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Posted on 29 December 2016 17:49

One of the other writers on the course I attended recently at Moniack Mhor told me about an online critiquing website called Scribophile, so I decided to check it out.

I found signing up and navigating around very easy.  They have a checklist of all the various things you can do on the site, which makes it simple to find what you’re looking for and learn about the various features.  I love a good checklist, so I breezed through all the tasks in no time, gaining immense satisfaction from ticking them off!

The site is very well designed to prompt you to give as much as you get.  In order to post a story for comments, you have to pay a certain number of karma points.  And the best way to build up karma points is to critique the stories of other people.  You get points based on the length of your critique, with bonuses if people like your comments and find them useful.

It’s also in your best interests to critique other stories, as that gets your own work into the public listings faster.  This is because stories remain in what’s called the Main Spotlight until they’ve received three critiques, and there are only so many slots available.  So, from what I can see, the site is extremely well organised so that stories get critiqued pretty quickly.

I’ve posted two stories so far, and the comments I’ve received have been comprehensive, insightful, constructive and encouraging.  The site seems to be populated by people who are very willing to provide in depth and useful feedback, and I hope they feel the same way about me.  It’s also given me the opportunity to read a wide range of other people’s work, which is always interesting.

There are plenty of forums for interacting on a more social level with other writers, so I could see the site taking up rather a lot of my time, if I had more of it to spend there.  As it is, I’m happy providing critiques and posting stories for now.  It certainly fits very well with my plan for next year of obtaining feedback on all my new work before submitting it, so I expect I shall be venturing there frequently in the coming months.  A serendipitous discovery to launch my 2017 writing agenda!

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 11 December 2016 18:16

I spent the whole of last week on a writing course at Moniack Mhor, near Inverness.  It was aimed at science-fiction and fantasy writers, with workshops in the mornings, led by the two tutors, Juliet McKenna and Pippa Goldschmidt, and the afternoons left free for individual writing time.  I always find these kind of events really useful and enjoyable, but this one also provided me with a new focus for my writing as we head into 2017.

I’ve never been very good at revision.  I’ll write a story quite quickly, then leave it a few days and come back to it to revise it before submission.  However, no matter how much time I allow for this stage of the process, and no matter how long I spend rereading the piece, I rarely make very many changes.  I find it very difficult to identify where the problems and areas for improvements might be, and even more difficult to know how to address them.

I have a particular story that I wrote back in January, and that I was quite pleased with at the time.  It didn’t get anywhere in the competition it was written for, and it has since been rejected by four or five other publications throughout the year.  So, I decided it would make a good piece to send in prior to last week’s course, for the tutors to give feedback on.  I discussed it with both of them in depth, and also gave it to one of the other writers on the course to look at.  For a story that was only 750 words long, it generated a huge amount of feedback, which was all very useful.

It gave me a lot to work with and multiple aspects to look at in a different way, and I spent the rest of the week rewriting, expanding and tweaking, as my brain kept seizing upon new turns of phrase and new bits of description I could add.  I can say with some certainty that I’ve never expended so much time and effort on such a short story before, but it was definitely worth it.  I read out the finished result (now 1500 words) on the last evening of the course, and got a very positive response from my audience.  In particular, the three people who had read the original version all said it was much improved, despite some of their feedback being directly contradictory!

So, my plan for writing next year is going to be to attempt less, and spend more time on each individual piece of work.  It has been brought home to me just how valuable an external perspective can be in motivating me to revise and re-work, so I plan to seek feedback much more widely and more consistently.  I’m hoping this will result in a much higher quality in the finished products, and that will then result in more success with my submissions.

The hardest part will be narrowing down my options and not trying to submit to every single competition and anthology going!

XXXXX

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Posted on 09 October 2016 08:44

In this month’s Writing Magazine, author James McCreet analysed the first 300 words of my novel, doing a line-by-line commentary and providing a summary overview of his thoughts, as well as a suggested re-write.

When I first heard that this was going to happen (so many months after submitting that I’d forgotten all about it), I was pretty terrified.  McCreet’s analyses don’t pull punches - but I also generally agree with what he says about other people’s writing, so it felt like a great opportunity to get some really good advice about the most important part of the novel.

So, when the magazine finally arrived this week, I checked the competition winners first (no luck for me this month) and the letters page (but they did print my letter about NAWG Fest), before turning to page 48 to see my novel go Under The Microscope.

And it was fine.  Better than fine, in fact - and mostly, I think, because I’ve spent a long time cultivating the ability to take criticism, and I approached the whole thing with the attitude of wanting ideas on how to improve my work, rather than being precious about it.  Admittedly, a lot of what McCreet had to say was quite positive, which made me very happy indeed.  But, it was also telling that the things he picked out for improvement generally had me nodding my head in agreement (whilst also despairing just a little bit inside) because they were all things I already knew about.

I definitely have some work to do, to make the opening paragraphs of my novel more engaging and pacier (pace is something I’ve always struggled with) and I’ve known that for a long time.  But, now I have a step-by-step guide to show me exactly what to work on, and potentially help me improve the rest of the novel as well.  So, I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to receive some constructive criticism from a source completely unconnected with me.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just following all the advice, since I’ve already had wildly conflicting reactions from family members who’ve read the article.  One very much prefers McCreet’s rewritten version, while another says they prefer my version (and has enough points to back this up that I believe they’re not just saying that).  And someone else disagrees with McCreet’s take on cliches, saying that filling the writing with unusual descriptive language will just throw the reader out of the flow and cause a distraction.

I went to a London Writers’ Cafe Meetup recently, which was a Q&A session with a literary agent, and the most important thing she stressed is that fiction is a very subjective thing.  One person will hate what another person will love, and there’s no one formula for creating a bestselling novel.  Now, I’m certainly not expecting wild success with my novel, but I would like to make it as good as it can be, in the hopes of maybe one day getting an agent who could sell it to a publisher.  And this analysis from James McCreet will certainly help me on that road.

But, at the end of the day, it’s my novel, and I’ll ultimately have to make the decisions about what to change and what to keep the same.  Since, it seems clear that one man’s glaring cliche is another man’s comfort zone - and, no matter how much advice I get on my writing, I still want it to sound like me.