Ask Esther: When is a Manuscript Ready for Critique?
Editor's Note: Every issue of our Quarterly publication features Esther Porter answering questions from writers about craft and process. Today is Question #2 of 2 from the Summer Quarterly (Question #1 was published yesterday here). Have a question for Esther? Send it our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At what point is a manuscript ready for critique? What are the benefits and drawbacks from receiving a manuscript critique at different stages?
Feedback can be useful at any stage, and a manuscript is ready for critique whenever you have a group of readers you trust. Feedback can even be useful early on while you’re coming up with a premise for your story. Readers who can assist you in developing the storyline, characters, and plot are an absolute gift.
When you have writer’s block, a group of readers can be invaluable, especially if they’re familiar with your writing process and understand your goals. This team of readers can also be your team of co-writers, helping you jump into the next chapter or recognize another layer of plot. They can also let you know when you’ve written something that doesn’t align with their understanding of your characters.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for allowing space for solitude. Sometimes we lose patience with ourselves too early. It can take a while for our minds to ruminate on a challenge, and we need to allow ourselves the time to come to the best conclusion. When you hear feedback from readers who aren’t as invested in the story, they can distract you from the most appropriate step forward.
Beware the reader who tries to turn your story into something they would like to write. It’s your story, and it should remain so. Knowing when to let your readers’ opinions roll off your back can be difficult, especially when you’ve made yourself vulnerable enough to participate in a workshop. I suppose it comes down to trust, no matter what stage in the game. You need to trust the readers in your workshop, but, more importantly, you need to trust your own instincts. There isn’t a story in this world that pleases everyone. So let your stories please you.
Esther Porter is a Founding Editor at Revolver, an arts and culture magazine based in Minneapolis (www.around-around.com). She earned her English degree at the University of Minnesota, then spent five years working for Coffee House Press. She has published eight children’s books with Capstone Press. Esther is now offering editorial services through the Loft’s Manuscript Critique and Coaching Program. Learn more at loft.org/edit.