A new critique group member recently presented us with Chapter I of her YA novel—an engaging high school sports saga with a female athlete protagonist. After hearing our comments, she confessed that it wasn’t the first time she’d shared this piece. Workshop members from a local college had very different reactions than the ones we provided. For instance, they did not appreciate her clever metaphors, whereas I felt the work was strongest at those points—humorous, insightful, spoken with a strong and unique character voice.
At home that evening with a cup of tea and time to reflect, I wondered: is there such a thing as too many critiques? After all, not everyone agrees on the merits of published books, so a first draft would certainly elicit a wide range of comments. If a writer is presented with a dozen different viewpoints on the same story, which suggestions should she accept and which should she let slide?
Firstly, writers need to examine how many people point out the same problems. If there is more than one critique member who questions the character’s motive in a particular scene, then it makes sense to consider that section more carefully. But points on which the critique group does not agree, it’s appropriate for the writer to trust her own instincts, either by revising or letting the words remain.
Next, getting to know your critique partners well helps to reveal the most reliable criticisms. There are people whose judgment you will tend to trust, and those who just don’t agree with your direction. There will be those who always insist on line-editing until your prose reads exactly like their own. A group member may have a wildly differing style or not call your genre a specialty. It is important to listen to all criticisms and to understand why they are being voiced, but to address every single one is not productive. Too many cooks may indeed spoil the broth.
There’s no doubt that every manuscript needs to be critiqued. If you’ve completed a first draft and you’re licking the envelope to that agent: stop. You’ve only just begun. Find a critique group and get ready to rewrite.
There are no rules regarding how many times something can be workshopped, but as you become more familiar with the revision process, you’ll soon learn which advice to listen to and which you can ignore. A novel will not be all things to all readers, but it needs to be true to your vision as a writer.
What do you think? Can work be over-critiqued?