Goal Update – December 2015

5 Year Writing Goal: December update

do you have goalsI’m taking part in Misha and Beth’s Five Year Project and my five-year goal is to write a novel and get it published. This is my update on progress this month. (I was tempted to write ‘lack of progress’, but that would be defeatist!)

At last, I have a plan for finishing my Tang novel!

In November I sent my novel off for a professional critique, for which I paid several hundred pounds. The comments I received were helpful, but raised questions that I struggled to answer.

Unable to make a decision, I oscillated between two thoughts:

  1. I badly needed more feedback
  2. I’ve had too much feedback already and much of it contradictory.

I have an old friend whose mother is Barbara Hardy, a respected critic, a writer and an emeritus Professor at Birkbeck, an expert on 18th century literature. When my friend said her mother would be happy to take a look at my manuscript, I hesitated. My novel is certainly not 18th century literature and I don’t pretend it is of great literary merit. What would the professor make of it? And, my friend warned me in advance that she was a harsh critic.

At the beginning of December I was due to see my friend for a Christmas reunion. I knew she was sure to ask why I hadn’t sent my book to her mother for a critique. Perhaps I should? After all, I was stuck. What had I got to lose?

Well… pride, confidence, my delusions of being a writer, any future dreams of being a published author… to name several things I could lose.

After a few days of agonising, during which I resisted the temptation of embarking on yet another editing round of the manuscript, I sent it off to Barbara by email. As soon as I hit [send] I regretted it, but I consoled myself. She was elderly and busy writing a book (about Ivy Compton Burnett). It would take her ages to read and respond, if indeed she ever did.

But a few days later a reply arrived in my inbox. Result? The most helpful (and shortest) piece of critical opinion I’ve received so far. It began:

“I don’t think the emotions and response of the protagonist are sufficiently interiorised and this has the effect of making him appear acted on by external events too passively.”

As soon as I read this, I knew she was right. She suggested the addition of just 3 or 4 extra passages would make all the difference. And now I know what I need to do.

In addition, she had words of praise:

“It is exotic and informative, narratively tense, moving and well-written, with no appearance of stylistic effort or exhibition, and I enjoyed it.”

To be honest, I didn’t take the praise very seriously. Critics always insert praise in order to sweeten the bitter pill of criticism, don’t they? But when I met up with my friend at our Christmas reunion, she took a different perspective. “My mother is highly critical and never gives empty praise,” she said, or something similar.

So what a great result. Not only do I know what to do next, but I’ve had a much-needed confidence boost.


Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.

8 thoughts on “Goal Update – December 2015”

  1. That is the most wonderful result and good on your for having the courage. It is hard to ask other professionals to critique our work, but so thrilling when the results are positive! Keep moving forward!


  2. The feedback you got on this manuscript is very similar to feedback I got on one of my earliest manuscripts. I think it means you’re getting somewhere.


  3. Wonderful news on your great critique! I love it when we get constructive criticism that instantly shows us what we need to do – and also kind words to go with it. 🙂


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