Friday, 14 June 2013

Pick that up and put it down properly!

Chief Guard Barnes

Back in February, I spoke of being seduced by the lure of the Short Story.

Part of the allure was the promise of improving my craft; to focus on creating punchy, powerful prose in an economical way.

I'd started writing draft three of BROTHERS, which I hoped would be the main, final rewrite, but felt I'd taken my writing as far as I could on my own. There was only one thing for it...

I had to join a writers group.

Being fairly introverted, this was a big deal for me. I'm a bit of a sadist, though: I'm not adverse to throwing myself into uncomfortable situations (is any writer?), and soon found myself in a room filled with lovely, talented writers, who weren't scary at all!

The first piece I read (out loud... gahhh) to the group was my story shortlisted in the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award last year. My darling baby was torn, limb by limb, and I was told to put it back together using different pieces entirely. I took it all in, nodding and smiling, and drove home in a shocked wee daze.

Of course, they were absolutely right.

I'm not precious about my words in the slightest, nor am I overly sensitive to criticism. Their words were fresh in my mind as I frantically penned my next short story. The difference in the two pieces was astonishing; you'd have thought it was written by two different people.

The feedback for my next story was very positive, and I just knew I'd taken the right path for my writing journey. I joined the writers group to open my eyes. They're bloody well open now... like the Ludovico Treatment from A Clockwork Orange.

One week, a writer read out the synopsis of her novel. It made me pine for my own novel, waiting patiently while I gallivanted with the Short Story. I resolved to read the BROTHERS synopsis out soon.

I got stuck into synopsis research and discovered it was "best" to condense it to under 500 words. 500 words? Are you mental? But who am I to question, lowly amateur that I am?

That's the thing about being so receptive to learning the ropes... you'll take anything as gospel.

Last night, I hurled my 500 words at the group. It was all fine and well writing the thing: everything was so fresh in my head and transitioned smoothly from scene to scene. Not until I began to read it out loud did I realise I was bombarding them with names, events, disasters and even more names...

They asked me to bring the first five pages in next week, which I should've just done in the first place. It's a bit late in the game (at 50k-odd words) to look for validation to continue with my quest. The writer in me from two or three years ago would've sauntered in with the first five pages without asking permission to go on.

I miss that cocky bastard.

Anyway, time to polish my first five pages. How is everyone getting on? Give me your gossip!

Take Care
Catherine x



Sarah writes said...

I joined a writing group two years ago & it's been a really rewarding experience. I've gained the confidence to let people read & hear my work but I know what you mean about the first time you read out to a group of writers, I felt sick with nerves!
Mine were very gentle the first few times, I think they sensed the fear, but my writing has really developed from their input & constructive criticism. The rule with them is that you have to be polite, honest but polite about it. I've come home & rewritten entire works but I know I've learned something from it.
Glad you're enjoying it! xx

Catherine Noble said...

Thanks, Sarah! I'd love to learn how to read my work out loud properly, all theatrical and the likes. Your group has a very good rule, I'm not surprised it works well for you :) xx

michelle said...

Hi Catherine.
The one thing I haven't done is join a physical writers group... I can't seem to find one in my neck of the woods. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough? *sighs*
Hope you well?
Happy page polishing!
Writer In Transit

michelle said...

Hi Catherine.
The one thing I haven't done is join a physical writers group... I can't seem to find one in my neck of the woods. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough? *sighs*
Hope you well?
Happy page polishing!
Writer In Transit

Catherine Noble said...

Hi Michelle!

I toyed with the idea of joining an online group, but I knew I wouldn't stick to it with any real commitment. Why don't you start your own writers group? I'm sure there'll be plenty near you who'd like to sign up!

I'm very well, thanks, hope you're well too!

Anne Stenhouse said...

Hullo Catherine, I'm a member of Edinburgh Writers' Group and it's been invaluable to me. The contacts and the insider gossip, apart from anything else are worth so much. Our syllabus usually has competitions and entrants can expect a short critique on the return of their ms. Michelle, the club accepts country members. There is a web page. Also the Scottish Association of Writers' website will have a list of affiliated Scottish clubs. I'm not familiar with other parts of the UK, but there's no doubt someone on here who is. If you're Uk based - I suppose the net is international and you might be in the Arctic circle! Finally, I've become a published novelist this year and a lot of that is owed to the readers of the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme. if you write novel length romance check it out. Anne Stenhouse

L said...

I joined a writing group through my town's library service and we meet once a month. This not only encourages me to write on whatever theme but also gave me the opportunity to write for and help produce a programme for a local radio station. It's good fun and stimulating and the members are most encouraging, perhaps too much so as I don't get much constructive criticism!

Amanda Saint said...

You do make me laugh, Catherine! Your description of the synopsis sounds much like mine. Harder to write than the novel itself!

I'm in a few different writing groups but they are all online or via email as I live in the middle of nowhere! My most helpful one is just 3 of us that met on a writing course a few years ago and became friends. Now we email our work around and have Skype chats to workshop things.

I've also been gallivanting with the short story and loving it. It's nice to finish something as the whole novel writing thing is a long-term game.

A x

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine - this really spoke to me as I have had an almost identical experience having only fairly recently joined a writing group myself. It has rejuvenated my passion for writing and I already feel that I have started to improve as a result of the excellent, constructive criticism.

Also - loved the line about missing that cocky bastard! I know exactly what you mean! Where is that overly confident 21 year old when you need them? Great post and good luck with your work.

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