The Stages of Receiving Feedback: the analysis and rewrite

This month, one of my short stories ‘The Lakes Lost’, has been very publicly critiqued in Writing Magazine’s Under the Microscope section.

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In my last blog post, I discussed how you may feel when you first receive a critique on a piece of your writing. It isn’t unusual to initially feel an emotional response. If you’re anything like me, you may zoom in on any negative comments, and only skim over the positives.

That’s why it’s important to receive and process feedback in distinct stages. The first is that emotional stage, and the second is taking time away from your writing. Only once you have completed these stages will you be able to move onto the analysis and the rewrite.

To read my previous blog post about the emotional stage click here.

 

The Analysis

As in my previous post, I’m using the critique of my short story in Writing Magazine to illustrate the different stages of receiving feedback.

Under the Microscope is a section in Writing Magazine where readers can send the opening 300 words of a story for a professional critique. Selected stories are published alongside detailed point-by-point feedback. I’ve copied the first paragraph of my short story below.

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Rachel’s boyfriend, Daniel, crouched beside her.1 Hidden behind the spikey pines, 2 they’d finally found the perfect place to view the moose 3 as it waded through the lake.4 She breathed in the moment of stillness,5 broken only by the animal’s heavy snorts,  and the creak of the trees, grumbling in the faint breeze.6

The critique made 6 points on the above paragraph, which I will briefly discuss below. This is the analysis stage of receiving your feedback – looking through each feedback point and deciding whether you agree or disagree with the critique.

  • Narrative starts with Rachel but then immediately switches to Daniel – this could be confusing for the reader.

I agree. In fact, I’ve never liked the opening line of the story, and now I understand why. This is something I will rewrite to make it clearer Rachel is the focus.

  • Positive point commenting on assonance of ‘spikey pines’ 😊. Less positive point explaining this sentence feels fuzzy as it opens with a subordinate clause.

Opening with a subordinate clause isn’t something that would usually grab me as a massive issue, but I will play around with the sentence structure during my rewrite and see if I can make the sentence flow better.

  • “A moose is an inherently amusing animal so it’s best to avoid unnecessary humour.”

I disagree, and the moose is staying. The scenery in this story is inspired by watching moose at a place called Moose Lake, so…

  • ‘Wade’ and ‘Lake’ is more assonance. If you’re going to use such effects, they must be towards some purpose…

This wasn’t intentionally done. However, my writing style has changed slightly since I wrote this short story, and it isn’t as poetic as it used to be. Therefore, removing some of the ‘poeticness’ from my writing will be something I’ll consider when doing my rewrite.

  • Unclear perspective. Who is she? Rachel or the moose?

Point taken. This line needs a rewrite so it’s clear we’re talking about Rachel here.

  • Grumbled and creak are different sounds.

I personally like the use of them both together here, as for me it’s reflective of the sound of the wildness. This is one to think about.

The Rewrite

This stage follows on from the analysis. Once you’ve decided which points you agree and disagree with, it’s time to implement them in your writing. You may find you disagree with some or most points, yet the feedback has sparked other creative ideas that can help you to take your writing in a whole new direction.

The complete analysis of this story is available in February 2020s edition of Writing Magazine.

 

 

The stages of receiving feedback

This month my short story ‘The Lake’s Lost’ has been critiqued in Writing Magazine’s Under the Microscope. 

Happy New Year! Despite being housebound with some nasty flu-like bug for the first few days of 2020, I’m feeling strangely optimistic about this year and the twenties as a decade in general. I’ve also started feeling more positive about my writing. This is in part due to two things:

  • I’ve finished the re-write of my novel and have began researching agents to initially send it off to. Now just for the somewhat gruelling task of rewriting the synopsis…
  • My face popped up in Writing Magazine this month, in their ‘Under the Microscope’ section. Any version of putting your name out there is better than not putting your name out there, right? And this rather public critique is what today’s blog post is about.

‘The Lake’s Lost’ is a short story I wrote whilst living in Canada in 2017 (yikes I can’t believe that’s 3 years ago now). It’s one of those stories I’ve had a few attempts at sending out with no luck, so it’s been put on the back burner for a while. I’ve always had the niggling feeling that the opening to the story (no doubt in addition to other sections) isn’t working as well as it should be. Despite that, I’ve still not completely given up on this story as I feel it has potential and is based on one of my favourite experiences whilst in Canada.

That’s why when I saw the opportunity to send the opening 300 words of a short story in to Under the Microscope at Writing Magazine, I thought it could be a good opportunity to get a professional critique and learn where I’m going wrong.

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Under the Microscope – The Lake’s Lost – Writing Magazine

The Stages of Receiving Critique

I’ve previously written about how important it is to receive feedback on your work.It is an almost crucial step towards making you a better writer. However just because it’s important, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy process. I’ve highlighted the four stages I experience when receiving a critique below and hope to explain them in relation to my Under the Microscope critique.

  1. The Emotional Response
  2. The Taking a Step Back
  3. The Analysis
  4. The Rewrite

Stage 1: The Emotional Response

We’re only human after all. If you’ve spent hours working on a piece of writing, only for someone to come along with a blunt red pen and tell you everything that’s wrong with it, you won’t be alone in feeling an emotional response. You may experience anger or frustration, or you may feel disheartened about your writing.

I particularly struggle when I receive critiques that make criticisms about my story, which I feel is based on the ‘critiquer’ not fully understanding the context. This causes me to just into my defence mode, and shout at the screen (or magazine) – “you just don’t understand!”

For example, I remember feeling annoyed at a critique before which stated my inclusion of the term ‘The High Street’ was incorrect. They explained ‘the’ was ungrammatical. However, in the UK High Street is a common term used for a row of shops in a town centre and is not necessarily a street name.

So, what was my emotional response to my Under the Microscope critique? It’s easy when receiving feedback to jump on the negative points and ignore the usually overall positive message.

A Lake’s Lost is based on a real-life location in Canada called Moose Lake in Jasper Provincial Park. Most of the description in the story is inspired by my own experiences of seeing moose at that lake in autumn, when the water was still frozen in parts yet the ground around the lake muddy.

I was therefore somewhat confused (incoming emotional response) when the critique stated points such as “A moose in an inherently amusing animal so it’s best to avoid unnecessary humour” and “moose-related assonance that could provoke an inadvertent smirk”.

Instantly, I felt like penning a letter titled ‘What do you have against moose?’ but then I stopped myself (and decided to write this blog instead). It’s never a good idea to respond to a critique whilst you are still in the emotional stage.

What can we learn from this? Both the above examples show we need to carefully think about who our reader is and whether they will understand the context of the story. What market are you writing for? Will they understand that moose are common in Canada or that it’s not unusual to find patches of ice in the remote parts of the provincial parks? Never assume the reader will have had the same experiences as you.

Stage 2: The Taking a Step Back

Stop looking at your critique. For an hour, a day, a week… however long it takes for you to get over the emotional response stage. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, work on a new project… There aren’t any rules.

In my next blog post I will discuss the next two stages of receiving a critique: the analysis and the rewrite.

The full critique is available in this month’s edition of Writing Magazine (Feb 2020).

 

 

 

Where to start when editing your novel

You may remember a month or so ago, I blogged about why you should get feedback on your novel. Getting good quality feedback has motivated and inspired me so much during my editing process.

Today, I’m going to discuss the editing process itself in more detail and explain how it can be enjoyable if you approach it with the right mindset.

person typing on typewriter

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Before you begin to even think about editing your novel, there are three things you should do:

  1. Put your novel away somewhere and don’t look at it for a long time. How long? Long enough so that you have separation from it and a chance to emotionally detach. I’d recommend at least a month.
  2. Then, send you novel off to get feedback from someone you don’t know well (not a friend or family member). Check out my feedback post for ideas here.
  3. Mentally prepare yourself that your novel is not finished. There is still work to do, and really you’re only at the beginning of the long novel writing process.

When I finished the first draft of my novel at the beginning of 2018, (eek! How is it that long ago?!) I put it aside for a little while (days!) before starting the editing process. My mistake was I hadn’t followed the above three rules closely enough. I hadn’t given myself enough distance from my novel, and I hadn’t sought proper feedback. I was desperate to get it finished as I was eager to send it off to agents.

I began the editing process by focusing mostly on correcting grammar and hoping to make my writing ‘flow’ better. This stuff is really important – don’t get me wrong – but the most important question you should ask yourself is, is my story the best it can be?

You can break this down into smaller sub-questions:

  • Is the pace right?
  • Are my characters believable and engaging? Is their dialogue realistic? Do they all help to drive the plot forward, or serve a purpose in the story?
  • Is it all in the same POV? Or if not, am I following the same ‘rule’ throughout?
  • Is the ending satisfying?
  • Is the plot gripping? Does the story grab you straight away, or are you wasting words with needless descriptions?
  • Does each chapter leave the reader with a reason to read on?
  • Are there any holes in the plot or contradictions?
  • Are the character’s motivations clear?
  • And yes, is the writing (grammar/ language) good?

As authors, when we ask ourselves these questions, it’s inevitable we’ll see our own novel through rose tinted glasses. We will read it how we want it to be read. That’s why it is so important to have someone else read your novel and allow them to give unbiased feedback on all the above questions.

I skipped over my three ‘”to dos”, which led to a frustrating year not being 100% satisfied with my novel, but unsure where to go with it. Despite really believing in the plot line and knowing it had potential, I ended up putting the novel on the backburner for a whole year trying to figure out what to do with it.

This was until I decided to revisit those “to dos”. I’d now had a long enough break from it, I was prepared to seek out feedback and put in the hard work to make my novel the best it could be.

After I received detailed feedback, I felt much more inspired by the editing process. I could see clearly ways to make my plotline stronger, where to add detail, and where to cut back.

That is why, rather than editing my original manuscript, I decided to completely re-write it. I am currently going through it line by line, deciding what could be kept and what should be changed. It’s an exciting process and not as daunting as it might sound. Having the foundations in place already (and of course chunks can be copy and pasted) really speeds up the process. I’m over halfway through already.

I’ve also found that forcing myself to type out almost every sentence again has made me re-write and improve sentences that otherwise might have been missed. I’ve noticed how much my writing has improved in the last couple of years since that first draft.

Are you a writer? What is your editing process like? As always, get in touch!

 

 

 

 

Scribophile – does it help new writers?

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For the past few months, I’ve been using an online writing critique site called Scribophile.

Scribophile works on a karma system. You collect ‘karma points’ by critiquing other people’s work, and once you have earnt enough karma points you can post your own piece of writing for review.

I was nervous at first. For one, I wasn’t sure if posting my work on a site like Scribophile would count as publishing my work online. What if someone steals it, or steals my idea?

Scribophile isn’t open to anyone. Only those with an account can view writing. And as far as I am aware, posting on these kind of critique sites does not count as publishing your work online. For starters, what you originally post will be very unlikely to be the end product.

I must admit, I am still a little hesitant. So far, I’ve stuck with posting short stories, rather than my novel. Somehow that feels ‘safer’.

There are 2 types of account of Scribophile. Free accounts and paid subscription. I have a free account – and therefore this blog post relates entirely to my experience of the free account. If you have a subscription on Scribophile, do let me know how you find it!

The free account limits you to posting a maximum of 2 pieces of writing at any one time. I haven’t found this too much of an issue with short stories, as once I’ve *finished* working on a piece, I am happy to delete it off the Scribophile site and move onto my next piece. I suppose this would become more of an issue if you were posting chapters of a novel.

These are the positives and negatives I’ve experienced so far:

Positives:

  • People are honest. Unlike giving your story to a friend or family member who will most likely praise your work, the critique you receive will tell you the good and the bad. This really helps for improving your writing; I’ve found my writing has improved already in just the few months I’ve been using Scribophile.
  • It’s fair. Scribophile’s karma system means everyone must critique other work before posting their own.
  • It’s full of writers who care about writing, who are committed to investing a chunk of their time into reviewing your work.

Negatives:

  • It can take a long time to get feedback – generally speaking, only work featured in the ‘spotlight’ are critiqued. Only a limited number of posts are in the spotlight at one time, and when you submit your writing it goes into a queue for the spotlight. It can take days between hitting ‘submit’ and getting feedback.
  • Quality of reviews can vary – The great thing about Scribophile is that reviewers must give you at least 150ish words of feedback before it counts as a review. However, you only receive 3 reviews before your work is taken out of the spotlight again. You may get 3 very thorough, 500 words+ reviews, or you might get 3 150 word very brief reviews….

 

Are critique sites a good way to become a better writer? Absolutely. I’ve found Scribophile to be extremely useful – and I can really see the difference between first drafts vs. stories after a few rounds of edits/ resubmissions.

Just take advice with a pinch of salt. Nobody is pretending to be an expert, and there’s nothing to guarantee the person reviewing your story really knows better than you. Remember you are the writer. You have the final say.

Do you use Scribophile or another writing site? Or do you prefer writing groups that meet in person?

 

*** To anyone following this blog – I am sorry for the many duplicates of this post – I’ve been experiencing some issues uploading to WordPress this week***