Finding Feedback

I have been on a small journey lately. All writers need feedback. But not just any feedback. Friends and family who are not authors or editors, can only give a general review representing a general reader’s experience. I find the most useful things you can expect from this first-read are: encouragement, a sense the story is complete or not (i.e. has a beginning, middle, and end), and if certain characters are likeable (identified with) or not. Each of these things is helpful and can point out basic story problems that will haunt the story no matter how lovely the prose becomes. But for each of the things that didn’t work, the family/friend reader cannot help.

A writer needs to know why something doesn’t work. Assuming the writer has reviewed, edited, even read the piece aloud several times, etc., we become blind to the faults. In fact, we may grow more enamoured of the piece the longer we work on it. Then, any critique becomes a crushing defeat.

The writer needs qualified feedback from editors, experienced writers, or agents.

For many writers, this kind of feedback comes from endlessly submitting stories or novels and hoping an editor or agent will make useful comments about why they rejected work. That’s a long, slow process to improve your writing.

Workshops with other writers, especially workshops run by pro-writers or editors, can be very helpful. I’ve done those, and the feedback was concrete and direct. But not all workshops work for all writers at all times. Workshops without strong guidance can leave a group of inexperienced writers no more enlightened than when they entered the workshop.

Critique groups and critique partners are another source of rigorous feedback. Again, the experience level of the participants needs to be strong.

Another but less common way to get good editorial feedback, is to submit to workshops and retreats that offer assessments to those not accepted. These critiques are often short and only cover a small excerpt, but usually written by professional writers, agents, and editors.

No matter how a writer gets feedback, they need it early and often right through the final copyedit before publication. The picture of an author writing isolated in a room or shack, never communicating with anyone, is mostly mythic. True only for the creation of a few drafts and edits.

If you’re a writer, what good critique experiences have you had?

Damn Fine Books I read in 2018

Sure, I’ll do a list. Everyone does. These were not all published in 2018, just read in the year.

Seriously, some of these were the best things read in any or all years. Presented in no particular order:

Tender by Sofia Samatar. This was probably on my list last year because I started in in 2017 and finished it in 2018. Simply a stunning collection of stories.

The only Harmless Great Thing by Brook Bolander. Elephants, radiation, and suffering, what more could anyone want? This book is easily the most emotional of the year.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. If you ever wondered what really happened in Red Hook when Lovecraft wasn’t paying attention.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip. A treasure of a collection by one of Fantasy’s grandest masters.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor. If you were wondering how the world of Who Fears Death got that way, this book answers it and is just as good.

Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism: A Novella by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. This story about orphans and puppets just grabbed me.

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic Edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown. This is also one I started in 2017 but finished in 2018. This is one of the best collections of Fantasy stories I have ever read.

Poetry as Creative Re-charge

I don’t know why or how I started doing this but recently when my energy to work on the novella, novel, or story in progress wanes, I find writing verse fuels my desire to work again.

Some days it’s just a warm up exercise; other days I don’t know what I feel like writing so I noodle with a poem. It adds to the daily practice of writing, and even if all I’ve done is scratch out five lines of verse I can look at that and say: I wrote something today.

Sometimes just completing a little thing is encouragement enough.

My Best Online Short Reads of 2018

Not to be left out of the end of year roundup posts, here is a collection of what I found to be the best short reads online. Some of these markets don’t have the biggest circulation or receive the most attention but I always find great stories tucked into these small corners of the Internet.

In no particular order:

Origin Story, by T. Kingfisher
To This You Cling, With jagged Fingernails, by Beth Cato
Seasons of Glass, by Amal El-Mohtar
River Doll, by Tariro Ndoro
Bones in the Rock, by R. K. Kalaw
Milkteeth, by Kristi Demeester
The House of Illusionists by Vanessa Fogg
The Pull of the Herd by Suzan Palumbo
By the Hand that Casts it by Stephanie Charette
Versions of the Sun by A.J. Hammer

Story Forge – Nope

Back in October when I was prepping for NaStoWriMo, I thought I had a method for taking story ideas and turning them into full stories. I was going to call it my Story Forge and share that process. I did find a method. It worked for maybe two stories.

In the course of writing fifteen story drafts, I found nearly as many ways to work ideas into something readable. Some are still little more than vague ideas after writing three or four thousand words of description, plot, and action. I still need to find the real story in those.

The story forge has become more like a story reveal. If there is any commonality in the process, it is this: story emerges as you write. You may think you have it all worked out but when you put characters on a page and have them interact with things something else develops. The story is revealed through the writing and revision process.

Fifteen stories is not a lot of experience. Still, it has shown nothing but diverse methods of finding a story contained within an idea. The only conclusion I can draw so far is that a story will reveal itself through writing and revision.