How are you with criticism? Must admit, my skin gets pretty thin sometimes. It’s silly, I know. I should be more mature. It’s just … when I’ve been working on something for days, or weeks, going over and over it, all I really want to hear is ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ But how often does that happen?
Back in the day, trying to work out whether my stuff was any good, I used to show bits off to friends and family. They were generally delighted to be asked, and tried to help. But though they could all write, none of them were actually writers, so all I really learned was bits about their personal tastes and hang-ups with grammar. Occasionally, one of them would say they didn’t like a piece and … well, that just made me cross. They didn’t understand, or they were pulling rank, putting me in my place. It was all quite unpleasant.
My first ‘positive’ experience of criticism was here at the Writers Bureau. Back in the early Norties I put Volume 1 of my fantasy trilogy in for review, and I’m still reeling from the experience. My reviewer was Philip Emery, a published fantasy author and creative writing teacher who went through my work with a fine-toothed comb and, in the best possible way, pulled it to bits.
Reading his notes, I remember the first thing that struck me was the fact that he hadn’t skimmed over my manuscript, he’d really read it. His comments were detailed and specific. He knew the names of all my characters and how they related to each other, and he was very clear about the different styles I’d used for narratives running in different worlds. At the same time, it was plain that he knew fantasy – he was a fan, like me. So, taking all that into account, when he said the characters in my dream world were two dimensional and unconvincing, it didn’t feel personal. He wasn’t having a dig. He was just telling it like it is.
Of course, as a result, I was left thinking – ‘You either put this on a shelf now and forget about it, or you go back to the beginning and rewrite the whole thing.’ After a couple of weeks deliberation I went for the latter – and a mighty big job it’s been too! Well worth it though. Taking on board Philip’s comments has taught me more about writing, and myself as a writer, than any other single event. This, in a nutshell, is what it comes down to: 1. Be honest with yourself and your readers. 2. Stop showing off. 3. Always triple check your spelling and grammar. 4. Believe in what you write – if you don’t, nobody else will.
These days, if any of my work needs a once-over before publication, there are just two people I show it to. They’re both writers. Whatever they tell me, I listen without getting cross. We don’t always agree, and I don’t always follow their advice (though most of the time I do). My friends and family? They’re still my friends and family. And my fantasy trilogy? Well … it’s way better than it used to be. Once I actually get round to finishing the thing it’ll blow your socks off.
Keep on writing!
Thanks to Sneha for last Friday’s blog post. I was listening to a programme recently where writers were complaining that they were no longer simply allowed to get on with their writing – instead they had to spend valuable time promoting themselves via social media. I can see their point but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way anymore.
I was planning this post while on a short break in Lisbon and it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t name a single famous Portuguese writer (shame on me!) So I checked with the Portugal Daily View website and found that Jose Saramago won the Novel prize for Literature in 1998. I’d still never heard of him – or any of the other writers on their list. Are any of you out there more widely read in Portuguese literature? If you are, let us know your favourite author.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) will soon be upon us. But, if the thought of trying to write a complete novel in a month scares the living daylights out of you, then why not consider a novella? Most novellas range from 12,000 to 16,000 words. So, they’re not as demanding as a 100,000-word novel but you’ve more scope for plot and characterisation development than in a short story. There’s a great article coming up in the November issue of Freelance Market News explaining how to go about writing novellas and also giving a list of markets where you can sell your work. At one time, this genre was seriously out of fashion because such short books weren’t considered commercial. But with the surge in e-publishing (and people’s growing desire for a quick read) they’re now a very viable proposition.
Finally, don’t forget our annual flash fiction competition. I know the closing date is 30th November – but it’ll be here before you can blink.
My guest next Friday is Writers Bureau tutor, Kelly Lawrence, who’ll be providing tips on structuring your story – invaluable if you do decide to try your hand at a novella.
And by the way – I might not be familiar with any Portuguese writers but I loved Lisbon. A beautiful city with great emphasis on art and culture (not to mention the fantastic food and wine)!
Author: Diana Nadin
What’s so great about writing articles? Getting paid for them, right? Well … yes. But, let’s be honest, if finance was the sole incentive, most of us wouldn’t be writers at all, would we? I could probably make a better living as a plumber, though I wouldn’t be happy (and I’d still write in my spare time – it helps me think). Read the rest of this entry »
What are your favourite books? That’s a tough one. How about this – What are the books that changed things for you? The ones that made you think about yourself, or the world in a different way?
Here’s my top ten (whittled down from a short-list of some thirty-odd). Read the rest of this entry »
As a freelance writer, I thought of promoting myself online i.e. through social networks like Google +, LinkedIn and my blog http://goldentipsmumbai.blogspot.in/. So, I would like to share the experience of this process with you all.
If you too are registered on these social networks, then you can surely promote yourself in the same way I did. And here’s how I’m still doing it! I share my blog posts via a link on Google + with my personal contacts like colleagues, friends etc. I also consciously share my blog posts with other writers who are in my Google + circles i.e. a network of people on Google. Furthermore, I also email the links of these blog posts to those who aren’t active on Google +. As a result, your creative content (blog posts or articles) are viewed by people in your circles. In addition to this, you are digitally known to a plethora of people starting from colleagues, friends in general to like-minded writers, worldwide, in particular. Read the rest of this entry »