For many writers, a story starts with a creative spark – it could be a character, an idea, a thought or even a place that’s swimming around in your mind trying to work its way from your imagination onto the page. The story comes from us and is a part of who we are, which is why it’s so challenging to take what you’ve written and let others read it, let alone provide feedback for you.
At times a critique can be downright devastating, but there is a silver lining to it all if you’re willing to change your perception.
- Remind yourself why – writing is a solitary act as is reading, however it’s only you doing the writing whereas it’s a multitude of people doing the reading. Each person comes to your book with a variety of reading experiences and expectations. Therefore, it’s important to allow yourself to be open to the opinions of others to help shape your story into one that is comprehensive, easy to follow and engaging enough for them to turn the pages again and again until they reach the end. But understand that in the end it’s your story and you decide what it needs to look like.
- Be open to change, but know your story – When you hand your story off to others for critiquing, they are bond to bring back varied feedback. Your job is to find the common praises and areas that need work. If everyone is saying they love one part of your story but hate another, take this to heart and try to figure out how you can change this without compromising your story. If the suggestion would require you to change a character’s goals or a plot point and this is coming from several people, you may have to take a hard look at your story and ask yourself why it’s not working. Is it the story or is it you injecting yourself too much into the story? An example of this is a fellow writer who wrote an excellent love story where the main protagonist had two love interests – an old flame and a new one. In the end the writer chose to have her main character reject both loves and be satisfied with living her life fully as a single woman. Every single person who read this story hated the ending because it was a love story so they expected love, but she refused to change it because this was the story she wanted to tell. She didn’t listen to the feedback or to the characters in her story and wrote something that in the end no one wanted to read. So even though you might have an agenda it’s important to understand that it has to fit with the story your writing.
- Choose your readers carefully – so you’ve finished the first draft of your story! Now comes the hard part – editing. Once you’ve revised your manuscript to the point where you’re not sure what else to do with it, it’s time to seek some outside help. Try to choose people who are willing to read your novel in a reasonable amount of time, make sure they aren’t related (unless they are authors themselves and will give you honest feedback), and give it to more than one person but no more than four to review. Try to find common threads in the feedback, and be sure you fully understand what people are saying before you decide to accept and change or dismiss and toss. However, if you get random or conflicting feedback you have to decide if it’s something that will help your story or not.
Getting your work critiqued is scary and can be quite crushing if you take the feedback too personally. Remind yourself this is about your book and trying to make it the best it can be so you can see it in print for everyone to enjoy.