Write, revise, repeat
An experimental post today, as the main body of it is audio, rather than text. To download the audio file directly, go to this link:
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This is an experiment in the format for my Sunday column, so feedback will be appreciated. There is a post here, which should largely stand on it’s own (which will be cross-posted on my own site) and there will be a podcast post which will also stand alone, but hopefully they will complement each other. You are free to read the post here alone, listen to the audio alone, or do both. Let me know what you think of this idea, and if it proves popular, I’ll repeat it in future.
At the start of this year I entered the Kingston Readers Festival Micro Story Competition 2009. Sadly, my story was not shortlisted, so I present it today (in audio) as an example of redrafting and critique.
The competition sought entries of 500 words or less. This sounds easy, until you try to craft a complete story in under 500 words. My first full draft, which you’ll hear in the audio, came in at 554 words. The final entered story was 494 words.
I have had writing critiqued before. I have redrafted writing. But never before has any of my writing undergone such a focused and repeated draft, critique, revise cycle. Including the final version, there were six full drafts, and numerous intermediate stages. I showed the story to six different people, three of whom were providing full critiques. It was painful, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding.
Time and again I had to remind myself that any comments on the quality of the story were not slights against me personally. I knew this, yet each suggested revision, each instance of “this doesn’t work” cut me. And I could just about guarantee that for every change I made, for every two people that liked it, one would hate it. President Roosevelt said “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, and this was certainly the case here. Thankfully I could please two-thirds of the people most of the time, so took that as a win.
Putting your work out there for review and critique is something writers shy away from when they are starting out. They fear harsh words, the mean voices of jealousy which intone the dreaded but vague verdict – “I don’t like it”. Such a personal attack on your work, a cherished part of you, is intolerable. So the words go unread, the story sits in a drawer, and the writer never improves.
In truth, you will not grow as a writer unless you allow your work to be critiqued, otherwise you will never learn what works, what doesn’t, where your strengths and weaknesses are etc. If fear of criticism puts you off, then lock your pen and paper in the drawer and give up now, because nobody, be they just starting, or a New York Times bestseller, is immune from criticism. You will never please every ready. But the more you write, the more you work on your craft, allowing your work to be read, critiqued, then revised, the more people you will be able to please.
As you do this, you will learn to distinguish constructive criticism, fairly given, from petty insults and harsh words. Fair criticism must never be feared. It must be embraced, utilised, and owned. It strengthens your skills as a writer, and means that when you do encounter those mean voices, you can judge whether there is merit to their words.
Inevitably, you will find those words have no merit at all.