Friday, August 2, 2013

Letting Critiques "Marinate"

Viewing our stories from the perspective of another person can teach us a lot about writing. Most serious fiction writers make friends with other writers and exchange critiques with them.* Critiques give us vital perspective on our creations.

*You can also exchange work on this great site, called, where I learned how to self-edit by editing the work of others. Besides this, I learned many basic writing skills from the critiques of others, such as "showing" versus "telling." The website is essentially a free, online critique group.

However, we writers won't be able to understand that perspective, at first. It can be difficult for our minds to adjust to the lens of our critique partner's view. A partner's critique on my story often contains all sorts of hidden gold, if only I could mine it. In order to do that, I need to let the critique marinate in my mind alongside my story.

Then something magical happens (Magical, I tell you!). I suddenly see tons of ideas in the critiques that I never noticed before. It's like getting thoughts from several writers, instead of just one.

I used to read a critique once, maybe twice at most, before assuming "I got it."

No. No more.

Now, I have a process.
  1. I read the original critique and let it sit for a day or two or more, depending on how it strikes me. I may or may take some notes on it, at this point.
  2. Later, I read it again. I take notes on what I think is true, or what I think merits serious consideration. It's important for me to type it out the critique, or explain it out loud in my own words. As I do this, new insights from the critiques pop out at me.
  3. I come back to the critique multiple times and reread it, eventually transitioning from the critic's words to my own digested version. I run through my story with them fresh in my mind, taking notes on revision ideas as I go (but not necessarily implementing all the changes I see). As I do this for a time, more things make sense and connect. This part is especially exciting when I have two or more critiques because the advice often overlaps in areas.
  4. Finally, I implement the ideas from the critique (or ideas the critique inspired), starting with structural issues and ending with the nitty gritty. I can't say I stick to a list because sometimes new ideas pop up and I follow those. It's a haphazard, yet strangely, chaotically ordered process. (Sometimes it drives me a little insane because I like order. But writing is essentially ordering, so getting it done feels great.)
So, what can you learn from this, Scribblers? I don't know--maybe you'll want to try paying lots and lots of attention to the words of your own critics.

I was inspired to let critiques marinate by Kristin Cashore's wonderful blog post about how tedium and revision go hand in hand. (Kristin Cashore is the author of Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue, all of which are award winning female-driven YA Fantasy that I LOVE.) I highly recommend Cashore's craft post.

Photo Attribution:

By SJ Yang (Ganjang gejang  Uploaded by Caspian blue) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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