O – OMG! I’m a winner!

Reading Time: 3 minutes

azchallenge winnerA short post today just to share that last week I found out that I am the overall winner in The Write Practice’s Spring Writing Contest! I’m so thrilled, especially as the standard of stories submitted was, as always, very high. I’ve been given an honourable mention in previous contests but never won. I let out an involuntary whoop in a hotel restaurant when I found out last week, and then grinned through the entire meal.

My winning story appears on the front page of Short Fiction Break today – please check it out and let me know what you think. As I’m writing this ahead of time, I’ll include this separate link in case the guys at SFB move things around before Tuesday.

A couple of things about The Write Practice and why their community and their contests are so great:

To enter, you must first submit your story in the workshop for feedback. Yes, that’s right – unless you go through this step, your work will not be accepted. This is so important as it teaches writers – some for the first time – to share their work and receive feedback. You don’t have to accept the suggestions made by those in your workshop group, but I’ve found that readers pick up on so many things I’ve missed: not just typos etc, but where a story doesn’t slow, or where a sentence scans awkwardly, for example. Fresh eyes on your story are invaluable for improving it, ahead of submitting to a contest.

It’s also part of the deal that you give feedback on the stories of others in your workshop group. Again, this is valuable practice for all writers – learning to read critically and identify parts of a story which aren’t working for you. The Write Practice has a tradition of careful and constructive feedback (one-worders and dismissive feedback are strongly discouraged) so the critique you give and get focuses on an aspect which worked, and an aspect which could be stronger.

Everyone who enters can have their work published. I don’t know of another contest that does this. If you agree, then your story – winning or not – will be published on Short Fiction Break and seen by their readership. What a great incentive, for those of us building up our writing CVs! Your work will have passed through the workshop, and has now been published – great for your resume. (Writers can opt out of publication if they wish. I didn’t wish.)

It might seem weird that in the workshop,  you would be helping other competitors improve their chances against you – but honestly, this works. When you read a story and think This is great! you want to make it even better. And likewise, I’ve received so many helpful comments that have highlighted my weak points – and what readers enjoy.

I encourage everyone to join a critique group like the Write Practice – a regular writing deadline and consistent, helpful feedback are the most valuable tools for improving your writing.

Many thanks to The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break, and I hope you all like my story. Woohoo!

The Write Practice: the contest workshops only exist during competitions, but the weekly writing group membership runs all year. There’s also an online cafe where we chat about relevant – and irrelevant – things, and a forum for getting feedback on story ideas. And if that wasn’t enough, there are focused courses, such as Write a Novel in 100 Days. Find out more here.

Today’s post was out of alphabetical order. I’m back with N- No ideas but still need blog content? tomorrow.

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Like the plague: why you should avoid writing groups

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Horse Plinth Trafalgar Square 2016
Is being in a writing group just flogging a dead horse?

I’ve followed Joanna Penn for a little while now and found her website and its writing resources very helpful. So the chance to hear her advice on publishing, specifically self publishing, at the SPS summit in June was too good to miss.

Everything she said was relevant and informative, but one thing leapt out. She obviously knew it might be controversial but she went ahead and said it anyway:

Avoid writing groups for critique.

I spluttered my coffee when she said this – in approval, not outrage. Because with one notable exception, every single writing group I’ve been involved in has been utterly useless for learning or improving as a writer. They have mostly been useless for anything at all.

Joanna knew the reason why. Because the people in your writing group are not your target audience. Simple.

To explain: in a writing group, everyone writes in different genres and styles; ranging from literary fiction or poetry to fantasy novels and category romances. So the criticism offered is influenced by writing and reading taste, and might not reflect the quality of your work within its genre. Essentially, the people in your writing group are, as Joanna put it ‘not familiar with the tropes of your genre’ and so can’t judge whether you’re using those tropes well or badly.

I almost fell off my chair. Of course! So obvious. And it also explains why giving criticism is so hard in writing groups. You read the poem, you can see there’s something going on with it, but it is Not Your Thing.

This is precisely why my exception to the rule, The Write Practice, works for me. The Write Practice is BIG. There are plenty of writers involved and a fair few of them write in my genres of fantasy/speculative fiction. There are also poets and romantic novelists and YA novelists and many many others.

This means I can choose some writing in my own genres to critique, and give knowledgeable feedback. It also means the stuff is fun to read.

If I see something rather highbrow and literary I can engage if I wish, but there are a bunch of other people better qualified and more interested, who can do that for me. And if my honest response would be Please Stop, it is much better if I don’t have to mince words to avoid crushing someone’s dreams. It’s not necessarily a reflection of their writing skill, only of my deep dislike of highbrow, literary things. That’s what 3 years of Eng Lit will do for you.

But if you’re not signed up for The Write Practice, then what?

Joanna’s suggestion was to seek out readers/writers within your genre, within your target audience, and get feedback from them. She personally prefers to hire experts for specific critique – the examples she gave were of an expert on Maori culture, and an expert on Mumbai – and also to hire editors to do the kind of line-by-line picking that writing groups might offer. All this struck me as sound. Joanna suggested, shock horror, the internet as a brilliant resource for finding your genre experts and critique partners.

Just to be clear, she didn’t say writing groups were horrible – only that the people in them are by definition all amateurs (she put it more nicely). If you were learning to drive, you wouldn’t get in beside your non-driving friend and say, Well, let’s try this, and encourage each other when we seem to be doing something right. You would pay an instructor or seek out an experienced mentor.

I quite fancy having Joanna Penn as my mentor. Hey Joanna, pretty please?

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