, I don’t remember a word of it, but I do remember feeling like a combination of being punched in the gut, hollowed out, and going up in flames, all while people insulted the newborn baby in my arms.

Come to think about it, my second critique felt the same way.

Today, at over dozens of critiques from a wide variety of professional editors, I’ve grown quite a thick skin. Here’s what I would have said to myself that long time ago.

2016-05-02 Making the Most of a Story Critique

Start Small

For your first few critiques, don’t engage a roomful of professional editors and agents (as in a convention round-table critique). Unless you have extra-thick skin, that’s a sure recipe for a crash and burn.

Choose a professional editor who has your trust and respect but doesn’t terrify you. Start out over email. It’s one thing to receive a written critique, it’s quite another to receive it face to face where you have to master your expression and body language (and, occasionally, tears).

On the other hand, don’t start so small that your critique giver isn’t a professional editor. From unprofessional editors or agents, expect to receive varied and often contradicting feedback, based on their personal preferences more than on a solid understanding of the art and market.

Cool Off

2015-05-27 book pagesWhen you first get your critique, you’re likely to have a gut reaction to it. Ignore it. Overcome it. Read the critique once and then put it aside, for days or even weeks, until you’re no longer obsessed with it. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t read, consider, or so-help-you-the-heavens start working on the critique while your emotions run hot.

Once you can read the critique without feeling shortness of breath or proneness to cursing, you can start working on it.

Go on Record

After you’ve cooled off, take note as you sort through the critique. Next to each critique point, mark down how you feel about it: does it chime with you? Are you unsure about it? Do you instinctively object? Do you object for a solid reason?

These marks will help you when the time comes to consider each remark and how you should treat it.

Sort and Evaluate

2015-11-11a paper pile buried under paperwork stacks pagesEven a good critique is not the Bible. You can choose what to take from it, and you can leave the rest untouched. Trust your own writing instincts.

Go over your notes and decide which critique points you want to follow up on. Skip the ones you objected to for a solid reason. The only thing to watch out for is your ego. If you object to a critique point just because it’s a critique (e.g., “My writing is perfectly fine and he’s wrong about everything”), think twice about it. Also, go back to step 2 and cool off some more.

Identify and Improve

Once you know which points you want to act on, start working on them methodically, one by one. Highlight in your work all the text that refers to a certain point. Then think how you can alter that text, add to it, or remove some of it in order to best achieve the result you want.

Be judicial in your editing. For small comments on your text, don’t go rewriting half your novel. For deeper issues, don’t go proof-editing. Match the nature of the required change to the nature of the critique comment.

And in all the changes that you make, make sure you’re true to yourself and your voice.

Embrace the critiquing process. Repeat to yourself: “I love critiques. I eat critiques for breakfast. Critiques help me make my writing great.”

And above all, stay calm and keep writing!

About the author:

Tal ValanteTal Valante is a writer, an editor, and the founder of Re:Fiction, the center for fiction writers of all types. If you need a professional, free critique of your work, apply to Re:Fiction’s editing scholarships, and take your writing to the next level.

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About Her Website: 

Tal Valante, ReFictionRe:Fiction is all about helping fiction writers shine at their craft by providing inspiration, articles about writing skills and the author’s lifestyle, and free editing scholarships. Do you write fiction? Explore our resources to get better, get published, and get read!

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