I can’t say enough about how helpful the comments from the novel review group have been in regards to Flowers for Dionysus We have met only twice so far, each meeting covering about ten thousand words of my novel. Be that as it may, things that have been brought up, praised and suggested have already begun to open my mind to new possibilities in the next draft. As this is the fifth draft they are reading, the lion’s share of the text is as I want it to be. The remaining drafts will be mostly polishing. But I have some great ideas as to where to polish.
It’s still early of course. They may grow to hate the rest of it. Yet even if they did, I know I can count on them to tell me why it is they don’t like what they’re reading. I trust them to do nothing more and nothing less than that.
Which is why I advise knowing people before you have them review your novel, should you be thinking about that route. Shorts stories are different; they lend themselves more easily to being critiqued be well meaning and knowledgeable strangers. But a novel is such a large investment of both time and spirit, you want to be sure, as I was, that those who will be offering detailed critiques are those who have already proven they know what they are talking about and are trustworthy.
In many ways I am the opposite of the stereotypical. Many are the times a writer has written something that they just know is outstanding, only to be brought down to size by a critique. In my case, I have always been proud of my work, but never acted under the assumption that it is brilliant just yet. In fact, there were always places I worried about. Places, I may add, that those in the review group thought were solid, and even enjoyable. So with me you have someone who has had some concerns actually quieted, as opposed to having them multiply.
I of course don’t have to do anything they suggest. I am sure I won’t do 100% of it. But already I know I will take certain suggestions and concerns to heart. It is clear even now that some of what they are noticing is legitimate, and probably would have gone unseen without their insight into the matter. The next draft will be, without a doubt, better because of their input.
And by the way, they aren’t ruthless, either. There is this notion that you have to find the meaning, coldest people you can to deliver the truth about your novel, if ever you want to improve it. I am here to tell you that at least for me, that has not been the case. They are honest without being cold, and explain what they mean without seeming as though what is there is without merit. In short they aren’t looking for things that are wrong. They are just honestly sharing a concern with me when it shows up.
The middle ground. Find it, when it comes time to have your novel critiqued. Avoid relying on yes men, and avoid dealing with those who feel they need to shoot it full of holes in order to get you to improve. Trust, respect, eagerness to help you. It’s the best way, and for now, I have the advantage of all three.