Finetuning a manuscript

I have written about my journey towards my Masters degree on many occasions. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I managed to pass my degree with a distinction for my thesis paper. This paper was a 40,000 word novel accompanied by a 10,000 word exegesis essay about the writing of the novel.

I was very humbled by the comments made by both examiners. They praised the story in many ways, and both agreed that my novel is of publishable standard. After all that hard work, long hours, many frustrations and long nights of doubt, the story had come through. One of the examiners said she couldn’t put it down; she had to keep turning the pages to see what happened next. Wow! Exactly the response an author hopes for from his readers. One comment like that makes all those anguished feelings just melt away into nothing. That’s why I write.

I am preparing to send the manuscript off the prospective publishers. In the meantime I have to do a few minor revisions before having a few copies printed and bound for the university library, the humanities department and for my supervisors. Just a few typos that slipped through everyone’s keen eyes. Then I’m done. And I get to wear the gown and funny hat in a few weeks’ time. I’ll get some photos to show off here when it happens.

Stay tuned.

Good writing.

Writing critique groups

Over recent days I have been working hard on editing and rewriting my novel for children. I am going over every word and sentence, making each one earn its place in the finished work. Some words were deleted. Some were added to make the text flow or to add to the meaning.

Yesterday I presented the totally reworked first three chapters to my critique group at university where I am doing my Master of Arts. I thought I almost had these chapters licked, though I did admit I wasn’t entirely happy with the opening chapter. Three of the group had never before read any part of the manuscript, others had read some or all of the earlier drafts. Even after working on the 7th draft, readers still found little things to comment on, and many valuable suggestions for improvement. Is there no end to this process?

That last statement seems very negative. One of the important lessons I have learned during my course and while writing this novel is that I needed to change. I was threatened by the scary prospect of sharing my writing with others. Strange as that idea appears, many writers have this fear. We want our words to be read – but we are often too scared to show them to anyone!

I have learned to welcome my words being read and critiqued by other writers. My precious writing can be scrutinized by others whose eyes are not rose coloured. They can see the good parts and the parts which need improvement, changing or even eliminating. All in a pleasant, constructive way, of course.

Belonging to a writers’ group is an excellent way of improving your writing skills – and your chances of getting published.

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My latest publishing venture

Now for something a little different.

I’ve had another poem published, this time in a small collection of poems called a chap book. There’s quite a story to this poem being published.

Every month I attend a poetry writers’ group at the university where I have almost completed my Master of Arts in Creative Writing.  Poetry writing has been a love of mine for decades, but it is only now that I’m having some small publication successes. Poetry was a big part of the course and my skills have definitely improved in the last 2 years.

Every month we set a poetry writing challenge for the next meeting. One of the challenges last year was to write a poem on the theme of poverty (the Global Financial Crisis even crept into our little group).  Some of the poems were brilliant and deserved a much wider audience than the group. We decided that this was to be the the first compilation published by the group.

I was nominated to be one of the three editors and I also set up the design of the booklet. We called it Shifting Sands. We had a very successful launch at our monthly meeting last Thursday. Normally we might only have about 5-7 members attend. This time we had 14 people present (including 3 new members) despite at least 3 or our regular attendees being away.

This month our theme was New Year’s Resolutions and the standard was extremely high. As a result we are now planning our next publication.

Good writing.

The importance of Writing Classes

Salisbury Writers’ Festival 2009 #2

Tom Keneally (Schindler’s Ark) was the keynote speaker on the morning I attended this year’s Salisbury Writers’ Festival. He was to speak on the topic ‘Telling a good story’ but like a many storytellers he meandered all over the place, colouring his address with some wonderful anecdotes about the writer’s life and in particular his own life as a writer.

Writing classes

Tom spoke briefly about writing classes. It sounded like he is not all that keen about writers attending such classes even though he has taught some of them himself over the years. He said that you don’t have to attend writing classes to be a writer. His main emphasis was on the importance of writing every day. Regular writing, he maintained, was the key to becoming a good writer. While I agree with him on this latter point, I still feel that attending writing classes can be very useful.

Before I commenced my studies for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing I was a disciplined writer keen to be successful. I was writing every day sometimes 4 to 5 hours daily. I had written over a million words-give or take a few tens of thousands-and had some publishing success. My studies, however, have taken my writing to a whole new level of competence.

In workshops I have had to present drafts of my writing on a regular basis. I received immediate feedback and critical analysis from both lecturers and fellow students. One quickly learns the craft of writing when your writing is constantly under scrutiny in this way. At first it was confronting, sure, but as the months rolled by I learned to welcome these critiques-provided they were honest and constructive. And all the time I could see the quality of my writing improve far beyond what I had been able to achieve previously. The quantity of my writing also improved-an added bonus.

While it may not be for everyone, I would encourage all writers-and especially beginning writers-to seek out a writing class or critique group near where they live.

Good writing.