A Professional Critique of my Novel

This is the latest in my series on trying to get my first novel published.

A little while ago I wrote about sending my manuscript off to a professional critiquing service. I chose one of the most reputable (based on my own research) – Writers’ Workshop.

I was happy with my manuscript, but had sent it out to a number of literary agents without luck. During the many drafts I had critiques from a few brave and trusted souls – trusted to give honest feedback rather than glowing praise, that is – but I’d put some money aside and thought a pro critique would be a good idea. After all, this is the first novel I’ve got to a stage that I’d call finished. I’m working on a number of other projects which are at various stages of completion, so if there are important lessons to learn or delusions I’m under then best to find out now.

Writers’ Workshop are frank on their website: they won’t sugarcoat bad news. So it was with some trepidation that I sent my manuscript off. They let me know the name of the chap who would be critiquing the novel. I looked him up (of course) and found out he had a massive number of books published. Most of them are children’s books, but also a fair few that seemed to fit with my novel’s genre and market.

I waited. I held my breath. I twiddled.

An email from my critiquer dropped into my inbox (in very good time, I should point out). Despite being under the weather when the email arrived, I opened it straight away. On a side note, there isn’t a really satisfying way of opening exciting emails. Not like tearing into an envelope or using that weapon of a more civilised age, the letter opener. Oh well, progress.

Now, I knew to keep my expectations in check. I’m self-taught as a writer and haven’t previously had anything looked at by a ‘proper’ author. That said, and if I’m entirely honest, deep down a tiny little part of me really did think the opening sentences were going to be singing the praises of the finest novel of its generation.

Sadly that’s not what awaited me.

First the good bit: he liked my writing style. That’s a biggie. If it turned out that I really can’t write that would be a rather large blow (though not career-ending, judging by a couple of obvious recent bestsellers).

There were major problems though. The critiquer thought the pacing / plotting wasn’t right and, even more crucially, hated the main character – particularly his passivity and refusal to engage. There were other things too (as well as a number of things he really liked), but these seemed to be the biggest issues that will require major work to fix.

Now this is interesting.

Very interesting.

Because after the first draft I noticed these problems myself. Over the following redrafts I tried to fix them with tweaks here and there (alongside other overhauling work), but I never tore out the root of the problem. I thought I could polish the issues away and hoped I’d succeeded. Apparently not.

And this is great news. Not as great as if I’d written the Finest Novel Of Its Generation of course, but great nonetheless.

Why?

It means I can trust my instincts. That’s a fantastic position to be in. I may not be hitting the bestseller lists any time soon, but if I can trust my writing, trust my instincts and keep plugging away then who knows where I’ll end up.

If you’ve had any good or bad experiences with pro critiquing then let me know in the comments – it’d be great to compare notes.

@BornToPootle

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Always Talk About Your Novel

Or, the fine line..

This is probably the wrong way to go about it... Probably.

This is probably the wrong way to go about it… Probably.

I’ve found there’s a fine line when it comes to talking about my writing. There’s something in talking to people about it that helps drive me to carrying on – people ask how it’s going which is a great motivator. Too much though, and of course I become a prize self-serving nuisance and open to smug ‘no sign of that, er, that novel yet eh?’ whisperings.

I’ve just spent a few days with my Dad and his other half, and in due course my writing came up. In truth, I have hit a brick wall with one novel, but I have just started researching and plotting a new one while I let the older one unblock itself. I almost didn’t go into any detail about the general ideas and plot as it’s pretty early in the process, but decided it might help me firm it up. Lo and behold, something good came of it.

Though I’m not quite ready to broadcast the ideas to all and sundry yet, the important thing for this post is that the main antagonistic force is something (fictional) set in motion by John Dee or a fictionalised contemporary in the early 17th century. Turns out my Dad’s other half picked up a CD years ago that contains copies of various books by Dee and a lot of other esoteric writers from previous centuries. How cool is that? I’ve got various books about weird esotercism already, but they’re all either by modern esoteric writers or historians. Now I can connect to the source, and who knows what other bits of inspirations are buried in the ancient texts on the CD.

"Unless I've studied my Agrippa..." which I could now do

“Unless I’ve studied my Agrippa…” which I could now do

Has anything good happened to you after talking about your writing? Let me know what you’re working on in the comments, and maybe someone will happen by who can impart something useful!

@BornToPootle