As a writer, I find the process of critiquing one's work similar to that of an artist who steps away from his canvas and revisits it later with "fresh eyes." Only, in the case of writing, the fresh eyes often belong to someone other than the artist. That's not to say that the author shouldn't critique her own work. I just find it difficult to do so without setting it aside for at least a week or two. Even then, I don't trust myself to recognize all the deficiencies. Having a total stranger (in the form of a fellow writer) review my work can provide invaluable feedback about problems I didn't even know existed.
What I've wrestled with, though, is sorting through which critical feedback is useful and which is not. For example, I follwed a suggestion to change my novel's point of view and found that doing so helped me resolve an issue I'd been struggling with. I was also told that my prologue did not fit, so I removed it. Later, in a different critique group, the suggestion was made to add a prologue.
I'm more of a "do as you're told" person, but I've come to understand that there's a delicate dance to be performed in creating a piece of fiction. Studying the craft of novel writing is invaluable. On the other hand, the creative process must be my own.
Recently, I've had other authors tell me that I may want to break away from critique groups as they can stifle the writing process. I'm interested in learning how others grapple with incorporating critical feedback into their writing.
How much does one "play by the rules," and when does one "throw caution to the wind?"