Every fiction writer can benefit from a critique of his or her work. But too many critiques, critiques done too early, and taking advice from the wrong people make a critique your worst nightmare. These are the best ways to benefit from critiques.
Don’t get a critique too early. Finish your first draft before you even consider getting a critique. In fact, you should edit and polish your story the best you can before you ever show it to someone else. There are some reasons for this. In the first draft, you are working out the story on paper. You don’t need someone telling you they don’t believe your characterizations or where your plot is going. You work those out in the first draft as you discover your story. The novel evolves as you write it, and if you share it too soon, it will no longer become the story you have because other people’s opinions will affect the way the story evolves.
Edit your own first draft. After you finish your first draft, put it in a drawer and ignore it for at least a couple of weeks. This will help your objectivity and make it easier to edit. Now you do your own editing. You’ll learn your craft by laboring over your first and second drafts working them to become great. Do the hard work. Don’t expect others to do it for you.
Be careful whom you have critique. After you’re sure you’ve edited and rewritten the best you can, go ahead and show the story to a few people who love the genre of fiction you write. You’ll want different people in the mix. If you know a grammar expert, definitely recruit that person as one of your best resources. Also, find a couple of people who love to read but don’t necessarily write to point out where characters or plots seem unbelievable or where the reader loses interest. Last, find a couple of writers well versed in the craft who understand your voice and style of writing. Many times finding a good group of critiquers is trial and error. Keep working at it until you find the team that helps you the most.
Don’t Get Discouraged. When you get your critiques, don’t be discouraged by varying opinions. Remember they are opinions. Also, after you read a critique, don’t change anything right away. Let the critique set a day or two to digest the information and help you look at it in a fresh way.
Plan how you use critiques. Correct punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, and any writing errors such as adverbs, POV problems, and repeated words. Now you’re ready for the other comments – things such as holes in the plot, character problems, and pacing. Don’t make these changes right away. Stew on them for a while. Consider which opinions you want to use. If more than one person points out something, give that opinion more weight. But remember, it’s your story.
Don’t get too many critiques. I’d say more than ten is excessive. You probably don’t even want that many. If you have too many opinions about your work, you might be tempted to second-guess yourself. It’s your story. Always remember that.