In a comment to last week’s post about the risk of First Drafts as Final Drafts, my writing colleague Pantsless Justin asked if I think a story could be critiqued and/or revised too much. Absolutely. Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor at Tor and instructor at a workshop I attended, calls this “crit burn” (like freezer burn) and says he can see it in manuscripts.

I don’t know exactly what tips him off, but I have seen heavily critted manuscripts that read somewhat scattered, as though they’re trying to do too many different tiny things. With critiques of my own writing, I can easily dismiss suggestions that are completely different from what I’m trying to achieve in that piece. And there are always suggestions that are brilliant–Charles Coleman Finlay says that if a crit suggestion is so cool that you wish you’d thought of it yourself, put it in.

Where I sometimes have trouble is the area in between. I can’t speak for anyone else, so for this discussion I’ll have to use myself as the example. I often wonder if suggestions that are slightly beyond my original focus might not be good things to change. I also often find myself subconsciously giving more weight to comments from people whose own writing I respect.

Part of this self-examination does come from the fact that I’ve only sold two stories. I have themes and types of stories that I like to write, and I have my own personal style, but I’ve only caught a couple editors’ attention. As with any new writer, there’s no way to know if I just haven’t hooked others’ interest or if there is a fundamental flaw in my fiction. So I always wonder if interesting comments are things worth pursuing so I can hook more editors.

Perhaps this is one of the points that the proponents of the First Draft is Final theory are trying to combat. The first draft may be your most original and pure, and changing it based on the comments of others might dilute that originality. But other readers can also see a draft from a far more objective vantage. Their comments can reveal ambiguity and erroneous interpretations. The benefits of finding those outweigh any risk of losing originality. All workshopping writers must eventually develop a balanced approach to heeding critique comments, especially if they want to become objective enough to someday be able to critique their own work.

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