On its most basic level, preparing a story for critique provides me with both an informal deadline and a great intermediate milestone for a work in progress.
If all goes according to plan, getting a story critiqued is one of the last rungs on the ladder to completing it and sending it out for publication. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come out that way.
So, how do I know when something is ready for critique?
I don’t submit first drafts to critique. In fact, I don’t show my first drafts to anyone. I need the security of “only my eyes will ever see this mess” in order to write bravely and take chances. The second draft is all about the big picture, major character adjustments, and fixing obvious plot holes. In the third draft, I clean things up and attend to style paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence.
At this point, I’ve arrived at the place where I feel I’ve taken the story as far as I can by myself. This is when comments from others feel most useful. Sometimes, I know there is some aspect that isn’t quite working, or some element that is out of balance, but I can’t figure out how to fix it. This is where a nice range of comments can really help me get unstuck.
I usually feel that the story is close to being finished, and I’m itching to wrap this project up and get on to the next one. Of course, sometimes my story isn’t close at all. See my post: Story Fail, Critique Win. Yeah, it’s disappointing. Writing stories requires a certain amount of ego, like when an actor takes a part; I really have to commit emotionally to the story I’m working on. It’s tough to find out that I’m farther from the finish line than I thought, especially when there isn’t always a clear fix.
Writing a good story is complicated, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A good set of critiques will not give you a single solution but many. It can be frustrating. Sussing out several opinions and ideas about a broken story is hard work. But finding a way forward and revising it is also a creative act; one that has led me to take my stories to places I hadn’t imagined at first.
And that’s a good thing.