5 Year Writing Goal: December update
I’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:
- I badly needed more feedback
- 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.