In the last post, I detailed the process of writing and revising (and revising some more) until my manuscript is as good as I can make it by myself. Now, it’s time to get a few second opinions!
Enter: critique partners! If you don’t have any yet, here are some suggestions on how to find them. Critique partners are WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD! They read your manuscript in full, and give constructive feedback and suggestions on how to make it better. Usually, I ask 2-3 critique partners, depending on their availability, for big picture feedback—plot holes, where they want/need more explanation or details, or character development (my early drafts always need to be expanded).
These fantastic writing pals dig in and, 3-4 weeks later, the perfect amount of time to have distanced myself from the manuscript and prepare to objectively receive a laundry list of all its many many flaws (hahahaha, jk), they send back the manuscript with with scene-level margin comments (example: confusion about how a chapter ends, queries, flagging where the voice deviates, or where a character says or does something out of character, etc.) and a short edit letter with more global feedback (example: add the best friend more throughout, clarify this character’s motivation, consider adding additional chapters from X character’s point of view, etc.).
I’ll admit it: Feedback always stings. EVEN THOUGH I sent the manuscript out KNOWING it needed work, specifically ASKING for suggestions for improvement, when I get those emails, my first reaction is always disappointment (oh, why didn’t I write a perfect novel on the first round?!) and disagreement. Sometimes I read the feedback and, like Leslie Knope, just want to shout “NO!” It’s a protective instinct. I don’t want to tear the manuscript apart, I don’t want to make all these changes.
But the book won’t get any better if I don’t listen to feedback. This is where the 5 stages come in:
1. Defense & Denial
Read the feedback. Deny, loudly, to myself and anyone within hearing distance, that any of the things pointed out for revision are actual problems.
A few hours later, consider, upon further reflection, that the manuscript is a mess, that all the feedback is correct, and I’m probably going to have to overhaul the entire book. Maybe it’s not even worth saving. Revision is hopeless. Or, at least, endless. Usually chocolate is required. And a loooooooooong walk.
24 hours later, reread the feedback. Every. Single. Time. On the reread, I realize that 80% of the feedback is spot on. Perfect, even. I nod my head as I read along: How didn’t I think of that? That’s EXACTLY what the ending needs. My critique partners are BRILLIANT! This is what it feels like when feedback resonates, when it fits with my vision of what I want the book to become, falling into place like a missing puzzle piece. I usually know when a revision change is right because I’m energized to make the changes.
What about that other 20%? It’s not that I disagree with these comments and suggestions necessarily, but they don’t resonate in the same way. They feel off, not right for the book.
I’ve found, as Neil Gaiman put it:
“…when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
If, even after 24 hours, feedback such as “Consider simplifying cast of characters and get rid of this one entirely,” results in my stomach flipping, my heart squeezing, my gut screaming NO! That character is critical! That suggestion is wrongwrongwrong for the story. The book—as I envision it—doesn’t work without that specific character! If the Leslie Knope inside of me is threatening to come out and throw a temper tantrum, then clearly, this feedback doesn’t resonate with me and my vision and shouldn’t be integrated during revisions.
But. Instead of totally throwing the suggestion out the window as entirely incorrect, I parse down the reason behind it. Why did the reader feel that way? I skim the pages and, as a reader, I can usually identify why that character wasn’t working for them. Maybe in my head the character looms larger than life, but on the page I failed to make that clear. Maybe they only have a few cameo scenes. Of course the story as-is lead the reader wrong! If I’m still sure they’re critical, then I figure out a solution that both resolves the issue my critique partner had but also resonates with my vision. For example, in this instance, I’d decide that instead of deleting this character wholesale from the book, I need to make them a more active character throughout.
Profusely thank my amazing critique partners for their time and help and insights. Ask follow-up questions, if any, about that 20%. Usually, I throw a brainstorming idea at them. “You responded negatively to X and suggested Y, but what if I did Z?”
5. Edit letter
I take all the reader feedback that resonates, dump it into one collated document, add in all the other revision ideas the feedback kicked up in my brain, and keep that up on my screen while I reread the book. AGAIN.
Just like the first solo rounds of revision, I make margin comments throughout. Don’t allow myself to edit. Revise the edit letter until it’s complete. Organize revisions from biggest to smallest and tackle accordingly.
Rinse and repeat—including sending the latest revision to a second round of critique partners—until it’s as good as I can make it, as good as it can be in my reader’s eyes…and then…it’s done!
(For now. There’s always more revisions on the horizon, with an agent and with an editor!)