This was originally suposed to be part of the Blog Tour for this book, but due to Real Life taking over, it slipped slightly. (HUGE Apologies to Ed and the publisher) So, later than scheduled, here is the post and be sure to check out Ed’s book, Blackwing. Its out now and looks to be a cracker.
Aspirant Author Advice: Critique and Where to Find It
People often joke about the job prospects of someone who studies English literature of Philosophy. They really shouldn’t. Arts education isn’t about learning a block of content, it’s about skills.
In a previous blog post I said that the most useful thing that you can do for yourself as an aspiring writer is to critique other people’s work. I will stand by that. Back in 2014, I wrote a novel that was then titled Ghosts of Red Winter. It was a 280k word mega epic, part one of seven, about a prophecised farmboy going to magic school to defeat the dark lord who was coming back from the dead… yeah. However, despite being filled to the brim with clichés, I think that today, I could make it work.
Almost every week for nearly four years I visited a fantasy writing forum and critiqued about five people’s opening chapters. This was happening whilst I was writing Ghosts of Red Winter, and was ongoing as I wrote what eventually became Blackwing, which I finished in early 2016.
Critiquing will teach you how to examine a piece of work critically, and the more you do, the clearer it will become as to why someone else’s writing isn’t working for you. Only when you’re at the stage of being able to do this for someone else are you going to start moving towards being able to do it for your own work.
The truth is, that of the hundreds of pieces of writing that I looked at on the forum over those four years (something that sadly I no longer have time for), I’m afraid to say that I only recall there being one of publishable quality. And by that I mean that I simply couldn’t imagine any agent or publisher wanting to request the full manuscript. Having observed this, you learn two things:
- If you are sufficiently self-aware, you realise that your own writing is almost certainly in the same category, and that unless you do something to substantially improve it, it will stay there. Traditional publishing is a not a place for ‘quite good.’
- It lets you understand the structure, pace, impact points, style and characterisation that’s necessary to write a successful opening, and how all those factors interweave together to make the product.
Without the skills that you build during critique sessions, you’ll lack the skills needed to edit your own work later on. Sure, you might get to work with an editor, but it’s an awful lot better if you can see the issues yourself. Critique lets you do that.
Ok, my turn!
There comes a time, however, when you will feel that you simply can’t make your work any better. Or at least, you could make it different, but you’ve lost track of whether different equates to better. And you need critique.
The classic mistake is to go ask your friends and family. After all, they’re the ones that can be persuaded or pushed into reading for you. Here’s my rule:
- Accept all critique graciously, but never take critique seriously if it comes from someone that you would loan money to.
For me, that’s the test. If you’d loan them money then they’re going to be too close to you to be able to provide that kind of criticism without worrying about your feelings, but more importantly, they won’t be love-blinded. Your mother, no matter what her background, cannot be objective about your writing. You can’t help but be overly positive towards things that your friends and family do. It’s a biased view, and it must be avoided. Moreover is the danger of buying into their feedback, and believing that your work is much better than it really is.
So who should I go to for critique?
The best people to critique you are other writers who are regularly engaged in critique. You need to be cautious whose advice you buy, however. Unfortunately we’re often limited and we do tend to fall back on family, friends, or a mix, and if that’s all you have available, then that’s what you go for.
- The best critiquers are well read in the genre that you’re writing in (e.g. not just the classics; they should have read plenty of this year’s releases, as they come out). If they aren’t, then they don’t know the genre well enough to be able to advise on what’s sellable or not in the present.
- The best critiquers need to be well read in other genres. Brian loves books on Vikings. He just digs them. Stick any Viking book in front of him, and he’s going to love it. No matter what. He doesn’t read other books. He just likes Vikings. Now, whilst that means that Brian would buy your book, there aren’t enough Brians out there for an agent/publisher to buy it solely for the Viking element. So maybe Brian isn’t that helpful.
- The best critiquers aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings by criticising your baby, but never set out to do so unconstructively.
- The best critiquers don’t try to tell you what should happen, or how they’d have preferred it. They just point out what’s not working for them and why.
- Just because someone is in a writer’s group it doesn’t mean that they write, that they understand writing, or that they like your genre. Writing groups can be a real mixed bag of good and bad advice. Don’t swallow it too readily.
I guess what I’m saying here is not to skimp on this part of your learning and writing process. Without it, I doubt that you’d be reading this post or that Blackwing would be on the book store shelves.
Release Date: 08th August 2017
Published by: Gollancz
Set on the ragged edge of a postapocalyptic frontier, Blackwing is a gritty fantasy debut about a man’s desperate battle to survive his own dark destiny…
Nothing in the Misery lasts…
Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.
Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.
Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…
Ed McDonald has spent many years dancing between different professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives with his wife in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes.
Ed’s debut novel Blackwing is the first part of The Raven’s Mark trilogy. Blackwing will be published on July 20th 2017 by Gollancz in the UK, and October 2017 by Ace in the United States. German, Spanish, French, Hungariann and Russian translations will be available from 2018.
Be sure to check out the previous blog tour posts!!!