Post-critique Method: How to Turn a Conversation About Your Manuscript into a Productive Revision of Your Book

stackofmssA member of what will shortly blossom into the full-fledged Book Writing World–my online community, craft and coaching site for writers of books–had more than a dozen people read her manuscript, writing comments in the margins. Now what? she wondered, looking at this stack of xeroxed books.


First, I told her, open all the manuscripts to page one. Look at anything any one said on page one, and consolidate what is relevant and useful into one book. Go along, page by page, until you’ve reviewed and condensed the whole conversation onto one manuscript.


(On a practical level, this means that you go through each manuscript until you come to the first page that has a comment, and then you let it sit on your bed or floor or wherever you’ve spread everything out, until you get to that page in your review.)

She found it helpful to have this systematic approach, but then she’d finished going through all the pages of all the manuscripts. Now what?


So, what now that you have these comments transcribed?

1) Look through them and make a list of any structural or BIG issue comments that resonate with you but which will need to be addressed on a macro level.
2) These macro issues will take daydreaming, re-plotting, conversations with your character, ripping seams and pulling out nails. Re-visioning. Give them time. Ask yourself questions and let the answers percolate. Draw diagrams, read books, muse.
2) The rest of the comments will be easier: page by page, line by line you look at the comments. If you agree something needs to change, change it.
3) You have to go back to “first draft” writing mode in order to try something out. There’s no way to write something for the first time that isn’t, at some level, a first draft. Sounds obvious, but it’s hard to put first draft material in the middle of a manuscript you’ve been laboring over. There is, however, no other way. You have to experiment, see what works, be willing to get it wrong.
4) Once you think you have something that might work, go on page by page to the next site-specific comment or comments and address those.
5) Keep in constant communication with yourself. Do not fix what does not, to your way of seeing, need fixing. Do not assume that other people’s suggestions will be the right ones to fix a problem. Identify the problem underlying the suggestion and see what your own storyteller has to say about solutions.


I hope this helps others who are wondering how to move forward after a critique! How do you integrate feedback?


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5 Comments

  1. This is SOOOOO helpful! This is advice I wish I had been given in my MFA program. I still have all of the manuscript critiques from my workshops, in a giant file box, and find them so overwhelming. This is a practical, common sense way to tackle all of that feedback. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth! Thanks, I am so glad this is helpful. Even so, I have those stacks, too. They’re hard to throw out . . . even once incorporated. But I’m sure the hoarding instinct has benefits for writers! 🙂

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  3. Thanks Elizabeth ~ this is what I needed this morning as I go to add in additional material thrown at me for the non-fiction book: I’ll go through the new material & highlight it, then go page by page through the original manuscript. What a great technique!

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  4. Oh Elizabeth, Was that a picture of all the copies of my book stacked up while I jabbed at my cuticles figuring out what to do first? Had no idea there was a systematic approach to that stack as it all looked so overwhelming.
    THANK YOU so much. I think you’re psychic.
    Now onto those questions.
    Bree

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth! Thanks, I am so glad this is helpful. Even so, I have those stacks, too. They’re hard to throw out . . . even once incorporated. But I’m sure the hoarding instinct has benefits for writers! 🙂

    Reply

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