Thursday, March 20, 2008

To Critique or Not to Critique....

I'm curious. Does it make sense to critique a work-in-progress novel chapter by chapter? Or should the writer hunker down and pound out that first draft without any outside influence?

I've done it both ways. Greenwood Girls was written in about a year. 55K words with little characterization, few atmospheric details and a sketchy plot. But when I typed "The End", I seriously thought it was a masterpiece. I printed it and hauled it to my first writer's retreat. Three lovely people read it and guided me through my first critique session. I soaked up everything. I was absolutely astounded how complete strangers (how did they get inside my head?) could actually think up better plot problems than me. I mean, I was the author! A year later, after rewriting and more critiquing , my novel got better. Three years later, I actually love my novel again but know, with a fair amount of certainty, that revisions might never end.
My next novel, The Susannah Summer did not have the luxury of being written from beginning to end. After the first chapter was written, I passed it in for a critique. The comments were awesome, but for some reason, I haven't made it past chapter 5. The comments made me questions things prematurely. I didn't know how to fix things because the story wasn't developed yet.
I suspect that as an artist, one must create before one can analyze.
I have a few writer friends who I know think along the same lines. We prefer to type away organically and let the characters speak to us. Some prefer to map things out and get feedback every step of the way.
I tried this approach with my third work-in-progress, What Guys Want. I mapped out my plot, did some characterization, had an idea of how I wanted to write it, and so far, it's been fun. And frustrating. I'm half way through the book and just recently received comments for my first three chapters. At first, I was thinking that i might never get through the first draft, but the critiques helped me think of better ways the story might be told. Maybe this way, I will have to revise the final first draft less.
Now that would be fun!
I would love your opinions. Obviously, either way is right if it's right for the author. but, just curious!


  1. So far everything I've submitted to the critique group was a completed draft going in. That doesn't mean that things didn't get altered dramatically after hearing people's opinions - but at least I knew where it was supposed to end up!

  2. Ditto for me. I think I would have a hard time getting feedback on a WIP when I knew things needed to change. I like to write a first draft, revise some, and then submit.

  3. Hey there Patty, great post! As you know, I am definitely a type first draft first, get critiques later kinda gal. I also like to write quickly. I have written five MG/YAs that are in various stages of revision. I am now concentrating on polishing them one at a time. I prefer to work this way because I feel that I stay truer to the inspiration of the story.

    I learned the hard way. On my first novel I had it critiqued while I was writing and it turned out muddled. I love the story, but will get back to it when I am a more experienced writer. I think the story deserves that.

  4. It's a conundrum. I guess I'm the poster child for not critiquing an unfinished manuscript--it almost seems to lead to writing by consensus, and leaves the poor author (me) writing without much direction. On the other hand, serious procrastination can be mitigated by the pressures of impending critiques.

    Just wanted to compliment you on finding the perfect graphic for a critique group. You certainly captured the essence of our former group...:)

  5. Interesting! I think I'm with you guys. This critiquing as you go thing is hard. Now that I have a FULL TWO WEEKS of no work (yeah!), I plan to write a ton.
    Thanks for the input everyone!


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