I was reading stuff online today, procrastinating because sleep-deprived, when I came across this great post by Peter M Ball on the value of his weekly Write Club. Basically, he gets together with Angela Slatter once a week and they help each other get the writing done and get it done well.
It got me thinking. My most recent short story is all my own work supposedly. But it was critiqued by three of my best writing pals. It has significant additional scenes in the middle from one pal’s suggestions, a completely reworked end from another pal’s suggestion, much juggling of motivations from the third pal’s concerns and greatly polished final words from the input of all three. All of those things I’ve just credited separately were actually raised by all three because they’re bloody good advisors. It’s the solutions I used that I’m crediting really, all of them tempered with my own ideas. The best critiquers don’t tell you how to fix something – they just tell you what doesn’t work and maybe why (for them). It’s your job to decide whether to take that on board and it’s your job to fix it.
Let’s tie this back to Bound, as I’m harping on endlessly about that at the moment because of course I am. That book was turned from an okay manuscript into a great one by my mate, Paul Haines. It was subsequently thoroughly beaten senseless by Angela Slatter and Joanne Anderton. Without the help of those people it would not be published. No way. It wasn’t good enough. All the potential was there, of course, but those people said what didn’t work and I fixed it. They weren’t nice about it. Haines in particular has an acerbic crit voice that’ll take the skin right off your flesh. Fuck, I miss him for so many reasons, and that’s only one. But that’s what a writer needs. Not people who will say, “You’re brilliant! That story is great!” because it almost certainly isn’t. It could be, but it’s not yet.
You need that critical honesty from someone who wants to see you be the best you can. And you can do the same for them.
I get asked more and more often: “What advice do you have for aspiring writers?” My standard answer is always my best advice:
Write. Write as much as you can, always strive to get better and don’t give up. When not writing, read.
That’s still my best advice. You can have that for nothing. But on top of that, here’s part two:
Find a few like-minded friends and be honest with each other. If you can find people better than you, that’s great. (I was lucky cos I did!) But very little of any real quality happens without help.
With that kind of help, the stuff you produce will always be better than it might have been if you did it without help. To paraphrase one of my favourite bands, All writers need a little help from their friends.