First, I go through each of the crits and do a technical edit. I correct poor wording and clarify things that need it, fix grammar, etc.
Then I look at the comments I've gotten as a whole. If any two (or more) mention the same trouble spot or same theme of a problem - like, it gets slow in the battle scene - and I figure that's a major problem that I need to look at. I look at their suggestions if they've made any, but what I really look for is what's causing the problem response. Where has this part failed? Is it truly this part or a lack of support previously that's causing this problem? Then I rework that until I think I've solved it. And I go through all of the major problems that way.
Finally, I look at individual nits. Things that are an individual's taste or problems that weren't noted by anyone else. Sometimes I adjust these things, sometimes I don't. It completely depends on whether or not I agree with them.
And then I go through and tighten it up to my own specifications. If I can enhance aspects of the world or add in cool tidbits, I do. And this is where I make sure it's staying on track. I look for consistency. If I've changed a story element significantly, I try to make sure the new bits blend smoothly and are properly supported.
Just remember, that while the people doing crits are well meaning, only you can make your story into what it's supposed to be. Don't think everyone else knows better than you do.
As genevive42 has pointed out, there are only two kinds of feedback that you really should consider paying attention to (note, I said "consider paying attention to," not "incorporate into your story") and they are
1--things that three or more critiquers remark on or have some kind of problem with,
2--feedback that resonates with what you are trying to do with your story.
Anything else you can toss, no matter who gave you the feedback. (You can toss any feedback at all, after you've considered paying attention to it, as long as you make sure you say "thank you" for it.)
Feedback that doesn't help you accomplish what you are trying to accomplish with your story is by definition toss-worthy. And feedback that moves you away from what you are trying to accomplish with your story could be considered down-right toxic. But all feedback should be gratefully acknowledged.
Try saving each version of the story in a new file. That way you don't lose the version that you prefer and when you reread the modified versions you can see what the differences are.
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I've gotta say the story I write down never quite matches the story inside my head...the written word seems a poor substitute for what I can engage all five senses on.
Other than that, I seem to have a problem lately with getting to the next draft...I think I'm gonna give up on some of the nitpickety revisions and revisions-with-the-aid-of-search-and-replace that have occupied me for about the last four years, or at least I intend to do them at a different point...but I have a problem just moving on.
In my opinion, grammar is one of the kinds of feedback you can strongly consider with only one critiquer. The reason for this is that grammar is something we all have the ability to check. I have a couple of grammar books for occasions when I am unsure, and there are several good websites to check your work against.
However, fiction does not always bow at the altar of good grammar. In some circumstances it is okay to use incorrect or improper grammar and even spelling. In most circumstances I would suggest trying to use the best grammar.
Regarding your story not resembling the original, I am currently having a similar problem. Several of my critiquers commented that it seemed overwrought (imagine?) - I've decided not to change this aspect because I felt it was appropriate for the story. However, several suggested the ending was too happy. I've struggled with this for some time (almost a year) trying to do something different. Then a few nights ago I couldn't sleep, and suddenly the perfect ending came to me at around 3am - I wasn't even thinking about that story!
What is my point? Maybe take a break and work on something else. Then, later you can come back to it with a fresh perspective.
I read this at twelve noon, my time that is, but didn't want to take the time to respond since I need to write, even though I would have been the first one to respond.
I have found on occasion, that if I write like what editors are suppose to want I would have to change my story. I have a couple of times but I have also refused at times. If I changed it to what might sell I would change the story, make it something different. The other story might be good, might be sellable-there's is still the fact that I wrote it-but it would not be my story. So I think I can relate when you say that your story changed.
I'm not sure how normal it is, but I have heard other beginners say something along the same lines. It seems to be part of the growing pains of becoming a pro. In which case it would be normal. We are suppose to find the way we write but at the same time we are to write under certain rules and under the fact that editors want stories written in certain ways. There seems to be a contradiction there. One we have to work through.
I've gotten hints-very strong hints at times- from pros that the RULES aren't as set in stone, even by pro editors, as it looks like. I'm not sure what advice to give or to take at this point. There seems to be a mixture of following certain rules yet doing it our way that we need to learn. It could be that the rules are like playing scales in learning the piano. Once you have them down you can pretty much go anywhere, musically.
That could be where I am stuck. I've have stated that I seem to be stuck on a certain level or plateau. Maybe it's that in-between stage. If there is one. Of course that is assuming that I've reached a certain level and that could be wishful thinking.
I have heard from more than one pro writer that editing too much can suck the life right out of your story. Is it possible that that is what you're experiencing? Because there's a certain rhythm, cadence to each of our storytelling styles (heck, you can see it in our posts and anything we write, I believe.)
Some of it appeals broadly, some maybe has a smaller appeal, but we each have our own style, our own voice. Editing too much bleeds our own voice out of our work and instead replaces it with "group think" or "what we think editors want."
How about putting aside that kind of feedback and just write what kinds of stories you want to write? Listen to yourself first and foremost. Get a few readers to help you check for mistakes, and then see what happens when you submit that work out? What is there to lose? Editors don't remember the writers they DIDN'T buy from...so if we put something in front of an editor that doesn't suit them, so what?
In Steven King's On Writing, he shows a chapter of his moving from a first draft to a second draft. What I think is interesting, is that he doesn't change much word usage, or do specific sentence changes, he focus's on taking out what isn't essential, and putting things in that add to the story since he knows the beginning to the ending since it's done.
I wonder if maybe you are looking too closely at the first draft. Maybe you can just edit with this idea in mind, "is this important to the story" as opposed to "is this sentence beautiful, brilliant, or trash."
But that might be just my thought process coming through.
I think the goal of a second draft is to trust the first draft, but only the core elements in it. It's a refining of what is already there, not a restart.
Stop worrying about what an editor or and agent wants and start asking yourself "What does this story want?"
That reminds me of something else. I read this story, I can't remember what it's called right now, but it was about this woman who's an artist taking a class. Her first painting was very exact, it could almost be a photo, yet it was empty of feeling, and really meant nothing, so her professor rings her out over it. Her second painting was of the same subject, but she painted without looking,just by how she was feeling, and it was messy, blurry, but full of emotion. Her professor told her it was better, but then told her to try and combine the two paintings. The end result was a third painting that wasn't as emotionally charged as the second, or as clean as the first, but it was everyone's favorite, because it meant something and you could clearly see what that something was.
Maybe you should save your finished first drafts, and then your finished second drafts, and then try to combine what you like of both in a third draft.
shimiqua brings up a good point. Arguably the biggest part of editing is cutting out stuff that doesn't need to be there. Also, a second draft is a relatively early draft for most authors. I think King is relatively rare in getting things how he wants them with a single revision of a manuscript. He's also got decades of experience writing.
When I'm doing a second draft I'm still chiseling away to discover the heart of a story, often throwing great gobs of material out. At one time I was hesitant/almost afraid to throw anything away, insisting on just changing what was there, and the result to me seemed similar to what you describe.
If it feels watered down it probably is. Try taking a highlighter and mark in the story only what illustrates what the character(s) want, what their obstacles are, what actions they are taking to directly overcome the obstacles, and where their emotions are revealed. Cut everything else out. Be strict about this. Then build up those four elements in the remaining material during a second draft. That type of approach has helped me immensely.