Joining a writing group is probably the best thing I’ve ever done, in terms of improving my writing. Getting other people to read and critique my work has forced me to look at my stories afresh. It’s sparked new ideas. And, uh, it’s stopped me from making completely boneheaded leaps of illogic in my fiction. I am unspeakably grateful to everyone who has ever agreed to read my work, because, quite honestly, it was probably a bit of a slog for them.
However, the fact remains that having your story critiqued can bear some resemblance to walking across hot coals. (Should I cut down on my hyperbole? … Are you critiquing me right now?) Some criticism, in particular, is incredibly frustrating to hear. That’s because critique’rs are human and, therefore, deeply flawed.
Let’s take a look at some of the archetypes that make up every writing group:
It’s easy clickbait to slag off self-publishing – usually on the basis of assumptions that are either only half-true or not true at all.
As someone who’s spent the last few months discovering the world of self-publishing – in preparation for self-pub’ing my own book – it’s frustrating to be constantly hit by a wall of negativity and misconceptions whenever I mention self-publishing.
With that in mind, I firmly believe that every writer (and every reader invested in finding good books to read) should understand the truth about self-publishing, instead of relying on a kneejerk reaction of, “lol, it’s all typos and bad covers and if I self-publish I’ll never win the Booker!*”
(*If winning the Man Booker Prize is really your #1 goal in writing fiction, then I salute your gigantic ego and insane lack of realism. But anyway…)
I’ll admit that, when I first heard about The Emotion Thesaurus, I reacted against the whole concept. It’s a reference book full of ‘beats’ of action (he bit his lip! he ripped at his hair!), which you can insert into your fiction to show the reader how a character is feeling, rather than telling them.
But… but… (I spluttered, rending my garments to show I was aggravated…) your beats should come organically! You should know your characters so well that their actions come to you automatically! You should strive for originality in your writing, not all this lip-biting/hair-ripping!
Of course, that’s the ideal and therefore not real life. In real life, you’re editing something and you’ve read it so many times that you basically want to die and goddammit you just can’t think of a way to convey to the reader that the character is angry (short of dropping in “he said angrily” — oh sweet sweet adverbs!). In that situation, The Emotion Thesaurus feels like it was sent from heaven. *angels singing*
In the few weeks since I purchased this book, it’s become close to invaluable to me. I do wish some of the suggested beats were less clichéd. You can find yourself in the situation of swapping out a tacky adverb and replacing it with a tacky cliché, which is hardly a step up. Nonetheless, in a pinch, it’s great (she said, biting her lip).
I’m a recent convert to audiobooks. For years, I never had much patience for them. If you’re a fast reader, one who can knock out a novel in a few hours, spending 10-20 hours on a single book can feel like some kind of sick joke.
What d’you mean… I can’t skip over the boring scenes…?
…I can’t blah-blah-blah through that pointless subplot…?
…I can’t flick to the end and see if whodunnit makes the mystery worth sticking with…?
When you listen to a book in audio form, you’re committing to reading it in its true form. You’re stuck with it, through good plot twists and bad, through fascinating characters and stock villains. If you want to know what happens, you have to be willing to accept any flaws – you can’t just skim-read them away.