Writing into the Dark and Critiques

I really like having a critique group and the one I’m in is excellent. Nice people and deeply invested in really critiquing and learning on their own as well. I’m learning a lot and improving just by being there.

Last night, one of the members of the group pointed out to me that the group’s rule is that the group only looks at new writing, which I interpret from the context of the discussion as writing done in the last week or two. This works great for me with short stories, which is what I’ve been writing for the last year. However, I don’t see it working for me with novels that are written into the dark. Or, truth be told, even novels written with an outline.

The way I write is messy in the beginning as I try to write myself into a story I want to tell. Often with short stories I’ll try a few different starts (often in radically different genres) like someone dragging a match repeatedly across the striking pad before I get a flame. Once the flame brings a shadowy illumination to the story showing a few dim details, I write. I discover characters and plot as I go. Sometimes I’ll stop in the middle and jot down some ideas for the end or the validation or the next scene before I continue writing with the story. Sometimes the illumination shows me the story’s end and I start there, writing what led up to that. Once I finish the story, I return to the beginning and modify it, making the beginning suit the end.

I like reading the first thousand words aloud to friends or to Steve, watching for their reactions, before writing the rest. That’s incredibly helpful to me. What is counterproductive to me at that stage is anything that looks like a critique because it pulls me out of the fictive universe.

It’s not that I’m thin skinned. I’m not. As I am trying to feel my way through the emotions and the voice of the story, it helps to see people’s faces as they listen. It keeps me anchored in the voice and reality of the story. If I activate my own critical voice too soon in the process, I strangle the story in the crib before it has a chance to grow organically on its own.

Once I learned to avoid early critiques, my writing started to surprise me with twist endings, weird character traits, and all sorts of fun things. These are things I want to see happen in a novel as well.

My plan is to write the next few novels as quickly and cleanly as I can. I’ve set a goal to write the next novel in about two months. I’ve read quite a bit from people who write quickly and feel that their best books come this way.

Now that I’ve written almost 60 short stories, the vast majority in the last 52 weeks, I have a good sense of why that works for people and why it might work for me as well. So the plan is to move forward in that way, trusting in the process, anxious to see what my strange writer brain brews up to entertain me (and hopefully others).

But that won’t work for the critique group since by the time I give them the first 2,000 words, more than two months will have passed since writing it. I can, of course, continue to write a short story a week in addition to the novel, but that seems like a bit of pressure.  I could handle a short story a month in addition to the novel, but not weekly.

I suppose I will do what I always do. Be direct. Discuss this with the group honestly and be brave if our styles don’t mesh. The cold truth is that I need to be able to write and finish stories more than I need a critique group, however much I adore the one I’m currently in.

In other news I’m taking Dean’s Publishing 101 course and so far I really like it. At the same time I’m doing Mark Dawson’s Indie Publishing course and that’s been quite good as well.

This week’s story will be a cozy mystery, if I can find my way through to the story. I’m having some trouble with it, which is likely due to too much personal angst. But I’ll finish the story by Sunday night and that will be the final story in the Great Challenge.

I wrote up a collaboration agreement and sent the first draft to my collaborator for our secret project. Once we have an agreement that works for both of us. I will get those stories up.

Finally, I’m reading “Hot Turtle Sex” as part of an author reading tomorrow. If you want the secret code for the Zoom meeting, let me know.


I hope your life is also filled with creativity and success. Be well, friends! And stay well.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Ask for clarification on the rule, rather discerning it from context. It may simply be that they don’t want a writer to show up with a novel written ten years ago. If they really are saying 2 weeks, then clarify how it works with longer fiction like novels.

    The messiness will improve the more you write. I’m very different now than when I was writing my my first completed novel. Then, I described my process as throwing paint at the wall and seeing what sticks. Now it’s a lot less chaotic. That’s due to all the new craft techniques I’ve learned, which filter over the longer-term into the writing. Most of the time when writers teach how-to write, they talk process as craft, not craft helping process.

    1. Thank you! I chatted with the group and I think it will work out. My iterative process is different than they are used to. They primarily don’t want to see the same sort of issues each chapter. They want to see things improve. Since that’s my goal as well, we came to an agreement and a way to proceed.

      I’ve come to accept the messiness and the occasional emotional freak out as just part of the normal emotional weather I’m subject to. Still it is good to know that it improves over time.

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