Things I’ve learned about writing: how to receive feedback

Feedback. On your precious writing. Also known as critique, constructive criticism, edits, thoughts, comments, disemboweling, soul crushing … I’m talking here about those written reports, emails, notes, track changes etc, which might be given by relatives, friends, critique partners, tutors, mentors, competition readers, agents, and editors, to you, on your full or partial manuscript.

Never mind that you asked these lovely people to review your manuscript for free; or paid them for advice; or have a contract that shows they already love the story – giving your work to someone else to read can be heart-shakingly hard. You may have spent three years getting this story up to scratch, and then a person reads it in less than a day and tells you lots of things they think are wrong with it. HOW you respond to feedback may vary depending on the WHO, but trust me, it’s going to involve emotional turmoil of some kind.

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Things I’ve learned about writing: The power of prompts

Prickly Chairs – photograph by Royston Hunt of earthnotes

The picture above was the prompt for the 2020 Flash Fiction Festival Micro Fiction contest. I was thrilled to come first with my story Eye, Aye, I.

Prizes courtesy of Bath Flash Fiction Award and earthnotes

Entering online short story competitions is how I first dared to put my work out into the world. These past few years I’ve entered fewer, focusing instead on writing novels. But having recently parted from my agent, finished a novel, and lurking in lockdown lethargy, I’ve found myself searching out short story and flash fiction competitions once more. There’s a kind of comfort in it, a way of reminding myself that I can still write, that I will have more ideas. 

This kind of sums up writing life. However far along the publishing path you get, at some point you invariably loop back to a place you were before – older, wiser, and hopefully a better writer.

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Endurance Writing Part 2

Sunday morning run on the cycle track through woods.

May is a month that weeps green. Cow parsley and nettles reach my shoulders in places along the path. The smell of wild garlic shouts life, joy, hope, and mingles with the sleazy scent of hawthorn flowers.

This is a path I run often, through all the seasons, and I love it.

The very first short story I had published was born here, about eight years ago. Little Red Running Hood. I entered an online competition run by the wonderful Inktears. The story was commended, and published on their website. I look at the story now with a critical eye, of course. Certainly, I didn’t understand the concept of killing darlings back then. 😁

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Mentoring, Editing and Reading Services

I’m now offering mentoring, editing and reading services for writers of Middle Grade, Teen and YA fiction, and short stories of all kinds.

I believe in giving kind and constructive feedback, and my aim is to help writers on to the next step of their journey.  If you’d like to know about my qualifications and experience please take a look here.

Services include a Submission Package, Full Report, Procrastinator’s Package, Beta Reading, and the Teen Reader Report. Further details can be found here.

Please take a look and get in touch if you’d like any further information.

Endurance Writing

This is not a humble brag, or any other kind of brag for that matter, (and if you ever saw me running, you’d know that is the truth), but I’m in training for a half-marathon. I’m the sort of runner whose main aim is to make it to the start line, never mind the finish. Personal bests, credible times and podiums (ha ha), be damned.

Anyway, I’m in the endurance phase of my training programme. These are the weeks when you turn up, day after day, and put in the miles. Good days, bad days, fast or slow, sun or rain, flowing or stuttering. (Yes, it is a writing metaphor.) Often, I feel like I’m getting slower, less fit, achier. Too old, my body protests. But I keep on. Because I’ve been here before. In a few weeks’ time, some magic will happen, and I will run a longer distance than I ever felt was possible. (Yes, that is also a writing metaphor.)

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More about #WriteMentor and me

I’m sure there are a few writers lurking around the WriteMentor hashtag not asking questions even though they might want to, and wondering if they have the nerve to apply to the programme. It’s scary to share your writing, and I avoided doing it myself for a really long time. But it is so worth being brave, being bold, and doing it.

The #WriteMentors are a genuine bunch who want to help their fellow writers. I haven’t met any of them in real life but we are connected by our passion for writing, and there is a wonderful supportive feel about the whole group.

This week has been frenetic on twitter. I’ve had my first Q and A sessions. It’s been fun, but I do find it pretty hard coming up with answers on the spot. We introverts need time to think before we respond! Also, I like to redraft fifteen times before I show anyone my words, even tweets … and I’ve just noticed a typo in one of them.

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to have some more considered information about my writing and my critiquing experience.

Here’s a bit about what I write:

I write about the things that scare me. I am fascinated by voice – that’s the character’s voice (narrative voice) rather than authorial voice, and so I sometimes have multiple narrators. I also write speculative fiction – basically sci-fi that’s closer to real world than fantasy.

I write stories for younger teenagers and children, too, usually contemporary realism with a bit of humour, and the odd fantastical element.

I write in first person, third person and sometimes (probably more than I should) in second person. I usually write in present tense, but not always.

You can read an extract from my YA MS and a humorous teen short story on the ‘read’ menu to give you an idea of some of my writing.

What have I beta read, critiqued and edited?

Here are some examples of the types of manuscripts I have been privileged to read and give feedback on:

Middle Grade: fantasy adventure, third person, past tense; magical middle grade third person, past tense; magical middle grade, first person, past tense; contemporary issue-led middle, first person, present; historical detective; dual contemporary/historical narrative; adventure; funny 7-9, first person; fairy, third person; funny, first person, past tense.

Teen: funny detective, first person, present; LGBTQIA romance/humour, first person; adventure, third person.

YA: Historical UK set; Historical Europe set; contemporary detective, first person, present; Sci-Fi, first person; contemporary with magical elements; dark contemporary with multiple narrators; fantasy with dual narrator; LGBTQIA contemporary.

A bit about genre

Genre was coming up a lot in the Q and A. I read and love all sorts of books with the possible exception of horror, but I do understand that some readers and writers have a real passion for a particular genre (usually fantasy and/or sci-fi). I know that these superfans read fantasy in a different way to me – some of them are my closest friends! So if you want that kind of intense, genre-specific reader, one of the other mentors who specifically state that preference might be better for you. BUT, whatever the genre, your story still needs a plot, characters, voice, pace and so on and these are all things I am used to working with.

There are 27 mentors now on #WriteMentor! So, take a look and see if any of them sound like writers who could help with your work. You can choose three to apply to. The closing date for applications is 11th may 2018.

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#WriteMentor – why I mentor

So, I’m a mentor for #WriteMentor and I wanted to explain why I signed up, my approach and the sort of ‘mentee’ I hope to support.

See that kitten? That’s me, hiding in a book. Although I’m not as furry, or as cute. But I did hide in books as a child. Painfully shy, an ‘extreme introvert’, books were a way to escape myself. And even now as an adult, when the world gets too much, or even when everything is just fine, reading is where I go. I love to read, and that is one of the reasons I like being a mentor. I want to read your words.

When I started writing seriously over a decade ago, I had this image in my head of the writer as a tortured soul alone in their garret. And I went with that for a few years, writing in isolation, afraid to show my words to anyone.

You can read about my journey out of the garret here if you like. But to cut a very long story short, which is kind of what this is all about, I discovered the wonder of working with other writers – sharing stories, giving and receiving feedback, and positive, constructive criticism.

I found my writing family while studying for an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. But I appreciate that such an opportunity is not available to everyone. So, I would like to support a writer who may be nervous about sending their story out into the world, or who hasn’t yet found their writing community, or someone who struggles with the whole ‘putting yourself out there’ part of the journey to becoming a published author.

While I always try to offer critique in a kind, constructive manner, I will be honest with you if I think something isn’t working or needs improving. I’m also a detail person, and have a bit of a reputation for spotting typos and continuity issues.

An empathetic character and a strong narrative voice are far more important to me than genre. I like books that make me think and have some beauty in them. I read all sorts of stories but in particular I like:

In YA: Contemporary realism, the grittier the better; feminist speculative fiction; issue-led books, particularly mental health; historical. In MG: contemporary; magical; adventure; historical.

If this sounds like the kind of mentoring you’d like, please put me down as one of your choices on the mentee application. If not, take a look at all the other wonderful mentors available.

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Mentoring news

I’m very excited to be involved with a wonderful mentoring project for young writers. Manuscription Magazine aims to ‘provide a place for young writers to submit their work and receive good, solid feedback, and experience professional publishing for themselves.’ The project is for creative people aged eighteen and under who can submit ‘stories, plays, poems, non-fiction, book reviews, videos, pictures … in all genres.’

The first round of submissions has just closed but there will be more opportunities to submit work going forward. Follow @_Manuscription for further news.