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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to Get a Novel Critique and Love It

Anyone who has ever gone through the pain and joy of publishing a novel can tell you that writing a novel is just the first step.  It might be the hardest part, but even after you type "The End" there's still a lot more work to be done.  You need to revise and edit your novel before you send it off to literary agents or editors.  But in order to do that, you need to get good feedback on your novel.  You need a critique.  Here's how to make the most of it:

1)  First, give your novel to someone else to read.
The best way to do this is to join a critique group.  You might find one advertised at your local bookstore, or you can find one by looking online.  Finding the right critique group is an art in itself.  Try looking for a writing organization in your state, or search by genre (SFWA.org, RWA.org, Mystery Writers, etc.).  Or even Backspace.  If any of your friends are savvy fiction readers, you could try to pawn off your manuscript on them, but that path is fraught with its own dangers.

2)  Be patient!  

Even though you desperately want your feedback right away, you actually need some time away from your novel manuscript to gain a little perspective.  And your friends need time to read your novel, think about it and point out all of its problems in a way that won't make you want to throw yourself off a cliff.

3)  Listen and write it down.
That's so important, I'm going to repeat it.  When you finally do get feedback, you need to do just two things: listen and write it down.  Don't defend your work, don't explain anything, and above all, don't argue.  Just transform yourself into a bobble-head doll and nod along as you write down everything they say, even if it sounds like idiocy.

4)  Put your notes away for as long as you can stand.  
A week is good.  A month is better.  Seriously.  Because only with time will you be able to tell just how valuable those notes are, and what a tremendous gift of insight your friends have handed you.

5)  Brainstorm.
Once you've had time to clear your thoughts, read through the notes and brainstorm as much as possible.  Write notes to yourself about specific things you could do to make the book better.  You're not looking for carved-in-stone solutions right now, just options.  Come up with as many ideas as you can.

Spend some time doing all of that, and then coming up next, I'll walk you through the steps of being your own developmental story editor.

Do you have a writing question? Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel? Just ask! And if you try this idea and like it, let me know!

2 comments:

  1. As usual, wonderful advice, especially about not arguing or defending your work as it's being critiqued. At critique group, I worry that we let ourselves get away with, "Well, I answered that criticism in a really clever way, so I don't have to fix it in the writing."

    One thing I do that's not so good is let my work sit for a really long time in between drafts, like, a year. A month or two is much better, good for you!

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  2. Thanks for the kudos! Actually, I think walking away from your manuscript for a year might work to your benefit. The more time you spend away from a project, the better your perspective. I've come back to a novel manuscript a year later and said, "Oh! So THAT'S where the problem is." Because with time, things become much more evident. So it's possible you're doing exactly what you need to do.

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