So I’m writing this book. And I think it is pretty good. I have written books in the past. A couple when I was in my mid teens that were energetic, in an unstructured and made up as I went along kind of way, which were fun to write until I ran out of steam with three books to go of my vaguely considered five part saga. Then I declared myself grown up and started again. This became THE book. It ate my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties. I look back and can’t believe I let that happen. I was terribly precious about it, in an insufferably self-conscious yet thunderingly didactic when challenged kind of way. I had a hard time letting friends and loved ones read it. Even though it was supposedly a product of my genius. That really was a warning sign of epic proportions I did not pay attention to. I was young (well, for part of this process – the attitude lingered). It happens. I canned THE book… eventually.
So I’m writing this book now, having stated loudly that I have banished ego and am no longer precious. If not entirely true, it is a lot more true than ever it was before. I’m trying! I can take criticism. I can read edits and agree with them. I can see the improvement. Most of the time. Really. But a new plunge was taken, as I discovered critters and decided to see what random fellow travellers on the writing road thought of my latest effort. These are, for all intents and purposes, trial readers of the future. Most exciting! My submission is being read and hopefully critiqued as we speak, so I thought I’d get this blog out before reality, in the form of their responses to my writing, hits.
The great thing about critters is it caters to my genre, fantasy, as well as horror and science fiction. Everyone on the site is writing their own stuff and wants it reviewed and helpful advice given on possible improvements to be made to their work. You can only get your own writing critiqued if you are actively critiquing others, which is eminently fair.
I have really enjoyed reading and critiquing the work of other people. I did not know if I would. It reminded me why, all those years ago, I decided to study English literature. The critters guidelines for polite and constructive critiquing are excellent, and I think helped me avoid newbie critiquing mistakes. You can be honest without being harsh. I have enjoyed engaging in the ideas of other writers, of seeing different styles and viewpoints, of approaches to story, character, and setting. I have seen steps I would not take, sure, and choices I do not agree with, and have done my best to share my opinion in a way that is helpful, as it is merely my opinion, nobody appointed me arbiter of anything literary. I hope I have helped people spot ways to make their stories better – that is the point after all. It has helped me think more deeply about my own work, and recognise that despite my best intentions, I have big fat blind spots to problems in my writing and story. Just as I can see aspects that could be worked on and improved in others’ work, so must I accept that unseen problems lurk in my own output. I just haven’t met them yet. Cue Michael Bublé.
Critiquing has reignited dormant brain cells, reactivated some critical thinking processes long ignored, and renewed my focus. It has been a good thing. Being exposed to the talents of others could be considered risky – you might be depressed at the embarrassment of riches others possess and want to down tools. Nah. I see people like myself, who want to succeed, and are willing to ask for help. Though there are hordes of writers out there apparently, and many more who want to write but never quite get around to it, we are still very handily outnumbered by readers. I shall remain true to my goal of producing something I can be proud of and have no regrets about. That cannot be influenced by other people’s writing, however talented. And there are readers enough for all of us.
In sum, it has so far been a good experience – I want to say that now! My reaction to the critiques I receive shall, after a period of calm reflection, probably be discussed here. I look forward to being critiqued, I need it. If I am serious about writing for public consumption, and I am, then I feel it is important to embrace the opinions of strangers. After all, I am hoping strangers will buy and love what I write. Having a trial run of strangers who are in my target audience and are willing to read my writing can only be a positive. I’m not looking for kindness, and expect I won’t get it. I’m looking for information that I can work with. I’m looking for unexpected perspectives and the rewards they may bring. But whatever happens, I have already benefited from thinking about other people’s writing, why it works, and sometimes why it doesn’t, and how that can be applied to my own efforts. I am already better for this process, and I have no feedback. Thank you, critters.