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.
- The importance of a writers’ group
- Writing a novel – how I went about writing a novel
Getting back into writing again
It is time to get back into my writing again.
Over the last two months my writing has taken something of a back seat in my life. I worked really hard over many long hours over an extended period of time in an attempt to get my novel finished before the end of November.
It didn’t happen.
As it turns out, my six weeks of illness in the middle of the year put me behind on my schedule and I never really recovered. The hard push to get it finished took its toll, and by the end of November I was well and truly cooked. So I decided to have a break from my novel writing.
I had actually finished the first draft well before the end of October. I then spent quite a few weeks editing and rewriting. The novel is now in its 6th draft, with at least two more drafts to go, perhaps more.
It has taken me fully two months to get back to the stage where I want to get back into the novel. I hope that the long, enforced break has distanced me enough from the earlier writing to give me fresh eyes for the novel as it now exists.
Many writers will agree with what I have done. Putting aside a story or poem or novel for a few weeks or even months can have a beneficial effect. Of course, sometimes writers do not have the luxury of giving their stories this kind of space, particularly if they are on a submission deadline.
Over the next week I will see how I go.
In the meantime – good writing.
Revising my novel
Over the last week I’ve been revising my novel for children set in Nepal. Normally I don’t enjoy the editing, rewriting and proofreading stages of writing. I love the creative process of writing a new story or novel. The tedious, nit-picking process that follows I often find boring and uncreative. Besides, I often have more ideas for stories than I can physically get written waiting in the wings. I just want to get on and write them.
I am trying hard to refocus my mind on revision, a very important part of the process of writing. A writer cannot hope to be published these days without this important step because the competition is so intense and publishers are so swamped with manuscripts that they quickly reject those which do not measure up. They just do not have the time nor the resources to take on projects where the writer needs help with the basics of punctuation, grammar, story structure, inconsistent points of view, poor characterisation and all of those other elements which are essential in a published book.
My novel is now in its 4th draft. It’s been hard work getting there, always under the pressure of time. I am still hopeful of completing it ready to hand up for assessment for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing by the end of November. I also have to complete a 10,000 word exegesis essay on the process I went through.
I anticipate that the novel will go through several more drafts before I am completely happy with it. Time to stop blathering on here and get back to it.
- Writing a novel – a series of articles I have written during my journey with my novel.
Progress on my novel
Over the last ten days I have been steadily working on two aspects of my novel for children. I have been going through the text meticulously editing and rewriting. I have now finished the second and third drafts of the text. I’ve almost finished the fourth draft as well.
In the second draft of the work I used the notes of fellow students for the first seven chapters, plus the notes of a friend who offered to proofread the whole novel for me. She proved to be quite valuable as a reader and she managed to pick up many typos, punctuation errors and a few spelling errors. She found errors on most pages and so it was worth my while getting her to read the manuscript. Her strength is in copyediting, rather than in structural elements, setting, plot or characterisation. She did have a few comments to make about the motivation and attitude of the protagonist which made me think.
On the third draft I used the notes and comments of my supervising lecturer. Rosanne, with all of her experience as a published writer, is able to tell immediately if there are any weaknesses in the story, where things could be improved, elements of the plot that need to be eliminated as well as being good at copyediting. As my supervising lecturer this is a big part of her role. She is also very good at encouragement and also in gently pointing out areas for improvement. If only every writer had such a mentor. Actually-she is far more than a mentor to me; she has become a friend.
During the third draft I also did considerable rewriting, adding and subtracting many words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and even a half page here and there. In fact, during this process the manuscript went from 39,175 words to 39,932 words, an almost 2% increase. And that was despite deleting many words along the way.
On my fourth draft I am on my own, looking at the suggestions of no-one. I am going through the text with a very critical eye. I am eliminating all unnecessary words and passages. I am looking for grammatical errors (a few), problems with point of view (there were many) and inconsistencies with the tenses of my verbs. This latter area will need much attention in my fifth draft, I’ve decided.
Over the last five days progress has slowed down considerably due to being away from home. We travelled to Geelong for our daughter’s graduation at Deakin University. She has achieved her Master of Education (TESOL), her third degree. Because we were staying with friends it was part holiday as well. I was able to attend to some editing but relaxing with our friends was higher on the agenda.
Tomorrow I will need to get back into full swing again.
- Writing a novel – a series of articles outlining the processes I went through while writing a novel for children.
Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 6
Where am I?
Over the years I have often read in books about writing: ‘Write what you know.’ Sound advice, something I’ve done on frequent occasions.
Drawing on your own life experiences can be a very powerful tool to enhance one’s writing. Sharing the familiar can ensure the integrity of your writing. It is, in a way, being true to yourself.
Drawing on what you know is an important consideration when writing a novel, for it will often determine the setting of your story. I usually set my stories and novels in Australia, and specifically South Australia. This is the part of the world I know best. It is the setting with which I feel most comfortable because I know it so well.
The importance of setting
What if you decide to write a story set in another country? Or another period of time? Or on another planet?
That was the dilemma facing me when I started out writing my current WIP, a novel for children set in Nepal. Sure, I had some knowledge of the country, but visiting as a tourist for four weeks is a far cry from being born and living all your life there. It can be even quite divorced from the impressions and experiences of someone who has lived and worked in that country for some years.
As a result of my problem, it was crucial that I either abandon the project or set to and do some thorough research. The concept of a young boy caught in the midst of a civil war would not go away. Stories have a habit of doing that. Layered upon that idea was the friendship he develops with an Australian expatriot boy whose father is working in Nepal.
I have no idea what it is like to live in another country. I have had to draw deep on being resourceful. I am rapidly devouring a series of books written by expatriate Australians, Canadians and Americans (among others) who have lived a significant portion of their lives in Nepal, and especially rural parts of the country. This has been a revelation to me, and I am fearful that the research will take over and prove more enjoyable than the writing of the novel.
It’s something I must guard against.
It’s a fascinating journey on which I’ve embarked.