Oh Susanna – How To Cope With Critique Group Feedback?

Happy Monday, Everyone!  It’s an Oh Susanna day!  But first, I’d like to give you a teensy report on the Reach Out And Read Event I did last week.

Reach Out And Read is a terrific program that seeks to put books in the homes and hands of children who would otherwise not own a book, and to educate their parents on the importance of reading to children.

We had a great crowd at the Ossining Open Door Clinic for the event.  So many eager listeners gathered on the rug to hear Can’t Sleep Without Sheep and Punxsutawney Phyllis.

Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira
Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira

Afterwards, many asked to have their books signed, and/or to have their photo taken with an actual author (and Phyllis and Baahb :))

Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira

All of them went home with books of their very own, thanks to donations from you and others.  We had so many books that families who brought 3 or 4 children were able to get a different book for every child and go home with several titles.

Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira
Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira
Photo by Ana-Maria Cabreira

It was truly a wonderful day.  Thanks so very much to all of you who donated books!

And now, today’s Oh Susanna question comes to us from Eric.  He says, “I love my writer’s critique group that meets each month.  They offer great feedback — LOTS of feedback.  But, I am often overwhelmed when I get home.  Do you have tips or tricks to managing feedback to use it effectively to improve your work?

This is an excellent question.

Whenever you hand over your beloved work – product of your blood sweat and tears – even though you know logically that it probably isn’t perfect, you secretly hope that your critique readers will come back with comments like, “This is the absolute best thing I ever read!  You’re a genius!  Submit it immediately!”

So when you get the logically expected feedback, your writerly defenses automatically go up.  No matter how mature and professional you are, you can’t help it.  Nor should you.  You worked hard on this!  You need a little time to let the comments sink in before you can fairly evaluate them.

So my advice is this:  don’t decide anything right away.  Part of that overwhelmed feeling is the natural result of having your hard work picked apart – it has more to do with emotion than technique.

So take all that feedback home.  And the next day, or the day after, take it out.  Read it over.  Think it over.  Let it simmer.

Then, when the writerly defenses have lowered their swords and you’re in a place where you can realistically evaluate the feedback, go through your ms one page at a time and see what you agree with and what you don’t.

I find it easiest to start with things that I agree with and/or are very easily fixable – like typos 🙂  This way you don’t have to start by making concessions in your work.  If you fix the easy things first, it’s a little less difficult to tackle the harder stuff.

You can also organize your critiquers’ comments into categories and approach your revision one topic at a time – overall plot, character development, dialogue, language use etc. – and make your revisions accordingly.

Were there things that ALL your critique members agreed on?  Those things should be tackled early on as they have the most likelihood of really being things that should be addressed.

Other things that were only mentioned by one person, you as author have to evaluate in terms of your story intent – does your critiquer have a valid point, or did they miss the point?  And if they missed the point, was that the fault of your writing and can you fix that?

Obviously, the longer the work, the more extensive and complicated the feedback may be – it’s going to be very different for a YA novel than for a picture book.  But the basic approach remains the same:  let it simmer, tackle the easy stuff first, then go through by page or category and tackle the harder stuff.  And if there are things you feel strongly should be left alone, well, you’re the author!

I hope that at least partially answers your question, Eric.  If you have follow-up questions, or more specifics, add them in the comments and we’ll all try to help.

And now, I hope some of our devoted readers who also deal with critique group feedback will chime in with their advice on how to handle it – how do you make the best use of your feedback, and how do you keep from feeling overwhelmed?