I was chatting to my friend Jennifer Young* last week (Hi, Jennifer!). She was saying she thought writers’ blogs should deal with writing (amongst other things) – because, I suppose, that’s what makes their USP. But sometimes it hard to find something to say about writing except that… well, you’re doing. Or (if writer’s block strikes) that you’re not doing it. But, in honour of her comment, here’s a blog post about writing.
Actually, it’s about critiquing. After the HMB ‘So You Think You Can Write’ competition last year I joined with four or five other writers who’d also taken part, to form a small critique group. It wasn’t something I had ever done before and, being a conscientious soul, I bought and read “The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback” by Becky Levine. That reassured me that I had been thinking along the right lines, and that I would have something to contribute as a reader as well as a writer.
One thing I found out very quickly was that I couldn’t critique on screen; I needed to be able to see it on paper. So I printed out the first work I was sent onto paper, as two columns on A4, sliced them in half – and realised it might have been a sensible move to have added in page numbers. Still, it was quite fun trying to match up the story to make sure I had everything in the correct order. Some of my little booklets are in the picture above, heavily annotated.
I read each novel first as a reader, to get to know the story. That’s the point I also note continuity errors, and any sections that don’t make sense to me as a reader. I know how easy it is, because you’ve lived with this text for months, to think everything is perfectly clear, but readers are coming to it for the first time and they need to ‘get it’ – unless deliberate ambiguity is your intention. Then I work though the text more closely; checking that the mood of the scene matches what is happening and characters aren’t acting inconsistently.
As my fellow writers, like me, are all working on historicals, there are other elements to consider. If a word is used, is it consistent with the time or, if it describes something, is the context clear? It’s terribly tempting to put in some fabulous piece of research but does it help take the story forward? And it may just be me, but I find it difficult if more than one name starts with the same letter. I remember taking furious notes at school on Shakepeare’s ‘Hamlet’ before realising that Hamlet, Old Hamlet and Horatio all start with H and the notes were so incomprehensible they might as well be thrown out.
My favourite part is nit-picking over spelling and grammar – I love that! But I have to remember that, while one always wants to submit the best version possible, that particular element is not the purpose of critiquing. The aim is just to get the best version possible of your creation – before sending it out into the world for an editor to begin the whole process again.
*Incidentally, Jennifer is the author of ‘Thank You For The Music’ and blogs at http://jenniferyoungauthor.blogspot.co.uk/