Getting the Most Out of Your Critique

Let me tell you a secret.

I don’t like it when people edit my work. I groan inwardly whenever I see a lengthy list of suggestions from a critique partner. Sometimes I may even groan outwardly.

It’s not that I take critiques personally. I don’t want people to tell me my writing is perfect for the sake of my ego. I want people to tell me writing is perfect because doing revisions is a lot of work and when I type “the end” I’m ready to be done and move on to something else.

But since the revision process is essential to good writing, I’ve come up with a list of strategies for getting the most out of your critique.

  1. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t let a critique make you think you’re a bad writer. And for sure don’t let it make you think you’re a bad person. It’s very normal for beginning (and even experienced) writers to get discouraged. But just don’t let it. Remember that even the best writers have to revise. It’s just part of the process and doesn’t reflect on you.
  2. Take some time. I almost always need to take some time to let the critique sink in. During that time I’ll work on other things. It allows me to be more objective when I return to the revisions at a later time.
  3. Look at revisions as a challenge. Think of revisions like a puzzle you’re trying to solve. Treat it like a game. Doing so will make you more eager to solve the problems. Furthermore, revising with this attitude will make it more likely that you’ll look for really thorough solutions rather than just a patch for problem areas. It leads to more thorough revisions.
  4. Brainstorm. Get out a pen and paper and jot down some ideas. Or bounce ideas off your friends. You’d be amazed at the power talking out loud has to generate new ideas.
  5. Try writing in a new environment. This can be something as small as changing the font or printing the manuscript off rather than reading it on a screen. At any rate, try something new. This especially helpful the longer you’ve been working with the manuscript. It helps keep your eyes from glazing over the words you’ve read too many times.
  6. Realize that some things get easier. I don’t really believe that writing ever becomes easy. But some aspects of writing do become more natural. I’ve struggled a lot with dialogue tags. But the more it’s been pointed out to me, the more aware of it I’ve gotten during first drafts. While I’m still learning, this is one area where the skills have become a little more natural.
  7. Practice. The more you do revisions, the less daunting they become. You’ll get better at working your way through problems. So, like everything in life, you’ve got to practice.

I’ll finish by saying that while revisions are a lot of work, they are also totally manageable. Whatever it is, you can fix it and your manuscript will be that much better for it.

This is four of the drafts from my undergraduate thesis. The project probably underwent 15 extensive revisions before being ready to defend.
This is four of the drafts from my undergraduate thesis. The project probably underwent 15 extensive revisions before being ready to defend.

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