It’s Critique Day!

Tonight's critique session is the gateway leading me toward a better, cleaner vision of my novel--and ultimately a major revision. The photo is of Basel, Switzerland.

I’ve been waiting for this day.

In September, I submitted two-thirds of my historical novel, LOST NOTES, to my intrepid writing colleagues. We’re going to get together this evening to talk about the manuscript.

Our discussions generally last for a few hours, and they’re intense. They’re also immensely fruitful, not only for the writer whose work is on the table, but for all of us. It’s fascinating to hear what each writer brings to the table as a reader, where the agreements and disagreements lie, and how certain themes or characters land on different people. I’ve learned so much from this particular group and from everyone’s willingness to share their work.

I’m expecting to leave this evening’s meeting with an abundance of thoughts, puzzles and hopefully a few solutions. I’ll probably feel immensely grateful, a little overwhelmed and fully engaged in a particular problem that needs to get solved before I can progress.

This novel group was founded in 2008 by Liz Prato, and the last time I brought in a manuscript was March 2010. What I learned that evening from these amazing writers helped me craft the final version of my previous novel, BODY COPY.

I’m excited about tonight. I’m nervous. And I’m so very thankful for my writing community here in Portland. A focused manuscript critique night is such a valuable gift.

Do you let others read your work-in-progress, or do you keep your work private? If you ask for others’ opinions, what’s the best piece of advice you received from a reader? The worst critique moment? If you’ve had two people say opposite things about your manuscript, which one do you trust?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Community, Fiction, Revision, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to It’s Critique Day!

  1. Laura, you are so very lucky to have a good support group. I have two readers and I trust them both. They sometimes come up with the same conclusions. It is vital to have someone we can trust who doesn’t sugar coat or say something that does not help us to grow. Between the negative and the sugar-coating is the perfect balance I found in these two.

    • So true, Florence. It’s great that you have two readers that you can trust, and it must be especially gratifying and useful when they both come to the same conclusions. I expect differences of opinion tonight, as that’s usually how we work, but through discussion we figure out why something hit somebody wrong, or how the differences of opinion are really different ways to approach fixing the same flaw.

  2. Liz says:

    good luck tonight, laura. you have a fabulous piece of work.

  3. Laura! Hope you get a lot out of your feedback tonight! Keep me (us!) posted…

    • Will do, Yuvi! I’m excited to be in the moment, and in the room with those great writers, but I also can’t wait for tomorrow morning, when I can sit down with a head full of thoughts about how the story works or should work.

  4. tamara says:

    In answer to your questions:
    – Now, I prefer to wait until I have an entire draft done before I show it to anyone, because I don’t want to stop my momentum by doing revisions. When I read work that isn’t finished, I try to give only minimal critique. I think the piece should get to take its first breath before we start deciding what’s wrong with it.
    – Best advice: lose the opening chapter.
    – Worst moment: not hearing back ever and feeling like I’ve lost a friend
    – When opinions conflict: get a third, unless I already know in my guts

    • A lot of people feel that way about momentum, Tamara. And I think this is the first time I’ve submitted a partial manuscript without at least having roughed in the ending. On the other hand, it seemed worth the risk!

      Thanks for answering the questions. Finding another outside source for a conflict of opinion makes a lot of sense, unless you know the answer. We had some differences last night during the course of the discussion, although they all centered around ways to solve a particular issue, which is a very fruitful type of conversation.

    • When I was getting chapter-by-chapter critiques on one project, I found the key was to keep moving forward. File the comments for later, and use them to inform what I was writing next, but not to go back. You do lose momentum. And, with computers, it’s so tempting to go back and fiddle.

  5. I will be looking for beta readers when I get my current project in proper shape (next year sometime, maybe), but I never keep things private. I just reposted the (edited, corrected, improved) first story on my website.

    I recently did a beta-reading project with a different project (a novel, currently back on the shelf), and the four readers did often disagree. I tried not to think of who’s right/who’s wrong, but just that these are two reactions readers could have, and to try to take both into account.

    • Sometimes a difference of opinion about a particular moment means that an issue is there, even if the readers respond differently to it or offer totally different solutions. I love looking through the line edit notes for that reason, and I totally agree that it’s important not to immediately judge reactions as right or wrong, because every reader brings him or herself to the book. The other side of that is not going willy-nilly through the manuscript changing everything that someone commented on, because ultimately the writer is the one caretaking the whole vision of the novel.

  6. Emma Burcart says:

    I think letting others read my work is a big part of the process. I go to writing classes at The Pinewood Table every week, and critique is a large part of what they do. But, that is looking at small chunks. A group that looks at the whole novel really is a gift. It is rare. I had an experience where I took a writing class somewhere else and the teacher did not get my story. I made the mistake of not reading his book first, or I wouldn’t have taken the class. I think you have to respect the writer to learn from them. Well, this guy wanted melodrama. He said I should make the friends into “frienemies”. I should have walked out right then. Paris Hilton is not in my book!

    • Emma, this is a very good point. Critique by peers is one thing, and a class with a teacher is something else. With a teacher, you do have to make sure it’s a good fit (and that the teacher can actually teach — the ability to write and the ability to teach are not directly related). I had a writing teacher in college who did get what I was doing, and at the time I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was.

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