Friday, 28 December 2007

End of Year Coffee Break

Good morning all. I’ve had rather too much coffee at breakfast today – a new cup of coffee every time anyone new joined our table, so I’m feeling a bit skittish. Help yourselves to whatever you’d like.

My Skyros course has come to an end but we’re still here in the resort hanging out with some of the teachers in their break before the next group come and I go back to Bangkok tomorrow. And I’ve had many personal revelations while here as well as feedback from Julia Bell about my many times stalled manuscript. I had a wobbly moment with the second lot of feedback which I’ve already detailed on my blog so won’t bore you with here.

But, amazingly, it really was only a moment – an afternoon if you like. All the writing I’ve done has been academic writing and non fiction article writing; I’ve really hardly done any creative writing. I’ve realised how young my experience of fiction writing is. The appearance of JJ in my life a year ago is really the beginning of my journey writing fiction. No wonder I’ve struggled.

I keep hitting that damn wall and so booking Skyros became the acknowledgement that my infant writing experience required some help. Time to invite someone into my metaphorical knicker drawer and have them root around to see if they can identify where and how I’m going wrong.

This is my only experience of having someone read my manuscript: I didn’t much like anyone seeing my immature efforts at creative writing but how lucky I’ve been that it was Julia. So what I’d like to know from you on this nearly end of the year Coffee Break, is about your experience of readers, teachers and mentors in your writing lives. How you’ve found them and when have you allowed them in to such a private and hopeful space as your desire to write.

A very happy and productive New Year to you all.

16 comments:

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Happy New Year to you too, JJ, and to all the Racers! I've found my teachers on Arvon courses http://www.arvonfoundation.org/ (highly recommended - 2008 brochure out in January) and my mentor through blogging. I've also found critiquers from my family and friends: people with extensive writing and/or reading experience who I trust to tell me what they really think, not just say 'ooh you are clever it's fab' because while that's delightful to hear it's not actually any help.

Lucy Diamond said...

Hi everyone,
Glad Skyros has been a good experience JJ, despite the wobble.

I find it really helpful having readers. When I was writing Any Way You Want Me, a good friend asked if she could read some of it and I was terrified about handing over the first few chapters but knew that she would give me some constructive feedback, so I braced myself and let her read it.
She was soooo positive and encouraging, it was a ginormous spur to keep writing and did wonders for my self-belief.
And then, until I finished it, she'd ask for more chapters and would phone up, saying "OOOOOH! What's going to happen next? You dirty cow!" etc each time she'd read a bit more. Writing is such a private thing, it was great to have someone to discuss the plot and characters with. And throughout the whole agent/publisher hunt, she was incredibly supportive and would keep saying, "It's good enough to be published" whenever I was hit by doubts. Every writer needs a friend like this, I think!

I was also on a writing course during this time, where we had to take it in turns to distribute copies of our work-in-progress - about 5,000 words each time, I think, and then the whole class would discuss it. Again, absolutely terrifying but very very helpful.

More recently I have been lucky enough to do a 'feedback swap' with another author, who picks up on all sorts of details and plot points which is fantastic. She is someone whose judgment I trust and who totally understands when I have my paranoid moments!

Good luck to all the racers in 2008 - may we all be blessed with fantastic support networks of readers and mentors to get us through the dark times as well as the bright!

Leatherdykeuk said...

Happy New Year to you too.

I've never had a writing tutor so I wouldn't know where to go for one. I've slogged through six immature novels; perhaps my next one will be of publishable quality. I can but try!

SpiralSkies said...

Handing over your work to someone is dreadful - rather like leaving your baby with a sitter for the first time.

My first real dissection of writing came from my tutor on the OU Creative Writing course (A103 - worth every penny). The first few pieces were pulled about, good comments and bad. For one assignment, I submitted what is now the beginning of my WIP. Her verdict? I reminded her of an early Marion Keyes. I remember reading that comment on the laptop screen in bed. It has spurred me on even more than the ridiculously good mark I got overall for the course.

The very thought of my words being 'out there' was paralysing at first: even the thought of writing a blog freaked me out.

My biggest support in this lark is, I must confess, my lovely bf: a reading and writing addict himself. I'm sure I wouldn't be able to do any of it without his unfailing faith in me.

I suppose the next scary leap should be joining a writing group.

As others have said, the truth may hurt but honesty is key. Eek.

Flowerpot said...

I've done a few courses which I'm sure have all helped but nothing has produced any lightbulb moments. What keeps me going is my writing buddies - Nancy and Claire, Christina and Susan when they can make it. Nancy in particular has been wonderful - we meet every week and while we have very different writing styles, we know each other well know and keep eachother going. I constantly learn from Nancy and we need our encouragement to keep each other going.

KeVin K. said...

I don't take criticism well, so I don't let anyone but the editor to whom I'm pitching see any of my work. (Until it's published, of course, then I urge everyone to buy a copy.)

I also tend to write the damn thing and get it out the door. I've been told by many that I'm missing the opportunity to refine my work. I've been told by a few that "write, mail, repeat" is the only way to develop as a writer; that rewriting only kills the originality and freshness of your narrative voice. (Since those few are multi-published novelists, I tend to listen to them.) As a result, it has been twenty years since anyone who is not an editor or workshop instructor -- including my wife -- has read anything of mine in ms form.

This will almost certainly change when I complete my mystery novel. It's a new genre for me and I'm going to want fresh eyes to evaluate my pacing and placement of red herrings. Haven't figured out whom I'm going to ask, yet, but I'll certainly report on the experience here.

Cathy said...

Doing the Open University writing courses has been tremendously useful in giving me the confidence to show my work to others, both peers and tutors, and learning how to give and receive criticism in a constructive manner.

However polished you feel a piece of work is, outside eyes will probably find areas that can be improved and can be invaluable.

But showing your work for the first time is certainly scary!

Graeme K Talboys said...

I've been submitting work since the late '60s (and in those days used to get feedback from editors - oh how times have changed). So that aspect doesn't bother me any more. What I have valued in recent years are the number of students at the OU who have been kind enough to read and comment on stuff I have posted. I have learned a great deal from them, and I'm certain my writing has improved enormously because of their input. It is really great to put stuff into the hands of people who have actually learned how to critique in a positive way.

My wife proofreads all my stuff and is not backward about letting me know if something doesn't make sense or is stylistically fussy. We don't always like the same sort of stuff, so I'm especially interested in her reaction to the stuff I write that she wouldn't normally read.

A. Writer said...

Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a lovely Christmas!

Hi JJ! I've not really had any mentors or teachers but I sometimes wish I did. Someone to turn to if I needed some advice. But in a way I suppose this is what the Novel Racers are for (even if I do feel a bit intimidated at times!)I love being part of such a support system! It's great!

I've had some readers. About 16 people have read the first draft of my first novel and I've had so much feedback I don't know where to start! But the majority was postive so that's kept me going. It was VERY scary handing over my writing for people to read. I was panicking like crazy and I still panic! Recently I handed three people the first three chapters of my novel for critiques-the scariest moment of my life! But luckly, it went okay!

Hope everyone is well! xx

Rowan Coleman said...

HI guys I am a bit late this week. Have lost track of what day of the week it is! While I was doing an MA in writing (which I have yet to finish as I got offered my first deal in the middle of it) the course was run by wonder writer Sue Gee - she was amazing and a very inspirational tutor. Today no-one reads my work pre-publication except for my two editors who views I trust completely and who are both wonderful at getting to the point and my brilliant agent who is not one to mince her words and had been a amazing creative foil over the last six years. These three people have been my only readers from the begining, not a relation, not a friend, not a no-one else reads my work before publication because I do believe in the too many chefs syndrome and while I welcome feedback I feel you need to have the courage of you convictions to follow your ideas through too and that sometimes too many opinions can confuse that.
Rx

Fiona said...

Hi JJ - Happy Holidays!

Your course sounds wonderful and it sounds as if you got a lot out of it.

Like you, I started writing fiction very recently, although I had always written in my mind - if you know what I mean?

I had the first three chapters of Sitting Pretty, looked at by a writer/editor. Although I felt like doing a Violet Elizabeth when I read her comments, I gave it a few days and re-read them and they made so much sense. I hadn't set any scenes or drawn my characters very well.

Great question, btw.

CTaylor said...

I suppose you could say I've had a short story teacher (in that I belong to a writing community lead by one man) but I haven't had any kind of one-on-one feedback or mentoring. I've learnt a tremendous amount from my teacher but he's a very frank (some say brutal) man and, after my first few stories were critiqued anonymously by him and the other members of the community, I was so stung I felt like giving up writing altogether!

In terms of novel writing I haven't had a teacher or mentor (unless you can count the huge pile of writing books in my bedroom!). Several people in my other writing community read the first 6 chapters of my novel and the feedback I received was so good I suspected that the critiquers weren't actually very good at critiquing or that they were just being kind for the sake of it. I still think they could have been more critical but it was nice to know what worked for a change instead of everything that didn't (ala short story writing community!). The only person other than me to have read my entire novel is interested Mr Agent. Don't know what he thinks of it yet though!

liz fenwick said...

Popping very late.....sorry but back in Dubai now and promised to better.

I've had the critiques of the New Writers Scheme for the RNA and Hiolary Johnson and Caroline Upcher. As tough as it has been to take some times it has made all the difference! Freinds have read the work too and their support helped but one friend was disappointed - not in the writing but she thought I would produce something heavier!!!

JJ I'm so glad that Skyros was so positive.

Happy New Year one and all and let the race begin !!!

wordtryst said...

The only person who read my work pre-agent was a friend who also writes, although in different genres. He stopped over at my place for a few days between airports, demanded to read the manuscript, overrode my refusals and then gave me an enormously helpful critique. It was stressful, but since then he's read my other stuff (I do the same for him) and I've gotten used to the idea and actually rely on him to be my first reader.

Having the agent read the first time was much, much worse. This was a professional! The day she called and said she loved the book was one of the highpoints of my life.

Hopefully, now that the book has sold and I've worked through revisions with an editor, I'll be able to handle future critiques with aplomb.

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