I'm spending the next couple days at my parents' house (which, tragically, is smack-dab in the middle of Oregon wine country). My apologies in advance if I don't respond promptly to tweets or blog comments.
Yesterday, I had a 2.5 hour drive over here to mull the feedback I just received from one of my critique partners, Cynthia Reese. She's the one I rely on most in the early stages of a manuscript when I find myself staring in bewilderment at my screen muttering, "now what?"
As usual, she gave me plenty to chew on with her commentary on the first few chapters of LET IT BREATHE. We've been critiquing each other's work for five or six years now, long before either of us had a book deal or reached the grim realization that an author's "I have arrived" moment is not the day an editor calls with a contract.
There's an art to critiquing someone else's work, but there's perhaps a greater art to handling critiques without tears, bloodshed, or the unnecessary loss of other bodily fluids. Whether you're digesting feedback from you agent, critique partner, or the exotic dancer you picked up at the bar last night, here are a few easy steps to facing it without police intervention:
Step 1: Say thank you. This can be hard when all you want to do is take a tire iron to the skull of whoever suggested your hero is a weenie, but this person has just done you a big favor. Whether or not you agree with the input, you just received the invaluable gift of an outside perspective on your writing. Say thank you and mean it. Better yet, pick one or two observations the person made and share why they were valuable. Critiquing can be as thankless as the writing itself, and the person giving you feedback deserves to know what you appreciate most.
Step 2: Be pissed off quietly. No matter how glowing the feedback or how thick your skin, there will always be something in a critique that makes you want to moan, "she just didn't get it!" This is a dangerous thing. Your gut says you must defend your masterpiece, while common sense suggests that if you just mull the feedback for a day or two, you might discover you're the one who just didn't get it.
Step 3: Give yourself time to marinate. Even if you're revved up and ready to start hacking, wait. Take a day or more to mull the suggestions consider your best approach. You might be amazed at what your brain cooks up while you're busy swilling Chianti or walking the dog.
Step 4: Make the small changes first. Things like typos and awkward sentence structure are easy fixes, and they'll give you a sense of accomplishment while you prepare for the next step.
Step 5: Tackle the big changes last. These are the tough ones, and by the time you reach this point, the marinating you did in Step 3 and the confidence you gained from Step 4 will have you fully prepared for it. Maybe your ending is a hot mess, or your heroine bears a striking resemblance to Charles Manson. By the time you reach this stage, your brain will have switched from wanting to beat itself against the keyboard to thinking, "well, maybe this could work..."
One final word of advice: trust the person giving you feedback, but also trust yourself. This is one of those things that comes with experience, but it's a crucial lesson to learn. I've worked with the same two critique partners and three beta readers for many years, and would honorably surrender a glass of sub-par wine to any of them if they were really thirsty. Even so, there are times I'll read a critique and think, "are you smoking crack?"
That's one reason I make sure I get multiple viewpoints on my work. What rubs one person the wrong way might be peachy keen with the other four, and while I always hear feedback with an open mind, that doesn't mean I have to use it.
So how do you tackle critiques? Any tips or hints you can share? Please do so in the comments. I'll be over here swilling wine with my dad while my poor mother shakes her head and considers dumping us on the side of the highway.