28 March 2011


I’ve briefly mentioned writing groups and feedback a few times in this blog.  I think they are invaluable when editing and polishing work, but I’ve also been very fortunate in the critique groups I’ve belonged to.
Without feedback it can be difficult to see things such as, stilted dialogue, where your plot stalls, or characters that are less than the well-rounded individuals you believe them to be. 
It’s great to hear someone say they loved your writing, or think you are the best thing since Stephen King or Jodie Picoult (depending on your genre), but it’s not helpful when you need constructive comments on what is not working.
The important word here is constructive.  It shouldn't be a personal tirade from someone wanting to make themself feel better by putting everyone else down.
Constructive criticism is a person’s view on what isn’t working for them.  For example: voice slippage, head hopping (inadvertent change of POV), pace slowing, too many adjectives and adverbs, telling rather than showing, too much backstory, dialogue or characters that aren’t working.  These are just some of the many areas that people might comment on.  Some of this may depend on how long the group has been together and the experience of the writers.
Shortly after I decided to take my writing seriously I attended a weekend writing course.  Towards the end of the course the tutor talked about the benefits of being part of a critique group.  The first group I belonged to came from that course. 
There are various ways of conducting the feedback sessions.  As a group we decided to meet once a month, and to email our submissions to each other at least a week before we met.  That gave us time to thoroughly read all the work at least once, think about it, and write comments on what we thought worked and what didn’t.  When we met each person gave their feedback on a piece of work, until all the submissions had been covered.  It’s important to note that we commented on the things that worked, as well as areas that weren’t working so well. 
I know some groups work by reading out the submissions and then have people commenting on them.  If it works for you then continue with it.  Personally I prefer to have time to read the submission myself as I take in more that way, it is also the way most people are going to read your work.  Reading out the submissions takes time, and means you can’t submit as much.  This may not be a problem for poetry or short stories, but if you are writing a novel it could cause difficulties.
The group I’m part of at the moment works in much the same way as the original critique group.  We are all writing novels, but the genre’s we are working in are varied, and give a good variety of reading material.
The way you receive feedback is also important.  I was given some good advice years ago, which is to listen carefully to all comments (I also make notes), as far as possible you should be quiet during the feedback i.e. don’t argue a point or try to explain what you meant.  Think about the feedback for a day or so, read your notes, and when you’ve had time to carefully consider the feedback decide on the changes you need to make.  If the majority of the group are saying they don’t understand something, or the pace is too slow, dialogue is flat etc.  Then I know I need to do something about it.  If only one person points out something I will still think about the point, because they could well be onto something, but ultimately the story is mine, and so is the decision on what to do.
If you have to explain something you have written so the group understands, it needs to be changed.  You won't be there is explain it to all your readers.
Be wary if you start thinking everyone in the group is wrong and you are right!  

25 March 2011

Reading for Christchurch

Today I participated in a Christchurch fundraiser organised by Auckland Libraries and the Society of Authors.  At 32 libraries throughout Auckland 140 writers took part in a read-in to help raise funds for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.
It was good to do something, even if only in a small way, and I know I am not the only person to feel guilty that I’m not suffering, when I know so many other people are.  I’ve contributed money, but somehow giving up precious time seemed to make this a more meaningful contribution, although logically I know the money is of more use.
I also enjoyed meeting and listening to the other authors.  In an isolated profession it’s good to meet fellow writers, and the breadth of subject topics and style was amazing.
Thank you to Auckland Libraries and Maggie Tarver of the NZSA for organising this.

21 March 2011

Point of View - and Titles (yet again!)

The title of my current WIP has changed a few times.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, titles are something I find difficult.  My novels tend to sit for a long time in a folder called Latest, or something similar.  Eventually I come up with something that does as a working title, but it generally changes a few more times.  My working title has been Ordinary Day for a long time.  It fitted because the day in question, as you would expect, is anything but ordinary, but I wasn’t very keen on the connotations of the word ordinary.  With a little help from a friend it’s now been changed to Lives Interrupted.
I’ve been working on the points my beta readers mentioned for Lives Interrupted.  Generally speaking I overwrite, and when I edited the first draft of the manuscript I cut out about 30,000 words.  In my initial culling I probably went a little overboard, and one of the comments was that the readers wanted a little more background on the characters, and also a little physical description.
Lives Interrupted is told from multiple points of view, and I’ve also been working on the POV characters, to make each a stronger individual voice.  Last week I read a great post on developing voices.  It’s one of the best I’ve seen on this topic.

18 March 2011

Friends, Writing Buddies and Wordle

Last year I joined an Advanced Writing Course group through the Creative Hub.  My main reason for this was that I wanted to find a group of writers with whom I could discuss writing, and swap work and feedback.  The course finished towards the end of the last year, and I’m thrilled that we decided to keep the group together.  We had one of our meetings earlier this week, and for part of the evening I received feedback on my latest work.
Getting feedback from other writers and readers is an essential part of the writing process, and I’m always blown away by the things that other people see that have totally escaped me.  I’d like to think I’m improving, but there are always good insights from the others that make me wonder sometimes.  It’s also a chance to ask specific questions if you have doubts about parts of the manuscript, plot or characters.
This week Hilary presented each one of us with a Wordle printout created from an extract of our writing.  Mine is now hanging where I can see it while I'm writing.  It’s a fun idea and the large words are some of the important ideas and characters from the manuscript, so besides being decorative it’s also inspiring.

15 March 2011


I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.  Actually I believe it’s everyone’s right to change their mind.
One of the goals I set myself was to finish this draft of my WIP by the end of February, and send it out to agents/publishers in March.
I finished the draft and two beta-readers have kindly done a great job of reading and giving me feedback.  They made some insightful comments and I’ll be working on that this week, but I have decided not to send it out to agents or publishers.
I attended an interesting workshop late last year run by the New Zealand Society of Authors on publishing.  Among various speakers was Mark Coker of Smashwords.  The timing of the conference was good, coming as it did after my experiences of having a book published in the UK. 
Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of research into epublishing, and have decided I have nothing to lose by trying this.
Don’t get me wrong, the elation at receiving a publishing contract, and the feeling of approval and confirmation that someone believed in me, and my writing, was huge.  Ultimately however, there is a lot wrong with the way the whole system works.
Living in New Zealand, I wrote a book set in New Zealand, which was published in UK, but because the distributor doesn’t have connections in this part of the world it makes it almost impossible to see my book in bookshops here.  Yet people can buy it via online retailers. 
The electronic readers – Kindle, Nook, Kobo etc. – are not yet as popular here as in the States, but it is increasing all the time, and those who have them are fervent advocates.  I know because I’ve become one of them.  Yes I still love my paper books, but with the prospect of longhaul flights looming, and being away from home for a month, my Kindle makes absolute sense.
I started this blog wanting to note my path into publishing, and this is another exciting part of it.

11 March 2011


Following on from my comments on the last post, if planning is your thing, or you’ve been writing without planning and think you’d like to give it a go, but don’t have the Robert McKee book to follow, then here’s a good article to read. 
I had already started my first novel Driftwood before finding this site.  I had sketched out my main characters and done a little planning before starting to write, but after reading the Snowflake method I went back and followed the steps.  It helped me to look at the shape of the story, and to see some of the plot holes, and also places where the writing could possibly start to sag, and therefore where I might lose readers.
I read an article last night in a UK writing magazine, written by an author on her in-depth planning method.  It’s obviously synchronicity at work, so I’m off to do some more planning.

07 March 2011

McKee - Inside Out

I’ve just read an extract from Robert McKee’s book Story suggested by one of our writing group.  Story discusses screenwriting, but I believe that whatever writing we do we can learn from different sources. 
This extract was on writing methods, and McKee describes two – Outside In, and Inside Out.
To generalise, my take on these two methods is that Outside In is writing by the seat of your pants.  You get an idea and just go with it, not sure of the destination, or even the road you’re taking.  Inside Out is planning – indeed Robert McKee suggests that at least 2/3rds of the time to write a screenplay would be taken up in the planning stage.  This is the method he advises screenwriters to use, though he does add that ultimately a writer has to discover what works best for them.
I tend more towards planning in my writing style, though after reading this I can see that I could probably spend more time in the planning stage than I have for the novels I’ve written so far, and it did make me wonder if I would spend less time in the editing and rewriting stage.
One of the points that resonated with me is that in starting to write too soon we can fall in love with our words, and then it’s harder for us to be objective in seeing why some scenes don’t work, or even realising that they don’t work.  I guess that takes us back to the famous line of murdering your darlings.

04 March 2011

Eddie Izzard and marathons

A few days ago I came across a link to a piece of news, if you could call it that as it happened in 2009.  British comedian Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathons in 51 days, and that after just 5 weeks training.  To anyone who knows Eddie Izzard, running is not the first thing that comes to mind.
There was a quote along the lines of his body wasn’t really determined, but his brain was.
Since then I’ve been thinking about those negative little scripts that run through our mind.  Who am I to think I could be published, or call myself a writer?  My writing is rubbish.  Why am I wasting my time writing when I could be out having fun?
From talking to other writers I think it’s safe to say most of us think these things or similar, but they're not helpful.
Why shouldn’t we be published?
Every published author was an unpublished author at some stage.  The only difference is they kept going.
Joe Konrath’s blog has a good tag line – There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.
Let's get our brains positive and determined.
Happy writing.