Thursday, January 19, 2012

So Your Critique Group's Awesome. Now What? How Do You Decide Which Notes to Implement?

Just about every writing blog I follow has at some point addressed the importance of critique groups, and I couldn't agree more. They're vital to making your work shine. A good critique group can mean the difference between signing with an agent or not, or even landing a book deal or not. We all need other writers to point out inconsistencies, plot holes, info dumps or just plain bizarre/bad writing. We also need cheerleaders to encourage us and point out the moments they loved. The best beta readers are a combination of the two.

Assuming you already have a core group of committed critique partners whose opinions and advice you respect, it's still difficult to decide which notes to listen to, and which to ignore!

Here's how I go about figuring it out:

1. Is there a consensus about some aspect of the story? (Do 3 out of 3 AI judges agree?) Then take another look at the problem, even if you don't want to, even if it's a pain in the butt to fix. There's a reason they all brought it up spontaneously. It's a problem. Consider this a bonus. It makes things easier.

2. What does your gut tell you? Even if only one person sees a particular problem, that doesn't mean you can automatically disregard it. You can usually tell right away if he or she has hit a nerve. Did you feel defensive or self-concious when it was brought up? Were you secretly hoping nobody would notice it? It's probably worth changing or you wouldn't have had that reaction.

3. What does your gut tell you, part B: Is the reader trying to help you tell your story, or are they trying to help you tell the story they wish you had written? If the former, give it serious consideration. If the latter, don't worry about it and move on. Luckily, it's been a long time since I've run into this dilemma; my beta readers all seem to "get" my style and help me see it through. I'm super grateful for them!

How do you handle critiques? Do you follow the above guidelines or do you think I'm nuts?


  1. Sarah, you set out good guidelines here. My experience is that there's often a person whose opinion you have to "move on" from, but without double-checking your own motives for pushing an opinion away, it's easy to place a more legitimate critique in that category. And even after I decide to disregard a specific criticism, I still take note of it as pure reader reaction.

    Critique groups are indeed a vital, important resource-- having been out there for ages without feedback, I'm grateful to have found a crew I know will help take my writing to the next level.

    Peace, Mari

  2. I do take any comment seriously. If something in my writing tickled someone's brain enough to mention it, it deserves a look see from me. I do look for matching comments from different people.

  3. Hi Sarah. Thanks for these points. You know, one item you included resonated with me today.

    "Were you secretly hoping nobody would notice it? It's probably worth changing or you wouldn't have had that reaction."

    I recently experienced this, and because I had that feeling, I addressed the issue in my manuscript BEFORE sharing it with anyone. It was definitely a red flag - even before it was noted by another.

    Thanks again for your post!

  4. GREAT critiquing advice! I think you are spot on. Sometimes you definitely need to follow CPs advice, and sometimes you need to not. Knowing when to do either is such an important skill to master!

  5. I love your advice! I also love my beta readers. :D