The nervous excitement as you hit send. The relentless checking of emails days before the actual due date. The anticipation of gushing praise and lofty love for your written words as you open that attached file.
“What do you mean it’s not perfect?!”
If you have ever submitted your manuscript to a critique group you know this feeling.
As writers, we get so giddy at our own marvelous ideas; the darling phrases we string together in longer even dearer sentences; our clap-it-out-rhythm; our almost perfect rhyme; our totally original, there-has-never-been-another-like-this character. We get so enthralled in our own genius.
And we miss. We miss that we do not have a story arc. Or a problem. Or a satisfactory conclusion. We miss that our amazing alliteration is all tell and no show. We miss the mark. And it is our critique group’s job to gently lead us back to our target – our goal.
So what to do with that critique?
1. Let it rest. At first read, you may think your critique partners miss your point. You may think they are interpreting your story the wrong way. You may think all kinds of unpleasant thoughts. Close the document. Walk away. Get the emotions under control.
2. Re-read. Sometimes at that first read, your emotions can block your ability to perceive. When you carefully re-read it during a quiet, productive time, you can process much better what your partners are saying.
3. Print it out. I am a very visual, hands-on person. For my process, I need to have physical copies of the critiques in front of me. I make notes and brainstorm new ideas on them.
4. Change it up. I take all the suggestions and APPLY them to my manuscript. Yes, without question or prejudice. Every one. If someone says, “Delete all the illustrator notes” I do it. Even if it scares the living daylights out of me. Only when all these suggestions are incorporated in my manuscript, can I see which ones add value, where I disagree, which of my original ideas I want to keep and which I want to tweak.
5. Revise, revise. No, not done yet. Revise.
What kinds of changes can you make during revision? In ONE picture book manuscript, apart from the usual cleaning up, I have made the following changes:
· From present tense to past tense
· From third person to first person narrator
· I rewrote the middle and sent it for a critique
· Then I rewrote the beginning and the end
· I looked at all my verbs. Are they active? Are they vivid?
· I crossed out all descriptions that could be shown in illustrations.
· I searched for places where I could include senses the illustrator cannot show.
· I attempted to add humor
· I amped up the tension
· I changed the title (three times)
One manuscript. Eleven months. A measly 466 words.
Usually, after such major revisions I will send the same manuscript again for critique.
And would you know it? It is still not perfect. But it is beginning to look a lot like a picture book!