By Patricia Stoltey
Yes, I’m piggy-backing on Mary Gillgannon’s excellent Friday post called “Your Book…Or Your Editor’s?" She raised some important points about picking your battles and keeping an open mind about suggested editorial changes.
Going into a book contract without a little flexibility along with confidence in your story and characters is a risky business. You can’t work well with your publisher’s editors unless you have both.
As the member of a critique group, or even with a single critique partner, you may face similar challenges as you submit chapters to your group for review. Getting through the first round of critiques, especially if you’re submitting first draft quality, is not so bad. You wouldn’t be part of a critiquing arrangement unless you’re open to constructive criticism, suggestions, and even an occasional round of laughter at a huge mistake. Right?
By the end of the first draft, you will have a bunch of character notes, corrections (some big, some nit-picky), suggestions, alternate plot ideas, and timeline errors that must be considered during the revision process.
Whether you revise as you go, or put it all together after the first draft is written, there is now a big decision to make. Will you submit revised chapters to the group?
My own process is to submit basic first draft quality writing to my group because I want them to have free rein in picking on anything and everything.
If I do decide to submit revised chapters, it’s usually because I’ve made big changes. And if I only want “big picture” observations, I say so. I also tend to discourage line-by-line editing because it’s a waste of the critique member’s time. I go over my manuscripts so many times after the critique group’s contributions, and I make so many changes, that most outside editing is lost in the shuffle anyway.
There are risks involved when you submit revisions for critique, so it’s important to:
1. Define your novel’s genre. There are structural differences for romance, for traditional mystery, for thriller, for horror, for YA.
2. Know if your novel is plot-driven or character-driven.
3. Understand your novel’s theme or message.
4. Decide if you’re open to big changes to plot or character during the next revision.
5. Tell your critique group ahead of time what you want…and what you don’t want.
If you take revised work back to your group but leave the options open, you may receive suggestions for major plot changes, deleting or changing characters, or using structural techniques that don’t really apply to your genre.
What happens then?
You might have a crisis of confidence and feel your novel is absolute garbage.
And start making random changes to absorb all those great suggestions.
And end up with a mess.
More experienced writers tend to work through this stage with their critique groups and learn when to implement and when to reject suggestions. Writers new to the craft, or just new to critique group dynamics, may need to go through a learning phase before they understand that suggestions are just suggestions, like the results of a brainstorming session.
If you know and understand what you’re writing and why, you’ll learn to trust your instincts when absorbing feedback from a critique group or critique partner. And you’ll learn to guide your critique partners before they examine your submission so they don't waste time on comments you’ll only ignore.
In the end, it’s your book. Take control.