A not-quite gratuitous food photo
I’ve mentioned Thanet Writers on more than one occasion across the site. They’re a great group and I get a lot out of the critiquing sessions at the Chapel.
But, like any honest dissection of your pride and joy – even when it’s totally constructive (with the sole intention of improving your writing), intelligent, friendly and in good humour (as it is at TW) – it can be hard on the ego.
Last week, I took along a piece I’d written for another group – Creative Inspirations. Each month, CI set a piece of homework. The task is usually to create a story of 500 words max which must include a pre-defined noun, setting and emotional state. You get the idea? I really enjoy doing these, and never miss the opportunity to force myself to write in a style or genre I wouldn’t normally choose.
But, I wondered whether taking one homework to another group for critique was somehow playing one off against the other – it feels just a bit naughty, like I’m cheating. But, the truth is, last week I didn’t have anything else ready.
So, I took along ‘Ham, Egg and Chips‘. This homework had to include the eponymous foodstuff, a late autumn setting and a feather quill pen. HEC fulfilled these criteria. I was rather pleased with the overall idea (a dystopian future where the human race is on the edge of collapse, writing with quills and reminiscing about once-loved food) but I have to admit, I wasn’t wild about the delivery.
There was one particular phrase I wanted help with. I’d described the chips as being like golden nuggets. Not the most inspired of metaphor. “Anyone got any better ideas?” I asked.
Anxiously, I read along with the group as they went through it. There was lots of scrawling, a bit of a chortle or two (at the parts, I’d hoped, were intended to raise a smile) and more scribbling.
But, on reading through it myself, I felt less and less at ease… Where was the pace? Where was the action? Where was the dialogue and the character building? It was all exposition. I’d really gone off the rails. I braced myself for the feedback.
Unfortunately, the group agreed and my fears were confirmed. “Golden nuggets” were the least of my problems.
So, back to the keyboard I would go. But, not empty handed. I had the base of a good story to build on (although, in its then current form, it was more like the research for a good story) and, most importantly, I had some really positive suggestions on how to turn it around and create something good. So, whilst it was hard to hear, it’s massively beneficial to bite the bullet and go through sessions like this.
I’m fortunate that the groups that I go to (see the links page) are good at doing it – constructive and building. Whilst I feel a little bruised, I feel much more motivated to crack on, make it a better story and improve my craft. That is, after all, what this is all about and I would recommend any aspiring author to find a good group (or two) and expose their work in this way. If the feedback is not done in a positive / constructive way, then quickly jettison the group and find another. That way, you only stand to benefit.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first disappointment I’d suffered that evening. Earlier, we’d had a discussion about my novel – ‘Yemayah’ (neé ‘Waterguard’). I’ve been sidling up to the conclusion it needs some significant re-work, not just a final edit. I love the opening, the setting, the overall story arc and its twists…but, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with one of the major characters and some of the backstory – all of which is significant to the plot as it currently stands. That’s probably why its been in a drawer for so long. Upshot is that, unless I’m prepared to completely rewrite it, that’s where it should stay. So, for the moment, its dead. Pushing up the literary daisies. Perhaps I’ll resurrect it at some point.
Someone said something like, “If you are prepared to kill a novel, you won’t have any trouble with rewriting or removing a character, chapter or sub-plot when an agent or publisher demands it.”
Wise words, I think.
And that’s where I am with ‘Ham, Egg and Chips‘. It’s a good idea that’s currently broken and needs a complete re-think. I’ll give it a crack this week. Otherwise, I’ll move on.
Lesson learnt? Don’t be afraid to kill what doesn’t work. Be brave.
After the session, as we were walking over to the car park, our respective better-halves waiting to pick us up; Seb asked me if I would be willing to be Thanet Writers featured writer in their Q&A section.
Wow. Fame beckoned – free publicity! Is there anything else a nascent scribbler desires?
Of course, I was absolutely delighted and agreed immediately.
“Great, can you get it to me by tomorrow night? We have a bit of a deadline to meet,” sayeth my new task master.
Lesson two…take every opportunity that presents itself and meet those challenging deadlines!
You can read the interview here: Thanet Writers Q&A