Denise reviews feedbackLast week I talked about my critique groups and some things to think about when deciding whether to join one and how it might run.

This week I want to talk about some ways I’ve learned to use the feedback I receive and how to sift through what may work and what may not.

Early on, I took every suggestion and tried it, often creating a convoluted mess that sent me shrieking from my desk. I actually think I needed to go through this, because back then I was less sure of myself and my writing. Now when I send a manuscript to my group, I have a very clear vision of my story so it’s easier for me to sift through the comments and determine which resonate. That’s not to say I don’t listen to everything, but I have a better idea of which suggestions may work and which are not in keeping with my vision for the story.

  1. Listen. Make sure you listen carefully to everything that is said.
  2. Ask questions. If you don’t understand what someone has said, ask for clarification. You don’t want to go home with all the notes and scratch your head about a comment that you feel might be important.
  3. Don’t get defensive. Remember that you are the author and all decisions about what changes and what doesn’t rest with you. Let the group have their say and let it sink in. If you have to explain something to everyone, that usually means you didn’t get it right on the page and need to revisit it. That said, if you are feeling overwhelmed by too much information, say so and either take a break or tell everyone you’ve reached your limit.
  4. Organize your notes  as soon as you can. Even if you want to stew on everything for awhile (see #5), it’s a good idea to get things in order so it’s all there when you are ready to revise. For me this means right when I get home.
    1. I create a new document with headings like the name of my main character, MINOR CHARACTERS, PLOT, CONFLICT, CLIMAX, RESOLUTION, SETTING, etc. Choose the headings that make sense to you and your book.
    2. I review all the notes – both their written comments and anything written on the manuscript (on paper or electronically). I ask myself if they support my vision for the story.
    3. Those that resonated with me during the feedback session I type into my document according to the topic to which they pertain. I usually type the comments even if I have access to an electronic copy because the act of typing them makes me read them again and sets them more firmly in my peabrain where they can simmer. If a comment didn’t really resonate, but I find it interesting, I add it to the document. Any comments that didn’t resonate I set aside. During my “simmer” time, I think about how these suggestions might work and if they spark something, I add them to my document. If they don’t, I don’t do anything with them. And I don’t get rid of any comments until I’ve completed my revision.
  5. Let things simmer. Give your brain time to assimilate all of the suggestions and questions. Work on something else. If you’ve reviewed the comments and/or created a document that contains them, they will be in your brain, mixing around with your story. When bells go off and lightbulbs turn on, you know that your subconscious has been working and it may be time to start revising. I usually take 2-3 weeks of simmer time and am always amazed at how often something I initially rejected starts to intrigue me and often finds its way into the book.

Because I am a re-visioner – someone who really looks at my book in a different way and does major rewriting – I usually ignore any line editing and have told my group not to waste their time doing it because often the text is changed or disappears altogether during my revision process. I want big picture stuff – what’s not working, where is it dull, where are you confused, where didn’t you believe my character’s motivation – typos, sentence construction, etc I can catch in my final polish.

If you have other tips to share, please do!