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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Critiquing payback

Someone has asked me to critique their writing. It's not something I have done a lot of; probably because my own grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling, is often a little tenuous. I also had a couple of WIPs that I should be working on; one at the rewrite stage and one going through first draft. But, I decided to undertake the task; not as an editor but as a reader. I would let the author know what sort of things troubled me as a reader and offer suggestions for improvement, if I could.

I am glad I did. It's so much easier to spot problems in someone else's work. I guess that's due to the lack of familiarity and emotional involvement in the writing. But even better, is the challenge of offering alternatives that remove those problems. It requires an analysis of exactly what is wrong: What made me stumble over this passage? How could it be improved? I need to ask those questions because, if I am going to offer suggestions for improvement, then I owe the author an explanation of why. It's the sort of questioning that I don't do when reviewing my own work, and its the sort of questioning that helps me understand what makes writing good, mediocre or bad.

The payback is that I carry those lessons into my own writing. There I was worrying about the WIPs that I should be beavering away at, but I reckon I'll beaver away much more effectively, once I have finished these critiques. So, if you want to improve your writing, then I highly recommend critiquing another writer's work. Thanks Kelly.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is it worth it?

Someone, on a forum I frequent, asked whether this writing thing was worth the effort: why bother to write when, as a new writer, all you get is knock backs from the industry?

In the main, the advice given was along the lines of needing to have high quality product and lots of perseverance. Too many people approach the writer's market place with work that is, quite frankly, not up to standard in the English department. Editors will correct many mistakes, but they don't exist to give writers lessons in basic grammar and punctuation. They certainly don't exist to correct a work punctuated with spelling mistakes. And that assumes that, in the first place, the writer has the basic ability to write with clarity and engage the reader.

But even when you have a good product, it still needs marketing correctly - to the right people in the right format. This is a subject in its own right and can involve the writer in as much work and perseverance as writing the book or article in the first place. Often, good work fails through poor marketing. No wonder people ask whether it is all worth it!

Is it worth it? Well, I believe the answer to that question comes down to motivation. If you are writing because you want to get published, earn an income and, perhaps, get famous then the answer is probably 'no it may not not worth it'. There are many easier ways to earn a living than by writing and fame is a transitory thing, only achieved by the few. But, if you write for the sheer joy of writing, for the pleasure of creating and crafting something of beauty, then it's certainly worth it. If you happen to get published, and make some money as well, then that's the icing on the writer's cake.

So, it's your call; is writing worth it for you?

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Get Writing

Get Writing. No, it's not an instruction, it's the BBC website for writers; which is actually a very fine instruction! Confused? You should be.

Like many things on the Internet, it's not always easy to remember how you ended up on a particular site. I can't remember how I ended up on the "Get Writing" site, but I am so glad I did and I think that every serious writer should end up there at some point or another.

I am completely overwhelmed at the richness of the material on this site. There is a whole section on "The Craft" of writing with substantial articles by professional writers. Not the teensy-weensy little articles you get on many sites, but substantial articles of around 3,000 words on topics such as:

"Anatomy of a Story" by Charles Palliser (The Quincunx) advises on what makes story work from beginning to end, and "Losing the Plot?" by Mike Phillips (Blood Rights, A Shadow of Myself) unpicks a number of plots and explains how to make your plot work.

If that wasn't enough, there is the "Mini-Courses" section with tutorials and advice split up into categories for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. These tutorials are amazing and the title "Mini-Course" is really a misrepresentation: each course is far from "Mini" and it would take most of us a year or more to work through all the material.

So, there's "The Craft" and there's "Mini-Courses" but there are four other sections to this site as well; "Reading", Tools & Quizzes", "Useful Links" and the very interesting "Watch and Listen" section with audio and video interviews on a range of topics.

I really can't recommend this resource highly enough. Pop on over to http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/getwriting and get browsing.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Not a poet

I'm no poet, but recently I have found myself conversing with poets and trying to understand the poetic form.

It's a different world out there in poet land, different objectives and different ways of achieving them. I've read more poems this last week than I probably ever have; mainly in an attempt to understand why I fail to 'get' a lot of modern poetry. I'm beginning to think that poetry is like a guitar - one of the easiest instruments to play and one of the most difficult to play well. And maybe that's why there's a lot of poetry out there which is, sort of OK but not particularly good.

So, if I am not a poet, then why am I bothering? Because, like a pianist who decides to learn the guitar in an attempt to become a better musician, I want to learn poetry to become a better writer. There is a place for prose to be rhythmic, melodic, to embrace metaphor and vivid imagery; those are all tools of the poet's craft. If I learn those things well enough to become a mediocre poet, maybe they well help me become an excellent writer.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lady in Blue

Continuing down the poetry path, I was set a challenge - to write a poem to go with a picture. I can't show you the picture, because it wasn't mine but ...

Picture; a silhouet of a lady sitting alone in an otherwise empty restaurant. The restaurant and the window she looks out from are at the stearn of a ship. The sea and the wake stretch into the distance. On the table sits her handbag.

Now back to her childhood ...


Standing, frozen.
Staring at the broken glass,
   the sea of milk,
      the bedtime treat;
   now flowing,
round her island feet.

Larger hands had lifted up.
Gentle voices made it right,
and told her
there would always be
another glass, another night.

***

Sitting, frozen.
Staring at the broken past,
   the crests of dreams,
      the wake of time
   the endless sea,
her barren, island life.

Who now, would lift her up?
Who now, would make it right,
and tell her
there would always be
another day, another night?

Her bag; a small tomorrow.

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