Recovering from the Post-Critique Muddle
Two years ago, I rewrote my entire manuscript based on the feedback I received from my critique group. This was a much-needed change and I’m really grateful that their questions brought me to that decision.
Recently, I sent my revised manuscript off to two beta readers and had an “eek!” moment.
In this area, I've grown a pretty thick skin and can take constructive criticism. Still, I was nervous. I’ve been working on it for a long time and I wanted them to like it. Especially this time around with all the changes I'd made.
Moreover, I wanted them to understand it. I hoped I had done my job in every major area and expected the feedback to propel book to the next level.
Overall, the feedback I received was positive and the suggested changes are ones I am more than happy to tackle in the coming weeks.
In light of this recent experience, I wanted to share my processes on reading critiques and how I recover from (what I diagnose as) post-critique muddle syndrome (PCMS).
Why we need constructive criticism
Most of us want to make our manuscripts better—that’s why we ask for constructive criticism, but a part of us holds out hope that we are brilliant by ourselves. That we somehow understand storytelling better than everyone else. That we get it, and others, well, they probably don’t. And perhaps some of us do have an innate sense of what’s quality and what’s not.
BUT EVENTUALLY, the day will come when we must lay our manuscripts on the altar and draw the knife. Or more accurately, pass the knife to a trusted reader.
It is vital to know how others read our work. We need them to point out the plot holes, the weak executions, the confusing bits, and those sentences that contradict one another.
Dealing with post-critique muddle syndrome (PCMS)
Take some time before diving into revisions.
Think about what has been said. Read the feedback over and over and make sure you understand it. Then, take some time to think about it. I've found I like to wait about a week.
Two must agree
In my experience, I can send my book out to three different people and get back three different opinions. Because let’s face it, all reading is subjective. There is no such thing as an objective critique. My rule of thumb is that two must agree before I make a change. One of those two people can be me.
Play devil's advocate
Receiving tons of feedback can be overwhelming. And once you've decided to accept the feedback the work begins again.
I always open a fresh document and compile a list of the suggested changes.
My in-doc brainstorming process goes something like this…
Question: Should I omit secondary character Boris Bagpipe?
Pros: If I did away with Boris I would have more space in my story to develop my amazing protagonist, Edna Eggnog. (And add in a few more eggnog drinking scenes! What joy!)
Cons: If Boris is not in the story, who will tell Edna about the magical book that her grandmother left her in her will?
Pros: Edna has to go on an even deeper journey in order to find the magical book! Heightened stakes!
This process of self-dialogue helps solve the problem of whether to accept or reject the feedback and how accepting the feedback will change the story’s outcome for better or for worse.
My two cents
When dealing with PCMS, remember that this is your story. Stick to your gut. Consider the suggestions and then decide what you think about your work. Own responsibility. Turn off the voices and write that book you’ve always wanted to read. Believe in yourself and your vision…and amaze us all!
Have you dealt with being bewilderment after receiving feedback? Do you have any advice for dealing with it?