In the wake of August’s many opportunities for online critique (WriteOnCon, for example), I found myself with an awful lot to process.
Critiques are so important. Opportunities like WriteOnCon are fantastic because they allow you to share your work with and get feedback from people who are not your CPs, your Betas, or your mom. Fresh eyes, a wider audience. It can be incredibly helpful.
Alas, it’s not always.
You’ll get (or may have gotten in the past, and not necessarily as a consequence of this type of critiquing opportunity) conflicting advice. One person will LOVE LOVE LOVE the way you handle voice, and another person will HATE it. That other person might even recommend such extensive revision that you’ll risk losing the voice entirely. Sometimes that’s not a problem, like when the voice is wonky and you need help fixing it. Sometimes it’s awful, because the voice was the whole point.
You’ll get vague advice. People will say that they ‘don’t really’ like something, or that ‘the beginning was great, but the rest was just meh’ and leave it there. You’ll have no idea what the problem is or how to fix it.
You’ll get TOO MUCH advice. People will try to rewrite your novel for you. Don’t let them. Just take their advice onboard.
You’ll also get cheerleaders who give no advice. This is my favorite kind of useless critique – at least it’s confidence boosting!
So what do you do with all of this?
Start with nothing. Don’t jump to make changes just because they’ve been suggested. Take a beat and think about it.
A sound way of dealing with advice that you’re not sure about is this: consider how many people agree with it. Have multiple people commented on problems with the opening paragraph that you absolutely adore? Have all those comments been in the same vein?
Then they may be right, as much as it hurts to admit it. Consider revising.
But first, consider the repercussions. Will making the suggested changes have a domino affect on the rest of the book? Will you have to rewrite the entire novel due to changes in voice or the timeline? Will those changes improve the book significantly? Will they take away from what you’re trying to accomplish?
And if you’ve got conflicting advice, how many people are in the ‘love it’ column rather than the ‘hate it’ column? If there are a bunch, then that opening paragraph might not be so problematic.
Just make sure you consider the reasons your critiquers have for being in a particular column. If you’ve got loads in the ‘love it’ column, but they’re all just there because they LOVE waking up scenes (which are a serious opener faux pas nowadays), you might still need to consider the comments in the ‘hate it’ column.
And if you find yourself agreeing with a piece of criticism, go with it.
A good general rule of thumb in both of these instances is to determine whether or not two or more people (yourself included!) agree. If so, revise. If not… seek further advice.
Same thing goes for vague advice – if you think that someone might have a point, but are struggling to figuring out exactly what that point is, ask them for specifics. If you can’t, discuss it with someone else.
An example of all this put into action:
My WriteOnCon posts were on a novel written entirely in dialect.
Some people loved it, some people hated it.
First thing I had to do was ignore the people who were not being helpful, people who wanted the dialect done away with completely, for two reasons. The first was that they were not in my target audience; they were the kind of people who won’t read ANY book in dialect. People who wouldn’t read something like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO or ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY purely because of the voice. The second was that the voice is a huge part of this book, and dialect is a huge part of the voice. Getting rid of the dialect would destroy the book.
The second was to look at the critiques written by people who were actually trying to be helpful. There was consistent mention of one particular issue with the dialect (the use of verbs ending in -in’ rather than –ing throughout). Multiple people pointed it out. After I asked some questions, one even made a very helpful suggestion that was not just ‘get rid of them all’, which I have since considered and used to make revisions.
I agreed with the criticism that this was an issue with the voice. Even if I hadn’t, though, the fact that several people did would have made me look at it more closely. It meant a lot of work – fixing -ing verb endings in a novel written in the present tense is really time-consuming – but it was worthwhile. It made the book much easier to read without damaging the voice or intention.
How do you all cope with critiques, particularly of the vague or conflicting variety? How is revision in the aftermath of August going?