Richard North Patterson wrote, "Writing is rewriting." He couldn't be more right.
I've been thinking about critiquing lately, and having someone critique my work. It's nervous-making (Thanks, Scott Westerfeld, for permanently infecting my brain with Pretty-Speak.), but it's always worth the chewed nails.
The main problem with trying to critique your own work (a valuable skill that I'll talk about another time) is that you know what you were talking about. That makes it easy to excuse confusing phrases, or overlook glaring omissions. You know your characters, you know their tone of voice when they issue a line of dialogue, but just like when you receive an e-mail from someone you don't know very well, you can't be sure if they intend to be humorous or just plain mean.
Having fresh eyes on your work will tell you many things--what works, what doesn't, what got a laugh, or was interpreted as funny when that wasn't your intention (this happens to me a lot). A good critique partner will see all the typos your eyes have glossed over ten times, call you to the carpet when your characters are acting strangely, and give you the oh-so-necessary "Huh?" when you're not making any sense.
So what do you do with all this third-party input?
Well, you start by putting on your big girl panties.
You don't have to agree with every suggestion a critique partner makes (although I would argue that some rules of grammar are immutable and you should probably take heed of any suggestions in that arena) but you should learn from everything they say.
Here's just a few of the things that run through my head when I get notes from a CP:
1. I agree, thank God you pointed that out, or I might have sent that glaring error out into the big wide world.
2. Oh really? I totally didn't see it that way. I guess you're right.
3. Are you sure? I'm going to run this by a couple other people and look for a consensus.
4. You totally missed the point, but that means I did a crappy job communicating it. Better fix that.
5. Um, no. I would never use the phrase "heaving bosoms" in a novel and I'm just going to pretend you didn't suggest that.**
6. Yay! You got the joke! I was so worried about that one.
7. Really? That's funny? Huh. Didn't mean for that to get a laugh. Bonus!
8. Okay, okay, you're right, that part sucks. I was hoping I'd be wrong about that.
9. Oops! Now I feel like an idiot. I can't believe I mixed up it's and its.
10. Whew! That wasn't so bad. I can crawl out from under the bed and get out of my fetal position.
** Heaving bosoms is a pet peeve of mine, and here serves as placeholder for any off the wall suggestions from a CP. This business really is subjective.
Writers: Any other startling revelations come to you from a crit partner or beta reader?