APRIL MEETING ROUND-UP

Standard

COPING WITH NEGATIVE FEEDBACK ON YOUR WRITING

If you want to publish your work, even self-publish, feedback is essential. It’s probably the most difficult part of the writing process—to hear criticism of our hard-earned words. But it’s ultimately helpful. We need to know where things aren’t working, where there are plot holes, where someone is acting out-of-character, and so forth.

If we don’t want readers, getting feedback’s not necessary, but if you want to be published, feedback is essential because:

  • We don’t always see the forest for the trees when it comes to our own work, even after putting it aside for a time. We’re too intimately acquainted with the work—we know the background, the plot, and the characters too well. We can’t read it without bringing all that knowledge to it and we can’t see it for what it is. We need people to read it ‘cold’.
  • Two heads are better than one. Other people pick up things we’ve missed. They also come up with brilliant ideas we hadn’t thought of!
  • Most of us are still learning—writing a book-length project is a very long on-the-job apprenticeship, and it’s impossible to teach ourselves everything we need to know to write a novel (or biography or memoir), without having someone look over our work.

Remember, too, that it’s not just learners who seek feedback on their writing—every published author works with an editor, and even before their books reach their publishers, many authors have shown their work to readers who’ll let them know if they’re on the right track. I listened to this podcast of an interview with Graeme Simsion (the interview starts about half-way through), and he has about ten beta-readers before he sends his work to his publisher.

When we’re younger, for some reason it seems easier to accept that we don’t know everything and we’re more accepting of feedback in order to learn. But as we age, we feel embarrassed to still wear ‘L’ plates. We needn’t—for a start we’re all learning throughout our lives and we should be patting ourselves on the back for being willing to step outside of our comfort zones.

How can getting negative feedback make us feel?

It hurts.
We feel very discouraged.
We wonder if we’ll ever be able to write well enough to be published.
Sometimes, we feel like giving up.

All those feelings are normal, but they pass! That’s the amazing thing—after a cry and a couple of hours, we see that we’re still alive, our limbs are intact, and we can get back to work and address the issues in our manuscript!

Before I go any further, I’ll say a quick word about getting reliable feedback. We do have to be mindful of who is giving the feedback because they’ll always bring their personal biases. Generally, my beta-readers are writers whose writing style I admire and like to read. I know, then, that I’m getting reliable feedback. I wouldn’t give my work to someone who writes speculative fiction, for example, because they wouldn’t necessarily ‘get’ my style.

I don’t know of any writer who says feedback is easy to hear, so here are a few techniques I’ve found useful when dealing with feedback.

Coping with Feedback:

  1. Prepare yourself for hearing things that you don’t want to hear and that might even hurt.
  2. Brace yourself for more work. Even though you think you’ve already invested hours, weeks, months, and even years, of time and effort, more is likely to be required.
  3. Remember it’s not personal. This is perhaps the hardest thing of all—our creations are so deeply personal (they were aptly described as ‘our children’ during the meeting), and we’ve poured our hearts and souls into them, revealed our innermost secrets and dreams, and laid ourselves bare before another person. However, they are still not us, not in the sense that our value as a person is proportional to the quality of our manuscript. Our worth as a person does not depend on how good our manuscript is.

    Nice people can write crappy books, and a*$eholes can write good books.

  4. Don’t react to the feedback straight away. Give your brain time to process it—it may have merit.
  5. You don’t have to take all feedback on board. Ignore things that don’t resonate. Sometimes, you get conflicting opinions—some readers might like something that other readers don’t.
  6. If you hear the same criticism from a couple of readers, it’s probably worth addressing.
  7. Readers can’t always put their finger on what isn’t working and it may be hard to work it out. So, even if the feedback doesn’t quite hit the mark, try to work out what the reader is trying to tell you about that passage. What is the real problem with it? Is it that it doesn’t advance the story? Is that person acting out of character?
  8. Think of it as a ‘collaboration’—two heads are better than one. Other people often have great ideas.
  9. Take the attitude that if it will make the story better, isn’t that what I want?

Feedback is a great way to learn. My first feedback was on a few pages/chapters, which helped because I took what I’d learned and edited the rest of the work. I’m now much better at spotting the flaws in my own writing.

The other thing is, after a while we get used to hearing negative feedback. Our hides thicken and we get better at separating ourselves from our writing.

So, don’t let negative feedback discourage you or cause you to trash your manuscript. I’ve seen manuscripts develop so they’re almost unrecognisable from the original. Personally, I believe there’s always a solution for every problem. Sometimes, however, it means a lot more work, but if you’re prepared to do it, it will pay off.

Feedback helps us improve as writers. It can take our stories to the next level, and even if the next level still isn’t publishable, it will be better than it was before. Each time we go through the process, we get closer to a publishable manuscript.

Advertisements

SEPTEMBER MEETING ROUND-UP

Standard

We had another vibrant meeting on September 20th. They’re so lively and friendly, and I’m enjoying them very much!

We welcomed Val to our group. Val has written non-fiction and now that she’s retired would like to write her parents’ life stories, including about their emigration from Russia in the 1940’s. (Please correct me if I’ve erred with any details here, Val!)

Scrivener as a writing tool came up again. I use it for all my writing and love it. I hear that Microsoft Word is much better for writing long projects than it used to be, but for anyone who’d like to give it a try, you can download it from the Literature and Latte website. You can try it for 30-days free, but the software itself costs only USD$45, and comes with good help and support. There’s also a comprehensive and interactive tutorial, which takes a couple of hours to complete but is worthwhile working through.

At first, you might find Scrivener a bit overwhelming, but I’d urge you to try it for a couple of weeks before giving up. You can also return to the tutorial if you’re feeling confused. It takes a while to get used to, but once mastered, you don’t look back!

Margaret updated us in on how how challenging yet fulfilling she’s finding writing the life story of an indigenous lady. She described it as like doing a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces scattered, and in different boxes, and with bits missing, but isn’t that every booklength writing project?!

Ian Reid’s latest novel, ‘The Mind’s Own Place’, came up for discussion. Ian is a local writer and history professor, and you can read more about him and the inspiration for his book in this interview on Amanda Curtin’s blog.

Lynne T talked to us about how writers tend to read their own work somewhat ingloriously. We’re notoriously shy creatures and tend to avoid the spotlight, yet we’re also expected to read to audiences and pitch our work with confidence. I had the wonderful experience of hearing my words read by an actor, and I barely recognised them—they sounded so much better than what I’d written! Reading with confidence and expression can make a huge difference to the audience’s enjoyment, and to how much they hear and retain.

Lynne had some helpful vocal exercises and tips. I thought they were so helpful in fact, that I’ve roped her into giving tips to those of us willing to read aloud to the group at our next meeting. So, if you’re up for it, please bring a sample of your writing, just a couple of paragraphs or so, to read out at our next meeting. I promise we are always gentle and there will be no public humiliation. I’m sure the practice at reading aloud will be helpful in itself.

Once again, we discussed sharing our writing with other members of the group. This can be arranged privately, of course, but don’t forget I’m happy to read up to 25 pages at a time and give feedback. Please email me anytime.

Our next meeting will be on October 18th, 10am, at Mattie’s House, Allen Park, Kirkwood Road, Swanbourne. Please come along—with writing to read aloud!

AUGUST MEETING ROUND-UP

Standard

Once again, it was a warm and lively gathering of the BLPG at Mattie’s, and we welcomed two new writers to the group—Gill and Jyoti, who are both writing fiction.

We discussed returning to writing after setting it aside or stepping away from a project for a lengthy period. Most of us seemed familiar with this as family and work often intrude on writing time. Suggestions on how to return to our work-in-progress included:

1. Printing the draft-to-date, and reading it to refresh our memory and hopefully revive our enthusiasm for the project. Also, sometimes after setting work aside for a period, glaring plot holes jump out.
2. Summarising the novel, chapter-by-chapter, which not only reintroduces the story, but highlights details that might be missing or unexplained.
3. Planning the novel in advance might alleviate some of these issues, as you can see where you left off and always know where the story is heading.

Please feel free to add to these suggestions in the comments.

I have two major killers of my enthusiasm for a project: when I don’t like what my characters are doing, and when I don’t know what should happen next. When I don’t like what they’re doing, it’s often because their behaviour isn’t in keeping with their character, or they’re doing boring things that just aren’t interesting. When I don’t know what should happen next, it means I’ve written myself into a corner! Sometimes, a bit of time away from the work is helpful, and the remedy usually comes—often as I’m driving and can’t write it down, and it often involves deleting and backtracking!

We also talked about how hard it is to avoid clichés when writing. They’re the first words that come to mind, and it’s sometimes hard to think of something new and original. It can be especially difficult when describing things that have been written about since time immemorial, like skies and sunrises and sunsets, for example. Yet, these descriptive details take the reader into the scene, and are evocative and create mood. The most helpful solution to this, I’ve found, is simply to start describing the scene using sensory details—visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile.

Sometimes, I re-read a passage in a novel that described the particular object or scene in a way I liked. I don’t copy it, of course, but I use it for inspiration. Sometimes, too, I visit the website Descriptionari. Many of the descriptions here aren’t unique or particularly well-written, but they give me ideas from which I can generate my own description.

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 5.45.44 pm

Another useful website is the ‘Reverse Dictionary‘ , for when you have the description, but not the the word. The ‘Flip Dictionary‘ by Barbara Ann Kipfer is another reverse dictionary which can be purchased from Amazon.

I’ll also let people know about a writing group, The Writing Connection, run by Rosemary Stevens and is held in Fremantle. Each Tuesday fortnight, Rosemary gives us a prompt and we write for about half-an-hour. Afterwards, people share their writing. It’s a very safe and encouraging group in which to write. If anyone would like to know more, please email me and I can forward Rosemary’s contact details.

Also, Barbara Turner-Vasselago is running her Freefall Writing Workshop in Perth from November 9-14. I did this workshop about two years’ ago, and it really helped my writing. You can read more about what I thought here, and more about Barbara and Freefall here.

9781908363046

Lastly, tomorrow (Sunday, 6th September) at 3pm, FAWWA is hosting another of their Creative Conversations at Mattie’s House. The writer is Andrew Burke, in conversation with Dennis Haskell, and the topic is ‘Imagination, Inspiration and Intellect’. You can read more details about the conversation on the FAWWA website.

LENOVATHINKPAD - P9210004 (2)

That’s all. Our next meeting will be Sunday, 20th September, 10am. Until then, happy writing.

Louise

Creative Conversations at FAWWA

Standard

Creative Conversations, a new initiative organised by FAWWA, will run over the next nine months at Mattie Furphy House.

Each session has three parts: a conversation and a workshop, followed by a manuscript assessment for five writers.

In the conversation, the featured author discusses his or her creative process with another author or creator. Topics discussed will range from dreaming up mystery novels which persuade readers to follow the whole series, to entry into a poet’s creative world.

Audience members will be encouraged to become involved in the conversation.

The conversations will take place on the first Sunday of each month, at 3pm. (Entry: $10)

A week after the conversation, the featured writer will lead a workshop on an aspect of their work or the creative life. The workshops are aimed at introducing new skills to emerging writers, whether they be honing the perfect sentences or bringing the past to life. (Cost is $30 non FAWWA members, $25 FAWWA members.)

In the following fortnight, by arrangement, the featured author will provide manuscript assessment of a short excerpt (5-6 pages) to 5 writers and give feedback.

The first conversation is this afternoon, 8th March, at 3pm, and features crime writer Alan Carter in conversation with Georgia Richter from Fremantle Press.

Alan will talk about creating a Crime Fiction Series—heroes, villains, and the zeitgeist. 

Alan Carter

Alan was born in Sunderland, UK, and immigrated to Australia in 1991. He lives in Fremantle with his wife Kath and son Liam and works as a television documentary director. His first novel, Prime Cut, was shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award in 2010, and won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction in 2011. The sequel, Getting Warmer, was released in October 2013. The third book in the Cato Kwong series, Bad Seed, has just been released by Fremantle Press.

Next Sunday, 15th March, also at 3pm, Alan will run a workshop. He will cover topics such as: crime scene investigation; creating the characters—creating heroes, villains, and an ensemble cast that your readers will not only want to stick around with for a book, but for a series; points of view; a sense of time and place; plots, subplots and red herrings; cliff-hangers and resolutions; and practical tips for the perfect crime.

~
NEXT MONTH 

Next month’s author is Moira McKinnon.

moira mckinnon

Moira was born in Western Australia, one of six children. Although she was drawn to writing, she became a general practitioner then an epidemiologist, with an emphasis on infectious diseases. She spent her early working life in the outback, mainly with Aboriginal people. In 1992 she wrote a short story, Toyota Dreaming, which won the Harold Goodwin short story prize at the Henry Lawson festival. Many years later, she started writing again, and her essay, ‘Who Killed Matilda?’, was a co-winner of the National Calibre essay award in 2011. Her novel, ‘Cicada’, set in the Kimberley, was published by Allen and Unwin in 2014.

Moira will be in conversation with author Marlish Glorie on Sunday, 12th April, at 3pm about ‘Writing across the cultural divide – can a writer be true to both sides?’

The following week, Sunday, 19th April, at 3pm she will run a workshop on ‘The power of the sentence’. The workshop will examine tools and methods to create great sentences, looking at the rhythm, balance and suspense of sentences of master writers.

More information:

For more about the Creative Conversations series and to see the list of upcoming authors, download the booklet Creative Conversations, or visit the FAWWA website.

October Meeting Round Up

Standard

It was a small, intimate meeting today, as the unseasonable weather kept many of our regular writers at home today.  Luckily there was no storm damage to either Mattie Furphy or Tom Collins Houses, though the surrounding grounds were somewhat muddy.

We began our group discussion by reflecting on what we had learned at the September meeting, when Blogger Extraordinaire, Amanda Kendle, came in to talk to us about creating our author platforms.  A few members had been inspired to begin using a blog, or Twitter, and others had decided that while they saw the reasoning behind it, the world of social media was not right for them.  As Lyn so beautifully put it, there was a feeling of being like one of the “natives of Borneo”, standing back and watching, rather than letting Social Media outlets gobble up all her ideas and substance.  Some of our members wanted to know how hashtags work, and I would encourage people who want to practice using these to put #BLPG at the end of their tweets about their book length projects (or Facebook posts) if they want to see this in action, and keep in touch with other members of the group.

Pat joined us for the first time in a few months (welcome back, Pat!) and read us a thoroughly enthralling segment of her novel, “Tamsin and the Devil”, co-authored with Lisa Litjens.  We were all mightily impressed, and a discussion of form led to an impromptu, and enlightening, discussion about short forms of fiction.  Shorter fictions, such as short stories or novellas, do not always have to follow a linear progression, and as Elizabeth  rightly brought up, they do not always require a logical conclusion.  Shorter fictions also require a very tight control of language.

EXERCISE: Anyone who is interested might like to use their Twitter account to post VERY short fictions (140 characters or less) and use the hashtag #BLPG to share them with us.

After the break, Matt read us the ending scenes from his novel “The Spy”, a historical fiction starring little known explorer and polyglot Pero da Covilho.  This action adventure story is the second in a four part series, and shows off the adage ‘always leave them wanting more’ with its beautifully timed endpoint.

Matt also read us the opening page from his non fiction book in progress, “The Bloody Stairway to Paradise.”

Ros then showed us all her beautiful picture book, just recently published through Book Baby, “Awesome Aunt Dolly in Action”.  This heartwarming, rhyming book about a rather buxom aunty had us all gushing over its beautiful production and I think a few members will be looking to purchase this for loved ones for Christmas.  You can do that here….

Iris read us the opening scenes from her work in progress, a quiet but wry and insightful story about a woman named Evie.  She had us spellbound and ready for more.  It was lovely to see Iris again; for those who don’t know, the entire BLPG was Iris’s brainchild and we are incredibly grateful for her continuing support.

Finally, I read a few scenes from a story in Island Issue 136 that had taken my breath away, but I realised it was longer than I remembered and left off after two segments, encouraging all there to read the end.  Here’s the rest of the story for those who are interested.

Thanks to those who attended today.  The next meeting will take place on the 16th of November at 10am and will possibly be our last meeting for 2014.  All welcome, participation will cost you a mere $5 donation for the Fellowship.

A reminder also that the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA is having their busy bee at Tom Collins/ Mattie Furphy Houses and grounds next Sunday the 26th of October from 9am and volunteers are appreciated.  See http://www.fawwa.org for more details.

July 2014 Meeting Round-Up

Standard

Thank you to everyone for coming to the BLPG meeting this morning and making it so vibrant. I always enjoy hearing about people’s works-in-progress, and the inevitable discussions around them never fail to be helpful and lively, not to mention supportive. It’s easy to feel disillusioned on this long-haul expedition we’ve commenced, that of writing a book. Not to mention that most of us don’t even have a map and the end can sometimes feel as if it is slipping further away, not drawing closer. Our group is a kind of safety net or ‘home base’ where we can share our experiences with others who know only too well the troughs and crests of this voyage.

Congratulations to Elizabeth on publication of her book, ‘A Different Shade of Seeing’, soon to be launched through Equilibrium Books. You can read more about Elizabeth’s book and purchase it by clicking here.

shade_covlg

A special thank you to Leonard, Emily and Matt for reading their work this morning. It benefits us as writers to read our work out loud, especially to an audience, and it’s lovely, too, for writers to hear others’ stories.

Congratulations to Lynne for being Highly Commended in the recent Hadow-Stuart Competition, and to Leonard, Glen and Pat for your Honourable Mentions. You can read more about the Competition and the winning entries here.

As you know, Dr Dawn Barker will be joining us for next month’s meeting. Her latest novel, ‘Let Her Go’ was released last month, following the huge success of her first novel, ‘Fractured’. She is also visiting the Bookcaffé (137 Claremont Crescent, Swanbourne) on Monday, July 28th, 10am, to talk about the themes in her latest novel and the path to writing it. Pop in for a coffee and buy a copy of Dawn’s book at 10% discount.

So, join us next month, August 17th, for Dawn’s talk and a performance of Glen’s monologue (following it’s dazzling debut at the ‘Blue Room’). I’m sure we’ll have time to squeeze in some free discussion, too.

Louise.