Tips, Writing

Level Thinking: wading through the critique-bog

Critique partners are essential. We need to have other eyes look at our writing; need to hear other voices say what works and what doesn’t. Getting the critique is often fun — at least it is in the group I’m currently a part of. Processing the critique and using it to make a difference in our writing, that’s hard work.

If at all possible, go for electronic comments over handwritten ones. Once a while someone will be running late and print off a hard copy to critique in long hand, or comes to critique group having read the material, but not written any comments. It’s not unusual to come home with some comments waiting for me in my e-mail, some in longhand, and some scribbled on pieces of paper. The day after the group meets I try to enter those longhand comments into my computer file. It’s so much easier to do that right away instead of trying to remember, weeks later, what were those comments about that pesky Chapter 3?

It is so much easier to locate patterns with an electronic format. In Word, we have a choice between insert comments and track changes. It helps to know the difference.

  •  Track changes means that every altered key stroke is shown. If we have additional spaces between two words, and one is removed, we get a box in the margin showing that. If we mistyped word when it should have been work, and our partner corrects it, that shows up as well. And so on.
  •  Insert comments means that the person doing the critique selects Insert – Comment, and types in a comment.

Personally, I find track changes too distracting. There is also a slight possibility that I’ll accidentally click Accept all Changes, at which point everything my critique partner did disappears. Not something I want to happen.

It’s also important to have a folder set aside for returned critiques, and to name files consistently. The naming format that works for me runs like this

2014-06-22 SharonWalterCTBChapt01-05.doc

that is, date I received the critique-my name-name of the person who did this critique-book title abbrevation-material covered.

One of the mistakes writers make is to revise based on critiques too early in the draft. We get a critique on Chapter 1, so we revise Chapter 1. Ditto, Chapter 2. Ditto, Chapter 3. Only because of what we revised in Chapter 3, Chapter 1 now isn’t right. We go back and re-revise Chapter 1. It’s entirely too easy to get lost in the re-re-re-revision circle when what we should be doing is continuing to move forward to the end of this draft.

I try not to look at critique comments with the idea of doing a rewrite until I have at least 10 chapters critiqued. The one exception is a scene or chapter that is a complete disaster. If it’s that bad I have another go at it and send that revision back for more comments before moving forward again.

So now I’ve collected

  • 2014-06-22 SharonWalterCTBChapt01-05.doc
  • 2014-06-22 SharonCathyCTBChapt01-05.doc
  • 2014-06-22 SharonMargaretCTBChapt01-05.doc
  • 2014-06-24 SharonGeorgeCTBChapt01-05.doc

That’s about 50 pages x 4 people, or about 200 pages I have to look at. Fortunately, Word makes it possible to combine several similar documents into one. What I’ll end up with is 50 pages, with comments from 4 people all in one file

If you’re not sure how to do this, check the Word help feature for directions. If you’re really stuck, send me e-mail and I’ll help you navigate through the process.

I save this combined file with a new name, such as

2014-07-06 CTBChapt01-05allcritique.doc.

Then I read through the entire critique, looking for places where there is

  • positive agreement (everyone loved the way Connie and Todd meet). These are so nice because I don’t have to do a thing, except pat myself on the back.
  • negative agreement (four people said they didn’t understand why Connie’s did what she did in Chapter 2).
  • reaction is all over the place (love Todd, don’t like Todd, don’t understand Todd’s motives. Todd is a mess).
  • a repeating pattern of the same kind of problem (needs more sensory details was mentioned in chapters 2, 3, and 5)

I work on repeating patterns first because this will clear up more of the material in the quickest way. This is obviously a place where I need help.First step, find an article or book reference on adding sensory detail. After I’ve regrounded myself in the basics, I’ll go through all of those 5 chapters and add sensory detail everywhere that looks appropriate.

The second thing I try to work on is places where reactions are all over the place. What’s wrong with Todd? Maybe the problem showed up in Chapter 2, but once I fix that, I go through all of the chapters and look at each place Todd appears. I’ll probably need to tweak him a little in other places, and I might as well do it now.

Finally I’ll look at that consistently negative reactions. In many cases because I’ve already done repeating patterns and reactions all over the place, I’m likely to have affected these negative situations in some way. Ah, now I’ve fixed that Todd was abysmally failing at trying to use humor to cover his nervousness, I see how that affected Connie actions in Chapter 2. Since Todd is now a stronger character, I can use that strength to improve Connie as well.

What I don’t do until the final draft is worry about line edits. Line edits are things like grammar, spelling, punctuation, word order, etc. The reason I don’t correct them on every draft is I’m likely to rewrite over a lot of this stuff that needs correction as I do subsequent drafts, and the problems disappear on their own.

The one exception to which I do pay attention, is the real corker of a mistake that changes the meaning of the sentence.

  • This was all her mother’s fault. changed to read
  • This was not all her mother’s fault.

Hope to see you back again on Tuesday, July 1, for Write the Novel — Moving into the first draft. You’ve written all the way through Draft Zero, the unfinished manuscript. You’ve got a completed manuscript in your hands. Congratulations. Now what?