I’ve attended a lot of writer’s conferences and many of them have First Pages or Read-and-Critique sessions where you bring a page or two of a manuscript and it is read and critiqued on the spot by an author, editor, or agent or sometimes a combination. It’s a wonderful way to be a “fly on the wall” in a sense, seeing how your opening is received by a professional.
At many of these sessions there are so many submissions that they can’t get to all of them. Most conferences make a point of saying that you can learn a lot by listening to feedback on someone else’s work.
I’m hear to say that this is absolutely true.
Every time–every single time–I critique a manuscript for my group and listen to others critique it, I have an “ah ha” moment–“I think that’s a problem in my own manuscript.” “Am I using dialogue effectively?” “Am I telling more than showing?” and so on.
Inevitably when I get back to my own work, I see in it the very things I spotted or heard about in the work that was critiqued. I get excited listening to feedback on others’ work because I feel like I’m getting bonus feedback for my own–often without going through the agony of having it read aloud and critiqued :-).
If you’re critiquing someone’s manuscript, give it the time and attention it deserves. Then go back and review your notes to see if any of the things you noticed are problems in your own manuscript. I can guarantee there will be at least one, but probably more than one, point of connection.
If you are listening to a First Pages or Read-and-Critique session, I encourage you to have your own work in mind. If the critiquer says “This story starts out slow, we have too much backstory,” go back to your first page and see if you grab the reader’s attention right away. If s/he says, “I love how we know right away what this character is about and we like him,” go check to see if readers can know and connect with your character quickly.
And even if someone says something you don’t think the feedback connects, jot it down. You may discover later that it does.
Open yourself to opportunities to improve your work!