Critique me, baby

I recently had the opportunity to read an early draft of a friend’s novel. This is the second of her novels that I’ve read. The last was about a year ago. Both were excellent, but reading them was such a different experience. The first time around, I was just dabbling in my own writing, working (somewhat) steadily on my first full-length novel, and I had next to no knowledge of the publishing industry. When I met with Jenny to discuss her book, she whipped out a pen and notebook and waited for my comments.

“Uhh…it was good? I liked it? Change NOTHING.”

Yeah. Not exactly helpful. At that point, I wasn’t reading with a critical eye. I didn’t want to point out any flaws or holes, because I didn’t want to make her feel bad, because, seriously, this woman is talented.

After finishing my own first novel last year and having a few critique partners go through it, I am realizing how valuable critical feedback can be. I am so protective of my work. I HATE revisions. It’s like showing someone a picture of your beloved child and having them point out all the things that are wrong with him/her. Hey, be nice, I MADE that. My novel is perfect the first time around, thankyouverymuch. Except…it isn’t. There are plot holes, there are awkward sentences, there are random storylines that make no sense. And they need to be pointed out, especially if I have aspirations toward publication.

I am only dipping my toe in the rushing river of the publishing world, and already I’ve learned that you have to have thick skin. That contest I entered? Didn’t make it past the first round. Those queries I sent out? Not a nibble. Clearly there is plenty of room for improvement. And as I am not exactly impartial to my work, having honest and supportive critique partners is incredibly important…even when what they say may stab me in my creative little heart. I am simply too close to my projects to see the big picture at times.

Does knowing all this, thinking about all this, make getting feedback any easier? No, of course not. But I choose to use the critiques to improve on my child…errrr…novel. And I hope to be able to do the same for other authors looking to polish their manuscripts.

So this time around, I was better prepared to read the manuscript and make comments and suggestions. I was able to stop and make notes and jot down questions that may help my friend to see her story in a new light, from a different perspective. Does that mean she will take any of my suggestions? Of course not. That’s what I love about writing…people can tell me what to do until they’re blue in the face, but ultimately it’s my decision and my baby. After all, it’s my name on the finished product, right? And it is the same for every author.

With that in mind…I probably am still not being as critical as I could be. This is a case when having multiple (critique) partners is probably a good thing…each will see something different, and there is a whole crop of suggestions from which to choose. All I ask of my critique partners is this: be honest, but be gentle. I’m fragile under all this thick skin.

(PS – Go check out Jenny’s blog. She’s fantastic, and she is going to be a STAR.)

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