This might be how your soul feels after a rough critique. Pick up those pieces and start editing. Photo by Kate Ota 2019
I’m in the editing phase of my book, which is always the longest, and I’m soliciting feedback from many sources. And then getting all that feedback. I’ve written about critique groups and how to critique, but never explained my methods for what happens next. It can be overwhelming to receive a lot of feedback at once and some people will set that aside and not use it out of a sense of dread. Here’s my method for tackling feedback.
Step 1: Take Notes During the Critique
If you are doing a live critique, take notes as people talk. Even if they will send you an annotated document later, they might say something spontaneous that you don’t want to lose.
You can decide if you want to write down who says what, if that matters to you. For example, if someone who shares the character’s identity says “I’d change X about how you portray Y about this character” I make sure to write down who said that so I give their opinion extra weight.
If people repeat the same comment, I add a little x2 or x3 to a comment to save time. When I see this, I know this is something I need to change.
If people disagree, I write who was on what side (ex. John said he likes this character but Betty hated him). This allows me to later say, aha so Betty hated this character and this other element, I wonder if fixing that element then changes her opinion on the character. Most of the time though, it may just come down to people's opinions and knowing who said what won't really matter.
I also take notes if someone says something that sparks an idea in my mind. I’ll mark this with “note from me” so I don’t later think someone else was being rather forward with ideas.
Step 2: Consolidate Your Notes
I take all the notes I receive and transfer them into one document. I use track changes and comments in Word and will edit the document with ALL of the edits sent to me, regardless of if I agree or not. This is not the time to judge comments, only copy them. I add my notes from the live critique to the relevant scenes/chapters so I don’t have to scroll to the bottom of the document. In the end, I usually have a very marked up document, but at least it’s only one.
Step 3: Prepare Your Mindset
One thing people have a hard time with when receiving feedback is how it feels emotionally. It can feel like people hate your writing or you as a person or both. You need to go into your edits with the following mindset: everything everyone has written is only to help you. This needs to be your mantra. I realize there are bad actors out there who will send hate through the internet, and that's a risk you take. However, especially if you take my advice about trying live (or virtually-live) groups, you'll find that other writers really want to help. Everything everyone has written is only to help you. They are trying to help you make this book better and every edit choose to take is doing that. One more time before you dive into edits: everything everyone has written is only to help you.
Step 4: Make the Edits
While I receive my edits in Word, I write in Scrivener. This is because I love Scrivener for novels in general, but it has the added bonus of forcing me to think about every single edit rather than just hitting the accept button.
I work linearly through the document, and will save big edits (such as over used words throughout or all of the dialogue needing tweaking, etc.) for the end. The exception is if I’m re-writing a significant portion of the scene, that is something I’ll do first, then edit anything that carried over.
Here’s the sticky point for some people: how do you decide which edits to take? To me, it depends on the category of edits:
The nice thing about getting critiques is that no one watches you make the edits. Don’t feel guilty for saying no to a comment, and don’t feel like you’re a bad writer for taking one. The key to editing is humility: we're all human, we all make mistakes, and we can fix those mistakes.
Step 5: Final Polish
Once I’ve finished transferring in my edits, I send it through an AI grammar checker. Mine is ProWritingAid, but I’ve heard good things about lots of other programs. Which program I use is not a hill I’d die on. This is just a final polish and helps me catch some smaller, subtler errors. Usually these are errors generated by the process of editing itself. It also helps me make sure I’m not too pronoun heavy, that my sentences vary in length, etc. I recommend these programs as a final polish, but not an initial one. You need humans for that!
There are a ton of editing resources out there. Checklists for individual chapters, beat sheets for entire plot lines, etc. If you find yourself returning to the same problems, keep some of those resources nearby. I like to keep The Emotion Thesaurus handy because I consistently don’t show enough emotion with my characters.
That’s my feedback wrangling process. Did it help you? Do you have your own method you’d like to share? Let’s discuss in the comments!