by Annette Lyon
A few weeks ago, I posted about how to take a critique.
That post has a lot of important points, so if you haven't read it, do. Then come back.
Now for the next step: actively using a critique. I'll use the term editor below when referring to the person who did your critique. That could be a critique group member, beta reader, editor, or anyone else who is giving you feedback.
1) Before changing anything, do an initial pass.
Read through the entire edit quickly, without making any changes. You'll get a simple overview of what's ahead. Take stock of what's been changed, suggested, noted. Get a feel for what kinds of changes your editor sees for the book (or chapter or scene) as a whole. If you don't know your editor personally, this also helps to give you a feel for their personality.
2) Set it aside and take a deep breath.
If you're anything like me, even if you can take a critique because you've built up thick skin, you'll still get butterflies (or, say, nausea) opening up and reading an edit for the first time. That feeling may not subside (and it may get worse) after that initial pass. Sometimes setting the work aside for a bit (an hour, a day, a week, whatever it takes) lets you come back without the nerves but with a clearer, more objective view. Making changes is so much easier when your stomach isn't an emotional knot.
3) Attack the small stuff first.
That means addressing anything that you can change in short spurts, whether it's punctuation, grammar, and other line-editing stuff, or fixing somewhat bigger stuff, like showing this scene instead of telling it, upping the characterization in that scene, and so on.
4) When you find "big stuff," skip it. For now.
You'll be cruising along on your edit, with pages behind you, when you hit chapter nine and a big huge comment that you know is valid but is going to require some serious changes. The changes could mean rewriting entire sections or going through the entire manuscript to fix the same problem in multiple pages. Whatever it is, "big stuff" can be overwhelming. It can also be discouraging. With any luck, you won't have more than about ten or so "big stuff" issues.
5) THEN attack the hairy parts.
There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a lot of work done, whether it's manuscript pages or notes in an electronic file. Relish in the victory of finishing that "easy" pass (because even the easy pass isn't easy; it is work). Now go back and deal with the bigger stuff, one issue at a time, as your creative brain (and, let's face it, your emotional stress detector) can take them. If you get stuck, set the work aside again and think through the big issue you're facing to find the best way to address it. Don't rush big fixes.
6) Go over it again.
When you've addressed every note and change in the edit, do a final pass. You may catch new problems you've inadvertently inserted into the text through your changes (time lines, character or location details, overall consistency). Fix them as you come across them.
And while you're at it, be sure to enjoy reading through a cleaner, better version of your work.