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When Your Writing Group Reads Your Full...

So, I'm writing this post as much for myself (for the next time I give my writing group a full novel draft) as I am for the SCBWI community because EVERY TIME, I forget. I forget how hard it is to get a TON of feedback on a book I THOUGHT was pretty close to done...but actually needs a few more (dozen) revisions.

You have to be all grateful and kind about it because your amazing critique group members have all these opinions and ideas and some are awesome and incredibly thoughtful...but really, you're terrified (see photo) because they'll require plot shifts and character arc changes and more depth and more feeling and you know the changes will make the book better but HOW DO YOU HANDLE ALL THIS?! It's insane and overwhelming. And--very different from dealing with beta readers, who only have an internal dialogue with themselves, instead of an actual dialogue with several other people who riff and come up with MORE NEW IDEAS on the spot. The most important thing always stays the same: DON'T PANIC.

First off, I write down everything they say, of course. Or rather, I type it all up. (Why do you write something down, but type it up?)

Then I ignore it for awhile.

When I'm ready to read through everything, I just read it through. I don't cut and paste, or highlight, or delete. I just: read.

When I've read, if I can, I try to let my group's comments sit for hours or days. (Maybe not more than two days). Then...

I make a LIST. (See parts of my big list with crossed out lines and notes below). It's a very long list of every single thing my group members say I should change or think about. I like a bullet-point list myself, but if you like numbers--roman numerals or otherwise--knock yourself out. I don't know about you non-Virgos, but the Virgos out there are with me on the lists. They WORK! I try to organize my list from big-picture issues (I just feel like we need to like the sister more...) to small issues (the chapter titles should be changed) because those small things may change or disappear in subsequent revisions. (remember not to start with the small things, which I always do and then I have to re-do them when, like yesterday, I added a new chapter and had to re-do all the chapter titles but why did I do that when they're just going to change again? ARGH! I'm a time-waster!)

this is my list of revisions notes with notes and lines crossed out

Once the list is done, I sit on it again. I try not to dive into revisions until I've had a least a week away from the critique night itself and even a week from the list-making, if possible. I know people who are on deadline can't do this, and some of us love to just dive in, but patience is a most important virtue to writers, and this is a great place to practice it. Write blog posts instead (a-hem) or work on a new project. Get one of those adult-coloring books of woodland creatures. But let the revisions notes ALONE for that week of time.

Then I get out my markers and my highlighters and my fine-point black pen and I annotate the list. What's still resonating? Do I have ideas for how to fix some of the problems already? Those are the places it's fun to highlight star and to begin with. I go through everything making comments and crossing out ideas that won't work or that seem untrue to the story I want to tell. Not everything should be changed, and some issues can be addressed by changing other issues. So I like to draw big curvy lines between list items to show when issues are connected. Then, I choose something and dive in. Like with most things, that first dive is the most terrifying, but I try to get it over with fast. Like the way you do with polar bear swim.

Then, I plug through the list. And each time I get through one line-item, I get to CROSS IT OUT. I love crossing things out. It makes me feel accomplished and closer to my goal of sending this new book to my agent for her thoughts.

Then I: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. When I'm fully in the revision (cave some might say, but Jennifer Bertman suggests a cabana in her blog post on alternatives to the cave of revision and I like that better--or even a Tiki Bar of Revision) it's often mind-bending and hard to get past certain plot points, and that's when I go for a nice long walk or to dance or to yoga or stand on my head. One artist suggested she needed to be "aired out." That's how I feel, both mentally and physically. So make sure to air yourself out.

Then get back into your tiki bar. When you leave, you'll surely look like you're stumbling out drunk, but you'll have a revision in hand.

Having a plan for post-full-novel-critique makes me feel like I can handle the overwhelming feedback from my group. I have to remind myself that I know how to do it, that I can do this--there's a method and if I just keep going it will get done. Knowing this helps me not panic.

Well, that's what I'll tell myself at least.

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