Wednesday, 30 April 2014

End of April Update...

My big goal for April was to have 'Grey Sister' ready for submission. And I'm pleased to say I made it!

On Monday, the day before my big deadline (my 23rd birthday, I'm so old now), I took my big brown envelope to the post office and sent it on its merry way to the big city. A veritable Dick Whittington indeed!

I'm very conservative about the kind of reception my first submission is likely to receive. For one thing, I went for a very small, one-woman agency. This means that, while there might be more chance of my manuscript being seen, there's also a far slimmer chance that the agent is going to have the time/space on her books to take me on. However, I made sure the agency was tailored towards my genre (fantasy and young adult, even though I'm unsure about the age restrictions as of yet) and I've seen plenty of favourable recommendations, the most subtle of which describes her as "a lovely lady", which I hope will improve my chances of at least not being completely shot down. Even if I do get nothing but a rejection slip though, I'm so glad I've done it.

Last week I went to a novelist support group, run by the same group as the manuscript critique group. While I'm beginning to sound like a addict going through rehab, going to these meetings has been very helpful. Apart from anything else, writing is a lonely occupation, so meeting other people going through the same experience is always reassuring. I was also able to take away the kind of success stories that encourage me not to give up before I've tried.

There was another scary moment to confront this week, when I finally told my parents about my writing. As I've mentioned before, I've not told many people about my ambitions, so telling Mum and Dad was daunting for me. They were both so supportive though and interested to find out more about what I've been doing. I'm glad I waited until there was 'something to tell' though: I don't think I could have coped with having to answer endless questions while I was in the midst of first draft fever!

I've got another submission ready to send off in the morning (when, hopefully, I'll have figured out how to fluff that cover letter into shape) and I'm hoping to have at least one or two more sent by the end of the week. It's a really scary time, but I'm ready for the rejections to do their worst. Maybe I'll even find my Fairy God-Agent some day!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Criticism, Feedback and Confidence...

Having finished 'Grey Sister', I've been approaching that terrifying ultimatum: submission.

This, of course, means letting other people read and, inevitably, criticise my work. It's a necessary evil on the path to publication, but the first step is always the hardest and the fear of rejection will inevitably rear its head. What if the feedback is bad? What if no one likes it? What if this isn't for me after all?!

It's advisable to get feedback before launching head-first at the professionals. Giving your writing to friends and family is a great way to test the water. They'll undoubtedly give you the encouragement you need to hear and tell you what works. Of course, such lovely and supportive darlings as your nearest and dearest will probably avoid the harder truths for the sake of saving your feelings. I still think asking people you know to have a read-through is a good thing (if nothing else, it gives you a more gentle introduction to the criticism monster!). But, once you've had your pat on the back and well deserved high-fives, it's time to give yourself a bigger test.

In the past fortnight, I submitted my synopsis (aimed to attract a prospective agent) to an online forum. It was, to be honest, ripped apart. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure my critic was aiming to be helpful and I understand that my synopsis was a not-all-together-well-researched first attempt. But it was pretty hard to hear and had me scampering for the safety of my blanket and a strong glass of merlot.

Posted my synopsis for critique online…
… the first response was rough.

I've also been to a writers critique group run by my local (and lovely) writers group, who kindly allowed me to join them. Having sent in my piece (an extract from Chapter 1), all the submissions were sent out to the attending group so we could have a look through and get some ideas ready. It felt good to be able to give as well as receive feedback and gave a great feeling of support to the meeting. The group assured me beforehand that they would be gentle, but it honestly felt like such a welcoming and supportive group that I can't imagine they would ever be harsh or careless in their feedback. They were all very positive, giving everyone encouragement, as well as ideas for improvements. What criticism they did give was well thought out and always outnumbered by the positive reflections on the piece. 

It's made me realise that there are some things to remember in giving good feedback. 

Be sensitive. 

When someone lets you see their work - whether it's writing, or art, or an essay for school - you need to remember that this is something a person has worked hard on and is, most likely something they're nervous to have criticised. Focus on the positives and point out the things you think work well first. Even if it's something obvious, it's good to let them know they did well. 

Don't be unnecessarily harsh. 

If there's a problem or a repeated error, don't make a joke of it or rip it apart. Again, be sensitive. No one wants to hear that they've messed up, especially if the mistakes are given more importance than the successes. 

Be honest. 

If something doesn't work, say so. While there's no reason to be unkind, the author hasn't asked for your advice just to have their head patted. So long as it's constructive, criticism is invaluable. A writer needs to get an outside perspective to see issues they might not be able to see. Don't let your fear of offending the author stop you from offering your opinion. 

Suggest improvements.

When you see a problem, try to imagine how it could be improved. If there's a grammatical error, say what will fix it. If there's a problem with continuity, point out what's missing. Empty criticism doesn't mean much if a writer has no where to take it. 

And if you're on the receiving end...

Listen. Take notes. Don't take the criticism as an attack, because it IS there to help. But if you disagree, argue your case. No ones perfect and if you strongly believe your original choices were correct, it's within your rights to say so.

I think my forum days might be over, to be honest. But the careful support and encouragement of the writers group was so useful and really helped my confidence. If you have a considerate audience, there shouldn't be anything to fear in asking for advice.

Just be sure you're prepared to be as kind to others as you want them to be to you.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Day of Editing...

8:00am - Boyfriend leaves for work and I wake up. Browse the internet for a while.

9:00am - Get some coffee and eggs and start on Chapter 18.

10:20am - Get a shower and get dressed.

11:20am - Chapter 19.

11:40am: Chapter 20. Run out of coffee.

12:10pm: Chapter 21.

12:20pm: Chapter 22.

12:35pm: Get distracted by Tumblr.

1:30pm: Pasta break.

1:50pm: Back to work! Chapter 23.

2:15pm: Chapter 24. Squeal over my own characters like a ridiculous fan girl.

2:40pm: Boil kettle to make much-needed tea.

2:50pm: Chapter 25 while painting nails and drinking afore-mentioned tea.

3:20pm: Get distracted by internet again.

3:30pm: Chapter 26.

3:45pm: Chapter 27. I have such a nice computer chair, but nevertheless: my booty hurts.

4:20pm: Finish editing for the day as we're going to a party tonight (which sounds very young and cool of us until you realise it's an 80th birthday party).

Was this really boring to read? I have no idea. Ha ha. Sorry if it was!