Critiques: Writing up the Big Stuff
At my workshop last weekend, for the Redwood Writers, I took the participants through a few of the basics of critiquing:
- Reading the manuscript
- Writing the critique
- Presenting the critique
After a few minutes of my blathering talking, I had them get into groups and practice these basics. Then I critiqued their critique and we talked out a few things.
One of these things was the overall write-up that I recommend doing for every critique. I had some experienced and strong critiquers in the workshop, and this wasn’t something they were all used to doing. They had good reasons–available time and the size of their groups, and I didn’t–I hope–push them too hard to change the critique methods that were working for them.
I did, though, spend a few minutes mulling over why I think this written critique is important.
What I’m talking about here is the summary a critiquer gives the writer–the page or two of clearly written, full-sentence comments about any big problems the critiquer is seeing in the manuscript. These are comments about things like the overall plot, the character development, the clarity of instructions, and the strength of the author’s voice. Yes, of course, the critiquer has marked these problems as they noticed them on the manuscript pages, but this write-up is an extra step.
Here’s why I think this summary is important:
- Writing it helps the critiquer clarify their ideas. This doesn’t only help the writer, but pushes the critiquer, too, further along the learning curve we’re all on.
- The summary saves the critique session from being too rambly. If everybody just makes notes on their pages, then reads through them, the critiques are missing the big picture, the birds-eye view of the manuscript. The critiquers end up focusing on the words and sentences, at a time when the writer may actually need to step back from those words and think about bigger concepts for revision.
- No matter how supportive and respectful a critique is, the feedback can still feel overwhelming & intimidating. It can be hard for a writer to actually “hear” everything the critiquer is telling them, to absorb and understand it all. Having written comments to look at after the critique session can be invaluable to the author.
- I am an advocate of the Don’t-Revise-Until-You’ve-Finished-the-Draft school of thought. In other words, if I send in a couple of chapters for my critique group to read, I’m going to keep writing. When I get their comments, I’ll read through them, but then I’ll set them aside until I have written all the way through my current draft–at which time, I’ll look at ALL the comments I’ve received and get ready to revise/write the next draft.
If you also work this way (yay!), it can be weeks, or months, after you receive a critique that you start incorporating it into your manuscript. If you have to go back through 300 pages (times three or four critiquers) and sort through all the line-by-line comments, you’re going to feel lost before you get started. If you have a summary write-up for every chapter, from every critiquer, you have a solid place to start thinking about your revision. You have a way in.
In my book, The Writing Group Survival Guide, I incorporate this step–the step of writing up the big stuff–into the basic procedures for critiquing. If you’re in a critique group, or have been, was this part of your process?
Leave me your thoughts in the comments. 🙂