Things I’m learning from critiquing 1# : Always proofread!

Drawing of a comb

A fine tooth comb

Progress this month has not been good (an entire week lost to sickness and then some) but I’m still inching forwards. I have been really enjoying taking part in Critique Circle and reading other people’s writing is extremely helpful. You notice immediately the good and bad things and then can see them in your own work too. You can see that some of the “rules” (I hate rules) are there for a reason. You can see when a character rises up from a cliche and breathes real air.

However, one surefire issue to slay any piece of writing is when it is peppered with typos and spelling mistakes, wrong words and incorrect grammar. Not that I’m by any means an expert – my work is certainly strewn with blunders – but I mean the really screamingly obvious. This may well be because the writer just hasn’t proof read or used a fine enough tooth comb – perhaps they think they’re not ready for that yet – but actually it makes a huge difference to any reader, not just a professional editor or publishers. It’s really hard to read something with loads of little errors – you can’t help but focus on them, particularly because it’s much easier to crit small things than the big things that matter more like characterization, plot, setting, mood, does it grab you, if so why… If you send out an unchecked piece of writing, you’re giving any reviewer an escape route to avoid the tough stuff! It also does create an impression of someone less capable, less assured – when perhaps all it needed was a bit more polish before going out. Perhaps have some friendly eyes do your proof read as stage one, then send it out wider for a more meaningful critique?

This point is made by Emma Darwin in the middle of her excellent post “How do you decide when to share your draft?” and further nudges in the right direction are in C.S. Lakin’s “1o Risks you Run if you don’t Proofread“.


One line to rule them all…my battle with the “log line”



I’m like a magpie with articles/books on creative writing – I scour them for the little shiny nuggets of usefulness. I am conscious that a lot of time can be wasted reading (and writing) about writing but I do believe it’s important to study the craft and I have found that most books on creative writing have something that will really help me. I also follow some blogs – this particular post I’m looking at (One Pass Manuscript Revision by Holly Lisle) was from a link from a link and pertinent as I am just starting the big edit. I’m not too bothered about the whole “one pass” side of things but the section “THE PROCESS, PART ONE — DISCOVERY” clicked into place for me as something that would tackle some major problems head on. 

I have been thinking about themes – and genres – and couldn’t really pin down where my novel sits. Now, I am in the camp of thinking that narrative / plot should be the backbone of a novel (or at least the sort I’m aspiring to write) but to be of keen interest themes will have emerged from that to resonate with readers and it will benefit my novel to put some care and amplification into these. Yet writing my one major theme (do I need one big theme?) in less than 15 words has – so far – proved impossible. I do think this matters – when I write and read over my novel, I see much of value (and I enjoy it!) but I feel that it is a bit confused about what it really is. A mystery? A romance? A midlife crisis? A comedy? All of these things? I wouldn’t be worrying about this if I could convince myself it didn’t matter… Sub-themes are fine – I have a great mind-map (tool of choice at the moment is Coggle.it – simple, easy to use, easily accessible) with my themes on and I’m going to come back to these to work on them further once I sort out these big questions!

I also foundered on Holly’s blurbs (>25 words and >250 words) and, again, I think she’s right – this matters:

“if you’re going to nail the revision in one shot, you have to have each of these bits of information clearly in mind going in. If you don’t know where you’re going and what you hope to accomplish by the time you’re done, how will you know what you need to fix? Nothing will guarantee that you’ll wander aimlessly in revision hell faster than this”

I have not been writing with publishing foremost in mind so I’m not thinking about “elevator pitch” or book jackets / blurbs BUT I do want to be able to tell people what my novel’s about and it not sound lame. Even just to try out bits on Critique Circle, I need to decide my genre and give a quick overview. At the moment I would be in a verbal meander of “er”s and “um”s. 

I’ve been pondering these issues for a day or two and it’s damn hard to get answers. It cuts to the heart of what I’m doing and writing about. I owe my story and characters to be clear what I’m doing with them, never mind any potential readers. What would be useful with this is some examples of famous books with their short synopses. I may go for a wander in the bookshop and look at some covers…

Any comments or suggestions or pointers greatly appreciated!

P.S. In the shower it came to me – one line of dialogue from my novel actually hits the theme-in-15-words jackpot! However my next thought was “that sounds boring!”…

The Big Edit

So time has passed…ahem…and it seems very little progress has been made with my somewhat ironically named “work in progress”. That’s OK – I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself – but with the turning of the year I feel ready to make a push on it. I love what I’m writing but I don’t want to write it forever – there are other ideas swirling round my head, for one, and for twos I have read so many good quotes all about FINISHING. Try Neil Gaiman:

You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.

I’m not in a bad position – I have pretty much a complete novel, bar a few scrappy chapters that are incomplete. It’s time to edit!

Rather than rush right in, I have taken a step back. This has been my plan – and I hope to blog about each of these in more detail –

  • Read a few inspirational words on writing (and finishing – see above)
  • Read around on editing
  • Join Critique Corner – already reading other people’s work has had a huge benefit on my ability to judge my own!
  • Do some mind-maps on theme, the big picture (of my novel) and – most importantly – get down on paper what I see my major problems as being
  • Start to accept that one day I will have to let someone I know read my novel and working out who are the best candidates. This fills me with horror – I need to work up to even contemplating it…

This may sound like a serious case of procrastination but already (one week on) I feel in an immensely stronger position – I feel like I have armed myself for the fight. Bring it on! And wish me luck…