Time management and the art of maintaining a blog

I don’t spend enough time writing.

As we’ve established in previous blog posts, I am somewhat time poor. Between a busy job, a busy family, the ever increasing health related demands of middle age and wanting to keep my writing going, I’m not giving everything the attention it deserves.

Over the last 18 months, exercise and writing have taken a back seat to work and family. Life hasn’t been feeling particularly balanced though, and in the last few months I’ve been trying to find ways to carve out a bit more time for writing (and exercise for that matter – although with less success).

One of the things that has dropped away as a result is regular posting on this blog. Last year it was generally time pooredness (that’s not a word) that kept my updates infrequent. But this year, as a part of my write-at-least-one-page-before-you-go-to-bed strategy, I’ve said to myself that the one page has to be done before any blog writing.

And that has meant significantly less blog writing.

I want to keep the blog up, but something has to give. And I’ve decided that thing is a full review of every book that I read.

I’m lots of books behind at the moment. I read quite a few books over the Christmas break that haven’t made it onto the blog yet. I’ve been doing some reading particularly for the 2014 Australian Women Writers’ Reading Challenge, which are way back in the queue. And I can’t see me ever catching up.

So, I’m going to try something different. Each month I’m going to put in a blog post that summarises the books I’ve read through the month. I’ll save a full review for those books where I have something particular to say, or where there is some specific purpose to me writing a review.

And I’ll try to keep most of my blog writing focused on the process of writing and publication.

If any regular readers of the blog see a book that I’ve skipped over in terms of reviews and want to know more, just leave a comment and I’ll add some more detail. Otherwise, lets try this new approach and see where it leads us!

Getting to “The End” – novel first draft finished

Well, last night I wrote the words “The End” in the notebook I’ve been writing my novel Unaligned in. Those that have been following along with the blog know that I’ve been trying a new approach to getting regular writing done this year, and because of it I’ve managed to get to the end of the first draft of the novel I started back in 2011 (and pretty much abandoned throughout 2013) over the last three months.

Of course I still have to convert the last 20,000 words from freak-localised-household-fire-could-ruin-me notebooks to backed-up-in-about-4-different-places-should-survive-the-apocalypse electronic form. And then do a structural edit, because I’m pretty sure the end doesn’t connect up properly with the beginning given the 2 years between writing the two parts. And even a cursory read over my early work makes me blush, as, now that I think of it, does a cursory reading over my later work. So lots of copy editing. And the dialogue could use some work. And there are a lot of dodgy/lazy metaphors. And I’m worried the ending doesn’t have the right level of crescendo.

But apart from that, it’s excellent.

But despite all that it feels like an achievement. At GenreCon last year, crime author John Connolly talked a lot about finishing the things you start. While I was listening to him, my normal cynical self was parsing his words as self help clap trap. But despite that initial reaction, those words stuck with me and I began to realise that not finishing the novel was subtly bugging me. My reasons for leaving it to one side had been sound – there was a lot of life going on at the time that quite rightly demanded my attention and I decided that in what little time I had available to write I wanted to practice my craft on shorter length pieces, where I could get more immediate payback/feedback. But not finishing was creating friction in my subconscious, that tiny irritation that’s always there but hard to detect until its gone.

Well now its gone.

I’m excited about the challenge of editing and making the story the best it can be. There’s a lot of work ahead – more than the effort of getting this first version down, that’s for sure. But I am left feeling that a milestone has been met, and I didn’t want to let that pass by without note.

So, let it here be noted.

My new writing process – 2 months in

So, at the end of last year I wrote a post about my plans for my writing in 2014. In it I put forward a new writing process, to try for “slow and steady” progress. I thought it might be time for an update on how it is going.

I’ve tried a lot of different techniques for getting more regular in my writing. After trying a lot of pieces of software, I’ve landed on Scrivener as my preferred electronic writing tool of choice. But as I’ve commented elsewhere, when writing directly on the computer I find it hard to turn off my inner editor, and it is difficult to get any momentum going.

Back in 2012 I had some success with setting myself weekly goals instead of daily goals. By having a target of 2,000 words a week, I managed to get 70,000 words into the first draft of my novel over a 6 month period. However, this happened to coincide with a very slow period at work when I could pop down to a local cafe at lunch time and get 30 – 45 minutes writing done. Once work picked up to its usual frenetic pace, this technique fell away.

Since then I’ve been drifting – writing in fits and starts. The long period between writing sessions would mean that I would take ages to get started. Kids would interrupt, time would run out. Every now and then I’d get inspired and get a lot of words down in one big session, but it was very hit and miss.

So, my new plan. I took into account a few factors:

  1. I seem much better at turning off the inner editor when I am writing freehand.
  2. Regular writing is more important than volume of writing.
  3. I am never going to find distraction free time.

With all that in mind, my new writing technique has been going like this. I have a preferred type of notebook for writing (a certain type of Moleskin notebook with completely blank pages, each page roughly A5 size). On each page I seem to average 100 – 110 words. So, I decided on the following:

  • Each day I have to write at least 1 page in one of my notebooks. That’s only 100 words. It doesn’t matter how late I stay up, how much other stuff I have on, I need that 100 words.
  • Most of the time those 100 words happen as my absolute last thing of the day. I’m tired. I’m often slightly snarky. It is exactly the opposite of the time of day most people recommend for writing. However, it is about the only time that is practical.
  • Most nights I do more than 1 page. Some nights I only barely do 1 page.
  • I leave the writing sitting, then follow along about 6 weeks behind typing it up into Scrivener. Here I let my inner editor go crazy, and what I type up is often quite different than what I wrote in the first place. It’s still pretty crappy, but it’s slightly more consistent crap.

Since I started this technique on 1 January 2014, I’ve written about 150 pages, conservatively about 15,000 words. That’s about the same number of words than I wrote in all of last year. I seem to be able to sustain it. It seems to be working. I’ll never be the most prolific writer in the world, but I’m very glad to be making progress.

That’s enough for now – I still have a page to fill up before I can go to bed.

Writing – a 2013 recap and 2014 plan

My 2013 writing year was a hit and miss affair. I had two flash fiction pieces published at Antipodean SF (The Regersek Zone and Hindsight is a Bitch). Nuke at Antipodean SF has been a great supporter, and I was very pleased to get a couple of pieces done for him.

This year I decided to put my novel writing on hold and focus on a few shorter pieces, to try and get more “end to end” experience of writing something. The result was four pieces in addition to the published two above:

  • 11,000 word fantasy piece that I’m still tinkering with called The Reclaimers.
  • 5,000 word I guess you’d call it urban/modern rural fantasy short story called Showdown.
  • 4,000 word science fiction piece called Wefting the Warp.
  • 600 word flash piece called Learning and Development.

I like all four, but it is fair to say that I have accumulated a lot of rejections on the last three so I don’t think that feeling is shared in the broader publishing community! Still, I’m very happy to have finished some pieces.

2013 was a difficult year work wise and with a few family issues, so my writing fell away a lot, especially towards the end of the year. I wasn’t writing regularly enough and it became more and more difficult to pick up a pen or a keyboard and start typing. Genrecon came along and gave me a good kick in the backside and I’ve had a few weeks off over Christmas to hopefully do some battery recharging. Given I’m going back into work I figure I’m as recharged as I’m going to get, so I’ve decided on the following for 2014:

  1. I don’t like telling people I have 2/3rds of an awful first draft of a novel. It’s a bit embarrassing. I’ve decided that I want to tell people that I have a full crappy first draft of a novel. Getting that last third of the novel out onto paper is a now a goal.
  2. I’m going to rest my short stories for a couple of months and come back at them with fresh eyes. Given the feedback I’ve been getting they are just not good enough but I think I need a little distance before I can pull them apart effectively.
  3. I need to be writing more regularly. I’ve worked out that writing longhand, if I write one page in the notebooks I like to use it equates to about 100 words. I’ve set myself the goal of writing at least one page every day, even if it means staying up a bit later of an evening to do so. As is often the way, one page often turns into 2 or 3 or 10, but I think I’m going to have to keep this “slow and steady” approach or I’m never going to get anywhere.
  4. I’d like to try and get involved with the right writing group – somewhere where I can get feedback of course but also get more of a support network for my writing. Fitting something like a writing group in around my family and work commitments is difficult, but it is something I’d like to make time for. I’ve had some great support from some individual writers out there as well and I’d also like to continue to build that network.
  5. Assuming all this goes to plan, the back half of the year I’d like to spend time editing my crappy novel first draft into a slightly-less-crappy-but-still-crappy second draft.
  6. I enjoy writing the shorter pieces, so I’m hoping a couple more flash fiction stories might find their way onto the Antipodean SF website during the year.

Now, by writing all this down and putting it into the public domain I’m hoping I can embarrass myself into actually following through. So, if you see me around the traps feel free to ask how things are going. If I look shifty and try to distract you by asking if that is Elvis Presley in the corner, you’ll know things aren’t going so well!

What is the sound of one hand writing? Or is it typing?

Another interesting thread from a writing mailing list has inspired another slightly tangental post on my behalf. The question – do you write long hand or directly into the computer?

My early career was in the computer industry and I’ve always had computers in my working life, so when I started to write I got myself set up with a laptop and the Scrivener writing software package and did all of my drafting electronically.

However, recently I realised that I have a lot of trouble turning off my inner editor when I write on the computer. I’m always going back and fiddling with sentences. This was fine when I was writing primarily flash fiction, but it has become a bit problematic when tackling longer pieces. I can’t get me no momentum!

So recently I’ve been writing longhand on lunch breaks, while waiting for my daughter to finish her dance lesson, in the stolen moments when the kids go off to a birthday party – basically anywhere I can grab a few minutes spare. I seem to be much better at saying “oh that’s roughly correct, I’ll fix it when I type this up” when I’m writing by hand. As a result, I’m getting more first draft material down without my internal critic slowing me up. Also, the typing up process is an excellent way of giving my work a first level line edit. And for those that have read my writing, you’ll know the more editing the better!

Of course I also have a growing volume of almost indecipherable hand written semi-prose that I haven’t quite got around to typing up yet. And, every minute that goes by reduces the chance I’ll ever be able to re-interpret my own scribbling, meaning some story ideas and fragments may be lost forever. But that’s the price I pay for the impetus gaining by a moving object.

I’ve also been giving some thought to writing materials. Recently I’ve begun using a series of “whiteline” books (where the page is a very very light grey and the lines are white). Much easier on the eye. Sadly I haven’t yet found a pen I really like, so I drift from shop to shop constantly searching, never finding true pen love.

What about you? Is your preference for long hand or is it electronic-word-capture-or-bust? Have you found pen love? A particularly well formed notebook, whose pages soak up your speculative fictive ink like a sponge in a rock pool? The perfect keyboard for your iPad, allowing your fingers to fly faster than light while you sit at the local cafe? Do sponges in rock pools actually soak up anything? Tell me all about it.

Submitting stories – going against wise counsel

I recently attended the NSW Speculative Fiction Festival where many fine speakers imparted much accumulated wisdom. A good time was had by all. There was one session focusing on the art and craft of short story writing, chaired by Cat Sparks and including Angela SlatterLisa Hannett and Dirk Strasser. All very accomplished writers, editors and publishers with a plethora of awards between them. One of the main pieces of advice they gave was submit to pro markets first. Why publish your story for free when someone might pay you for it? Why take 2c a word when someone might pay 10c a word? Why miss an opportunity for your work to get out to the wider audiences that the pro markets command?


It’s good advice. It is logical. Across the room I could feel the pluck of my fellow neophyte writers stiffen as we all resolved to send our short stories to Asimov’s as soon as we got home. I suspect the online submission systems of many a professional magazine were swamped with stories from down under. I did it myself, adding some prestigious names to my steadily growing pile of rejections (always boilerplate rejections, never those good personally written ones that everyone talks about :-). And as we’re always told, you’re probably being rejected because your work isn’t quite right for that particular editor at that particular time. Sure, some work is rejected because it isn’t good enough, but not yours. Never yours. Right?

I like my stories. When I leave them for long enough that I can barely remember writing them and re-read them as if I’m reading a strangers work, I enjoy the experience. They aren’t literary, but then I’m not a literary guy. I think they are OK. And considering I’ve only been writing for a short time, that’s good. I’m proud of the work I do.

But OK work that I’m proud of does not necessarily a pro market publication make. And some markets take months to get back to you. By my rough calculations, if you submitted to every pro market that gives you credit towards say joining Science Fiction Writers of America, your story could be tied up for years. And stories sitting in slush piles do not help me learn how to be better.

I’m beginning to think that what I need to be focusing on is mid-tier semi-pro markets where an editor might take some interest in my work, and perhaps provide suggestions on how it could be improved. At this stage, that would be much more valuable to me than large amounts of money. The flash fiction pieces I’ve published on Antipodean SF have been fantastic experiences, working with the editor there (Ion Newcombe) to make them better. Perhaps I need the equivalent for longer works.

I’m undecided. The lure of a pro market sale is strong. But I know I’ve got a lot to learn about the craft of writing, and wasting time sending solid but not dazzlingly brilliant stories to markets that are never going to publish them might not be such a great idea.

So, my friends – what do you think? For the writers out there, what is your approach to short story submissions? Is it all-pro-all-the-time? Free to a good home? Somewhere in between?


Day jobs and writing

“Day jobs and writing” was the subject of a recent thread on a writing mailing list I subscribe to. It was interesting reading about how a lot of people struggle with a job that lets them pay the bills, but takes them away from their first love, writing. There was a lot of dreaming of the day when they could chuck the day job and write full time. I threw my $0.02 in, and I thought I might repeat some of the sentiments here.

I love my day job. I work in the public sector (government work), and get a great sense of satisfaction out of serving the society I live in. My day job does not involve large amounts of writing, and what writing there is takes the form of briefing notes etc. The job is very demanding in terms of hours which makes it hard to fit in writing. I also have chosen to live within walking distance of my work, so no commute time to do writing (but with an hour and a half of walking each day, plenty of time to think about writing!). I have a young family – so difficult to fit writing around family activities. I do wish I had more time for writing.

However, I do not aspire to be a full time writer.

I’ve only been writing for a couple of years (late starter – I blame the mid life crisis) and I always felt obscurely guilty about the fact I didn’t want to be a full time writer. I went to a few writing courses and conventions, and there was a lot of attitude that translated to “if you are serious about your craft, your goal has to be to be a full time writer. Therefore if you don’t aspire to full time writer status, you can’t be a ‘real’ writer”. It was a bit depressing – I began to feel that I didn’t “belong” in the writing community.

Then I went to a panel session at the excellent GenreCon in Sydney Australia late last year and there was a writer that I admire saying that he loves writing, that he is absolutely serious about his craft, that he always wants to improve, that he loves being published but that he didn’t want to be a full time writer.

He loved his day job. He loved not feeling commercial pressure to make money from writing and the creative freedom that offered him. That he hoped to “break even” on his writing, but that his writing business plan had at its goal being a part time writer.

I felt good after that session, let me tell you.

So, I love my day job. I love writing. Long may they both live!

What about you?

A place to write…

A few months ago, we moved into a new house – one we’re likely to stay in for a good long while. We’ve been slowly working out what to do with the space (it’s a bit bigger than our last house), and I recently realised that the room we were going to use as a formal lounge room could become a man-cave. I mean, who has a formal lounge room anymore? Well, sure my parents do. But who else? No one, that’s who.

And so the man-cave was born.

My wife (K) didn’t seem to mind. It meant that the room we’d already designated as the study became her domain exclusively. And it helped contain all my geeky stuff to a single room. She did veto the name “man-cave” though. And to be fair, I was mainly calling it the man-cave to irritate her. But “the study” was already taken. What on earth could I call my little room?

And so the den was born.

What goes into a 21st century den I hear you ask? Well, there needs to be X-Box playing space, bookshelves filled with speculative fiction novels, some kind of chair/footrest combo for reading/game playing etc, a small lounge in case a nap is called for and a place to write.

With most of the stuff ordered, the piece I was mainly missing was a desk. I wanted something with a bit of character, rather than an Ikea special (as much as I admire the ingenuity of our Nordic furniture masters). And in the dusty bowels of a local auction house I found it – a circa 1900 American oak roller top desk. It was in pretty bad condition, but some cleaning and waxing and I think it has come up OK.

The Den

And so my place to write has finally come together. A room I can retreat to when the insanity of the world (or my children) drives me to the brink. A place of box DVD set watching, writing, reading and game playing. A place where none may enter without my express permission. Well, except my daughter. She pretty much goes where she likes. As does my son, now that I think about it. And I don’t actually fancy trying to stop my wife going anywhere in her house.

But besides everyone else who lives here, none shall enter!

While I tend to write all over the place (wherever and whenever I can find a few minutes spare really), I like the idea of a place where I can organise my stuff. A base camp if you will.

Lets see if it actually improves my productivity!

Do you have a specific place to write? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

2012 Wrap Up / 2013 Preview – Writing

As seems to be the custom at this time of the year, I’ve decided to do a bit of summary of my year in writing followed by a few thoughts on the year to come. This is the companion post to my recent discussion on my year in reading and follows the same basic structure.

Writing in 2012

2012 was the year that I started to properly try and fit writing in around my life (busy job and two kids under 5 don’t make that easy!). It is modest by a lot of people’s standards, but the tally of my outcomes in 2012 include:

  • 7 flash fiction pieces written and published in Antipodean SF (also narrated on the Beam Me Up podcast in the US). See my bibliography page for details.
  • Combining those 7 pieces flash pieces into a single publication titled A Flash in the Pan? which I made available through Smashwords (fascinating experience that I documented in a previous post).
  • Written one 4,000 word short story that I’m relatively happy with (Story A).
  • Written one 11,000 word short story that I’m mediumly happy with (Story B).
  • Written one 4,000 word short story that I’m vaguely happy with (Story C).
  • Written about 70,000 words of a first draft of a novel. I’m not happy with those words. Not happy at all. But at least they are there.
  • Started sketching out ideas for 2 or 3 more short stories that I’m quite excited about.

My reading in 2012 has lead me to a lot of excellent work by excellent writers. I’ve also met/heard from a few of the local writers I admire most at the two conventions that I’ve attended (more on that later). It is clear to me that my writing isn’t in those people’s league, perhaps never will be. But it is hard to adequately express how much satisfaction I’ve felt in getting some of these stories down on paper. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to keep working to make them better and I’d love to have them published. But even if, as I suspect, I’m never going to be the wordsmith I’d like to be I’m still going to keep writing. I just enjoy it too damn much!

A big part of my writing year was getting other people to read my work and provide comment. This started with Ion Newcombe of Antipodean SF reading and editing the stories I sent through to him for publication. Ion is very generous with his time and comments – I learnt a lot from him this year. I also had a couple of local fellow writers provide comments on some of my work which was very useful (hi Lyn and Rick if you’re reading).

I also finally discovered an online writing workshop that I’m very happy with. Quite a few people – strangers who didn’t have to worry about whether their comments would hurt my feelings – got stuck into one of my stories recently. It was excellent – so many different perspectives showing me what was and wasn’t working. The result is Story A listed above – one that I’m about to start sending out into the world.

Story A was one of my big learnings actually. It started as a 2,000 word story I sent in for the Continuum 8 writing competition. I was pretty happy with it. It didn’t rate a prize, so I sent it in to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. It didn’t get past round 1 of their review process, but I got an encouraging comment back from the reader. I then decided to let the story sit for a while and review when I could approach it with a fresh perspective and also try to get some more opinions on it. Each time I got some comments they were very valuable, and I ended up rewriting and expanding on major parts of the story. Each time I responded to a set of comments, I was always happy with the result. And then there were more comments! It was an excellent learning experience.

Providing critiques of other people’s work has helped focus my thinking on what does and doesn’t work in a story. I’ve had the privilege of reading some excellent stories through the year, both provided directly from authors or through the online workshop.

Attending Continuum 8 and GenreCon this year was another great learning experience. I’ve detailed my experiences in other posts (Continuum 8 and GenreCon), but GenreCon in particular was eye opening about the writing industry. Also got to meet some fantastic people at both conventions.

Engagement in the speculative fiction community has been very interesting. In 2012 I set up a Twitter account and made some tentative steps towards using social media – some interesting lessons there, including what not to do. I’ve started to “unfollow” some people who just use their Twitter account to constantly spam about their self published books. I don’t mind the occasional mention of people’s work, but when it seems like they have set up an automated process to tweet about their book on the hour every hour, well then they’ve lost me. Actually I could probably write a whole post on Twitter and social media generally so I’ll stop the rant here before I get properly started!

My engagement in the broader speculative fiction community has been tentative. I’m acutely conscious of the fact that I’m not a “proper” published writer and that I’m interacting with people much more experienced than I am. I’ve generally found people to be very generous with their time and thoughts but I don’t like to abuse that generosity.

A large part of my “contribution” to the wider discussions in the community has been through posting on this website. Reviewing the books that I read is my way of reflecting on the work to help my own writing, but also trying to provide profile for those works I enjoy. Goodreads has been good for that, and I’ve posted most of my reviews there as well as on this site. Traffic to the website has been steady but not huge (most days have between 3 and 10 visitors and in total 2177 people visited the site in 2012), but I’ve had some nice comments from people and I think generally my reviews have been well received. My most popular post for the year wasn’t a review, it was a reflection on my accomplishments in the Australian Women Writers’ 2012 Reading Challenge (In which I become less impressed with my AWWC accomplishments) that got a signal boost from people on Twitter, driving a lot of traffic to the site.

And finally, I’ve spent some time in 2012 helping out in minor ways with the Antipodean SF online magazine. Mostly I’ve been producing the ePub version of the magazine and doing some narration of stories. I find the publishing side of the writing industry fascinating as well and working with the AntiSF editor Ion has been a great learning experience.

Writing in 2013

So, what’s planned for 2013? I found it difficult to find time to write through 2012 – it was a fairly tough year in the non-writing parts of my life. I’m taking a bit of time over the new year to recharge and hopefully get into a more sustainable rhythm. In the hopes that by writing it down in a public place I may just embarrass myself into getting things done, this year I hope to:

  • Start submitting Story A  around the traps
  • Polish Stories B & C to a submittable level
  • Ignore the crappy-ness and finish the first draft of the novel, then start the polishing process. Even though I’m not happy with the writing, I do still really like the core idea of the story and want to give it a proper go
  • Write at least three additional stories of short to novella length
  • Receive cash money for at least one story
  • Write a few flash fiction pieces for Antipodean SF and continuing to help out with narrating and creating ePub versions of the publication
  • Get more involved with the online workshop and try to provide useful critiques for a wider range of stories
  • Support any fellow early stage writers (or indeed any writers!) in any way I can
  • Attend Conflux 13 in Canberra in April
  • Attend GenreCon in Brisbane
  • Attend the Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers Centre
  • Try to participate in the speculative fiction community in Australia more regularly
  • Look out for the opportunities I can’t see coming yet!

So that’s me. How about you?

The value of a detailed critique

As mentioned in previous articles, as I come across something new (for me) in my writing journey I’m trying to jot something down about it. These posts will be of little to no interest to established writers, but for someone new to the writing game they might be of interest. Or not. Read on at your peril.

Recently, a generous friend agreed to be a “critiquing partner” and we exchanged stories for review. I am very much the junior partner in this enterprise – my friend is a much more experienced writer who is really hitting her stride at the moment. I don’t have much in the way of a network across the speculative fiction community, so to have someone take enough of an interest to agree to read through some of my work was very encouraging.

It is the first time I had released an early draft story to someone, and it was nerve wracking to have something of mine “out there”. I’ve commented elsewhere on how much I enjoy the editing process with the editor of Antipodean SF (Ion “Nuke” Newcombe), but this critiquing experience was something new and different.

I was the first off the mark reviewing a chapter of a novel my friend is working on. The experience of giving feedback was very interesting. I wasn’t really sure how much detail to go into. I didn’t want to cause offence, but I wanted the critique to be useful. I also wanted to indicate through the nature of my comments that I was open to detailed and hard hitting (where needed) feedback on my own work.

Fortunately my friend is an excellent writer so I wasn’t faced with any fundamental issues to deal with (I can only imagine what it must be like to have to break it to someone that you didn’t like their story at all!). I then had the excellent experience of trying to put into words why I liked or disliked things in the text. It was interesting to work through a piece in that way, and it made me think a lot about the process of writing.

With nerves singing I sent off the comments. My friend took them well, and even expressed gratitude. My relief was palpable.

So what did I learn from the experience? I learnt that the more pedantic and detailed the comments the better (at least for my friend). I learnt that it was OK to express an opinion on something knowing that the recipient was under no obligation to agree. I learnt that working out why you like something is just as hard as working out why you don’t. I learnt that it is OK to say something isn’t quite sitting right with you even if you can’t pin down exactly why – it at least gives the author an area to focus on.

I learnt a lot.

It was then my turn to receive comments. I should start by saying that I was happy with the story I sent through. It was short (about 2,000 words) and I’d been playing around with it for a while. I was at the point where I wasn’t really seeing it anymore – too much tinkering will do that to a person. But I thought to myself ‘this is probably one of your most solid pieces of work – send it through so you don’t embarrass yourself with some of the other stuff you’ve got sitting around’. So when I saw the sheer amount of virtual red ink flash up in the returned document, I almost gave up my writing career before reading the first comment. But I steeled myself and started in.





The comments were thoughtful and intelligent. I learned a lot about how to lay out work more professionally and was reminded that my vague memories of high school English classes weren’t really cutting it when it came to writing fiction (there is not a lot of call for sharp dialogue when putting together a brief in the public service).

I was called on some lazy use of language and a structural problem with the first half of the story. As I worked through the comments in detail and applied them to the first draft, I gained a better appreciation of some elements of better writing than I had in months of looking at things by myself.

By the time I finished I had a second draft I was much happier with. I have a whole lot of work to do to rework most of my other draft material, but it is good work. Work that will substantially improve the stories.

One thing I learnt about myself was that even though writing briefs for government doesn’t necessarily help with all aspects of writing fiction, it has helped in one substantive area – the receiving of feedback. Many years of being focused on requiring the best possible work to get an outcome has helped me reduce the ego involved in receiving comments. If I got cranky every time someone pointed out a problem with my writing at work, I’d spend more time than is healthy being cross. And my proposals wouldn’t get anywhere.

So, while my other talents may be mediocre I hope I’ll be able to become a world class feedback receiver. If this experience is in any way representative, I’d strongly recommend any other new writers out there try to do the same. And if you can find yourself someone who’s writing you admire and who is willing to have a look at your work, grab onto the opportunity with both hands.

What have your experiences with critiquing been like? Leave a comment and let me know.