My first experience with peer review went something like this: 1) finish “perfect” short story, 2) triumphantly submit story to peer review, 3) hear and read with horror that others didn’t see perfection, 4) disdain comments. This, however, completely negated the whole purpose for finding out what others thought prior to submitting the story to a potential publisher.
And I dare say that I am not alone. As an editor, part of my job has been reviewing content for potential publication and/or sending back to the writer for revision. Couple that with the peer review experiences I’ve had since then, and I find that a resistance to comments is not too uncommon. So, let’s take a moment to focus on the reasons that peer review can be so beneficial.
Go the distance: As a writer you should love the work you do. If you don’t, then the chances of someone else loving it precipitously decrease. However, that love does cause a certain—shall we say—bias to the words we produce. Peer review, however, negates this bias because, hopefully, your peers are writers who also love their words. They may not have such a love for yours, though. And that’s the point. Whether your peers are gracious or not (and hopefully you choose some who are), letting them dissect your wit can help you make your wit that much stronger.
Learn by example: Joining a peer review group also affords you a glimpse into a variety of writing styles. This is something that I have absolutely found true: writing begets writing. What’s great is that you will see things in other writers’ works that will spark ideas for you (just not too close to their work, of course). You may like the style of writing they use, an image, or even find a better way to get your point across in your own writing.
Take the hit: Not all comments you receive will be useful, and you are not obliged to use them all. Let’s face it. We all get an occasional comment that goes against what we want our work to do. However, within every comment, there may be a tiny sliver of something needing a good polish. The comment may not go along with your idea, but make sure that the reviewer wasn’t missing your point because you didn’t bring it out effectively enough.
Remember that the whole point of peer review is to improve the work—not to tear you down. Find a group of peers (whether in a class or community group) who understand that point. Personally, I find the best reviewers to be those who are willing to share their own unfinished work with you. That way, you are all “exposed” to each other. If you can’t find a good group, then consider starting one at the local library and posting a notice there. There are plenty of potential writers in every community. If that’s no good, there are a variety of writing forums on the Internet, though the anonymity of these, to me, is a potential drawback (which is why I’m not linking to any), as the point of peer review is to interact on a personal level.
If all else fails, then ask a trusted friend or family member to review your work. Just make sure that person is known for giving objective feedback—and that any negative comments from them won’t scar you for life.