Tayari Jones talks about what to do after group critique
If you are a member of a writing group, you have to figure out how to sit quietly while a bunch of people say exactly what they think about your work. It’s hard to be there and take notes with a non-confrontational facial expression while people say, “I wanted to see the mother more!” or “I just didn’t buy the boyfriend.” Instead of saying, “That’s because he’s not for sale,” you have to say something like “Thank you, everyone, for your critique. It was very helpful.” And, it turns out, that was the easy part. Now you have ten copies of your story, marked up with ten people’s opinions. What to do now?
This is not a blog post on what to do with hurt feelings. It’s a post about how to make your story better now that you have gotten all this input. And remember, even when it’s ouchy, the people in the room took the time to read your work, which is often more than you can ask of family and loved ones. So buck up, and read on.
- Do Nothing. For the first day or two, just breathe and try to do other things. It’s no good to approach your draft when you’re still emotionally buzzing after the workshop experience.
- Do some affirmation work. Remind yourself that revision is part of the process. Remind yourself that you are a writer, not an aspiring writer, not a writer past her prime, not a has been writer, not a lapsed writer, but a WRITER. Remember how brave it was for you to put your work up for critique in the first place. And remember that the whole point of this is to make your work better.
- Read a clean draft of your story. Print out a fresh copy and read the story all over again. Use your pen and mark the things that you think need fixing. Write questions to yourself in the margin, like motivation?. Don’t try to rewrite anything yet. Just read it as though it were someone else’s work that you have been asked to critique.
- Separate the wheat from the chaff. In your writing group, there will be people’s whose opinions matter more that others. (I’ll let you decide the criteria. But if there is someone who hates you, do not read her comments. They’re tainted, even if she’s a good writer.) Read over these comments and make note of similarities. Give a simultaneous read of the various marked up drafts. I spread the pages out of the floor and read all five versions of page one. On my clean draft, I mark the areas that spelled trouble for all the readers. Then, on to page two. (If you are working with a longer project, do it chapter by chapter.)
- Fix the easy stuff first. Maybe folks are having trouble with your untagged dialogue. Okay, tag it. Transitions are bumpy? Smooth them out. Anything that you can fix without a lot of thought, go for it.
- Find the hot spots. There may be a single area that caught the attention of all your readers. This is an obvious sign that something is broke-- go fix it. BUT, sometimes everyone may have different views on what exactly is wrong. When this happens, you know that something is wrong with the scene, chapter, etc. Apparently no knows exactly what the problem is. Remind yourself what you hoped to accomplish in the scene. Then, rewrite it with your goal in mind.
- Decide the tie breakers. Let’s say there is an issue in the comments where half the people like it and half don’t. Decide how important it is to you. If you believe that this point of view switch is the essence of your vision—by all means, keep it, just as it is. But if it is something that you are in the middle about, try and figure out how to make it work before you take it out completely. (If it still not working five drafts down the road, you might have to chuck it.)
- Write a plan of revision. I keep a writing journal where I write down what I plan to accomplish in the next draft. I try and make it specific and just one draft’s worth of fixing. This makes the project seem more manageable and less intimidating.
- Get back to work.
Now, over to you, SheWriters.. How do you make the most of group-feedback?
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