Early in 2022, I will be running a middle grade novel past my critique group. I am going to ask people to read it as a whole, cover to cover so-to-speak. Why? Because I want to know how the story works as a whole and the larger structure is easier to evaluate if you read an entire work vs a few chapters here and a few chapters there.
That said, it can feel overwhelming to rewrite a book based on feedback from multiple people. All of the comments can seem overwhelming. But there are things that you can do to make it work.
First thing first, don’t try to read through the comments in 4 different documents. How do you even do that? Do you read all of one person’s comments on chapter 1 and then go one to the next person? Or do you do it a page at a time? Encourage your critique partners to use the comment feature on Word and you can make it all much easier.
Did you know that you can merge the comments from multiple documents? I just found this out myself. In the ribbon at the top of your screen, click on “Review.” This will give you a ribbon of new selections with “Compare” toward the right end. Click on “Compare” and then click “Combine.”
Read Your Manuscript
Before you read other people’s comments, reread your manuscript. Make your own comments. “Why don’t my characters worrry about their parents until now? Add something earlier on.” “What does a space port smell like?” “Why doesn’t the older brother seem more stressed/worried?”
Whatever you find or wonder about, comment on it. You are going to find things that you want to change but now isn’t the time. Just add your own comments.
Why aren’t you fixing things right this second? Because you want to . . .
Read All the Comments
Now is the time to read through all of the comments that your readers made on your manuscript. Again, don’t stop and fix things just yet. You are simply taking stock.
You may see some comments that you agree with. “I noticed that too. My character does seem wooden.”
But there are going to be other comments that you don’t agree with. “But I said that two pages ago.”
Don’t worry. Just keep reading those comments.
Let It All Simmer
It still isn’t time to start rewriting. At this point, you might be upset. After all, rewriting is a huge job. And you really wanted the people who read your work to love it but they gave you so much to fix.
But writers are funny people. When you ask them to read something, even if they like it they are looking for things to comment on. After all, you did ask for help. They want to help!
Before you try to make any changes, go do something else. I don’t mean dust an end table or bring in the mail. Work on something else for two or three days. Various comments will float to the surface throughout this time period. You’ll think about them but you’ll also gain a bit of distance. Once two or three days have past it is . . .
Time to Rewrite
Read through the comments again. Some will be easy to address. “Yes, that would be a better word.”
But others are going to require a bit of thought. When you see a comment you don’t agree with, don’t just dismiss it. Think about why this section of your book didn’t work for your reader. You don’t need to make the recommended change but you might still need to make a change. If you come up with your own solution it will likely work better in your story.
Rewriting is a huge job. Don’t expect to get through it quickly. Give it the time it deserves, because really? Writing a manuscript is only step one. Rewriting is a skill you will need to master. Me? I love watching my manuscript change and grow. And I’m really looking forward to getting to this point on my current project.