How to Digest a Tough Critique

Photo credit: acevvedo on Flickr
Getting critiqued is scary. Whether it's a CP who's already read four of your manuscripts, a beta reader, a freelance editor, your agent or editor or someone else, it can be nerve-wracking to wait for critique to come in.

Even though it's not personal, getting your manuscript critiqued can certainly feel that way. Comments can feel like punches to the gut and every flash of red can feel overwhelming.

To help get through the natural emotional reaction to critique, I like to follow these steps:

Before the critique:

  1. Remember this will make the manuscript better. This is a mantra I often repeat to myself both before reading critiques, during, and while I'm revising. Receiving criticism now is good—it means you can make your manuscript better and better and address problems early. Because...

  2. Remember it's 1,000% better to see the problems and fix them now than not realize until after it's published. As tough as getting critique for your manuscript can be, getting a lot of it early is important because the last thing you want is a major problem unearthed after the book is published. Because then it'll be too late to fix it. 

While reading the critique:

  1. Read it all in one sitting. I find it helps for me to read all the notes in one sitting, because that way nothing is a surprise when I come back to the notes and I can mull over everything together. This is, of course, what works for me—if you need to take breaks and tackle it in chunks, that's cool too. 

  2. Take deep breaths and consider each comment. Oftentimes, the first instinct with critique is to throw up defenses. Not everyone would see it like that or they didn't understand the point! or but this is too important for me to change etc. It's a natural reaction—but one you should challenge yourself to resist. You don't have to accept every comment, of course, but you do have to give each one careful consideration. It's your job.

After reading the critique:

  1. Thank critique partner (or whoever) for their thoughts. Always do this! Even if the critique isn't resonating with you right now, thank them for their time and thoughts. Critiquing isn't easy and they're helping you not only better your manuscript, but better your writing skills.

  2. Take a break. How long is up to you. I usually like to step away from notes and sleep on it before I make any changes. This helps me really let the critique sink in and get the gears moving as I start to consider how to tackle the problems and make changes. 

  3. Read again and consider how to fix issues. Once you're emotionally ready to start making changes, it's time to look over the notes again and start making concrete plans. For me, the second look-over is usually as I import comments from Word to Scrivener. I then like to organize them by category, which allows me to look at each section (plot/pace, character, world building, writing, miscellaneous) and consider what needs the most work and what strategy I'll use to start revising. 

  4. Get to work. There's only one way to move forward and make your manuscript even better than it was before—and the time to do it is now. Good luck!

What steps do you take to digest a tough critique? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling after getting a tough manuscript critique? @Ava_Jae shares some steps for taking critique. (Click to tweet)  
How do you digest a tough critique? Author @Ava_Jae shares some steps. (Click to tweet)

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