When I first join my critique group, I wanted to know what critics thought of my story, very much. But they couldn’t get into it because they couldn’t get past my writing (there were many things wrong with it, and I didn’t know). I thought what my story needed was some tweaking when what it really needed was an overhaul.
Any serious writer who wants his writing to get to the point where he can truly benefit from critique groups must send in rewrites and must apply all he knows about fiction writing in those rewrites.
What I am about to give you, I hope, will help with that, and help my job as a critter as well. A child should always do his homework himself so he or she can follow the lessons in class the next day. So make rewriting your work your personal business if you truly want to gain from critique groups.
Make learning some writing basics, like showing and telling, and applying them, something you ought to do so you can be assisted. I don’t mind teaching newbies, but I have to be careful with the older ones in the group, as doing so might feel insulting. If you want people to appreciate your story, you need to ensure that they get past your writing and get into your story. Plain and simple.
And it’s sad when you have such a great concept for a story and fail, but your writing can’t rise to the occasion. Every piece of art has two aspects: concept and delivery. Ensure that your delivery, even if itdoes not impress, does not distract, and most critics will give you critiques on what to do to improve your story and delivery. If it distracts, then all focus goes into teaching the basics on how to deliver. And that’s not moving forwards.
I want those who write short stories to know that we have a great advantage. We can really get it right because it is much easier to rewriteyour short story fifty-times than to do the same with your novel. Also, it is much easier to get a short story published as an unknown writer than to get a novel published. Short stories can be sent to publishers unsolicited while novels can’t. Novels have to go through literary agents and some of them don’t accept unsolicited queries. Short stories can appear online without needing paperback or hard cover versions, as novels do. Novels are bigger marketing risks. When they fail, publishers lose a lot, not like short stories.
Let me use myself as an example. This writing journey has been a learning process for me that got a jolt when I joined my critique group at IWW. I was in both the Novels List and Fiction List. I learned many things I didn’t know when I joined, and did a lot of research to no more or clarify things. (Whenever I love doing something, I am passionate about it and can go extra miles for it.) I also had to rewrite nearly 250,000 words of two novels I started before joining the group. But I was too much in a hurry to apply what I’d learned and now I need to rewrite those novels again to incorporate the more things I learned. It’s tiring. And I wouldn’t like anyone to go through it.
Right now, I’m taking a long pause from completing my novels, and focusing on the shorter fiction as a way of learning. My short stories will be the children I grow up with, and when I’m fully-grown, I will finish up my novels.
Also, I know I stand a better chance of a publisher taking a chance on me with a novel project after building a profile as a short-story writer, which means getting short stories published and that’s not so hard. I’m not asking anyone to start writing short stories as I’m doing but to make sure their writing is at a certain level before embarking on a cumbersome novel project. Save yourself time and a painful headache.
What I’ve sent in will help you too. There are many very good self-published novels out there but there are also many very bad ones. Why not make yours one of the good ones with several masterful rewrites, if you choose to self-publish?
Charles Opara writes fiction and non-fiction. His short story, The Dream, was recently nominated for the Fiction Desk Newcomer’s Awards.