Posts Tagged ‘internet’

I admit it – I have neglected this blog quite shamefully and it is almost exactly a year since my last post. Having our house on the market for two years and attempting to keep both house and large country garden under control for viewings took much of my time. But the main reason for not posting was that I had run out of things to say about writing and the writers’ condition. The online writing sites that I have used for the last twelve years or so have fallen into what can only be described as the doldrums and I have perceived a general lack of enthusiasm for giving and receiving feedback in this remote fashion.

That is not to say people aren’t being busy and successful! On the positive side, many members of my favourite site have now been published or have agents and potential publishing deals, so the process of online reviews has clearly been working well. I have had a few small successes of my own, including several shortlistings in Flash500, acceptance of a story into Twisted Tales 2016 and – tarantara – I won the Worcestershire Literary Festival’s Flash Fiction competition, with another story shortlisted. So that was nice! Sadly, the announcement was made at the launch of the Festival and, since I couldn’t be there because of moving house, one of the judges had to read my winning story. But there you go. I’ll be reading both stories at the launch of the anthology on Sunday 20th November, all being well.

The reason for posting now is that I have joined an actual live writing group in my small town and thought it was an opportunity to share this new experience. It’s a five-minute walk to the weekly venue so I have no excuse for not turning up, apart from family commitments, disasters and holidays. I have only been to one meeting so far because of the first of these, but I did do the homework, which is limited to 500 words on each occasion. I had also done the homework for my first meeting: to write a love scene.

My first thought on the subject was – AAARRRGGGHHH! I would never put myself in the position of writing such a thing, especially if it were to contain sex. I don’t enjoy reading sex scenes and I can’t imagine the horror of writing one. But when I had calmed down, I realised that a love scene needn’t contain sex and that many of my very short stories are love scenes of one sort or another. So I wrote a new one and read it aloud when my turn came around. It went down well, with hoots of laughter in all the right places, along with a collective groan at one intentionally sickly bit and even a tear from one member at the end. Who could ask for more? I also got some useful feedback, which I have used to tighten it up for submission to Flash500.

I was very impressed by the general standard of writing – and reading – within the group and all the feedback was pertinent and kindly given. Having become used to somewhat more brutal treatment via online groups, this made a refreshing change. But I do want the truth, 100% of the time. Anything else is of little use, but I must be careful how I phrase any criticisms. Coming from Yorkshire, this isn’t really in my DNA…

So my first experience of the writing group was overwhelmingly positive. My only problem arose during the usual end-of-session five-minute writing challenge. The topic was ‘a message to a particular member who is sick’ and could take any form. The fact that I had never met this person shouldn’t have been the barrier it became, but my mind went completely blank and I didn’t write a single word. The others managed some very entertaining, irreverent and poignant poems and prose and I felt really stupid for not producing anything.

This failure probably wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows how I work. I’m not a jotter or drafter. If I have an idea for a story, I let it grow and develop in my mind until it is either forgotten or emerges fully formed and largely edited after a period of days, weeks or even months. I am extremely intimidated by the idea of writing ‘on-the-spot’, especially when everyone else gets their heads down and starts scribbling. It’s my recurrent exam nightmare all over again! When my turn to ‘show’ came round, I explained my predicament and was met with understanding and reassurance. Somebody said that the group is a safe place in which to try things out and no one should be anxious about any perceived failure, because it is about having a go and gradually building confidence. I hope I fare better on Thursday when the next challenge is set but if I don’t, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’ve managed three lots of homework on a given topic, something that is normally outside my ‘comfort zone’ – note the inverted commas, because the latest assignment is a maximum of 500 words using as many cliches as we can squeeze in. I’m not sure how this exercise benefits our writing but I’ve done it anyway. So I am already stretching myself a little further than usual and if the only benefit to my writing is that I achieve the odd submittable piece, it will be a good result.

I ought also to mention that it is lovely to meet new people and to share an experience, doing something at which we all want to improve. So no minuses, really. It gets me out of the house and away from the computer for a couple of hours and I heartily recommend it. So far…

Watch this space.

If you have any experiences of writing groups you’d like to share, please post a comment. Go on – scare me!

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listen_with_mother2-229x300Some of you (though perhaps not very many) will remember this introduction to Listen with Mother on the BBC Light Programme back in the 1950s. Listening to stories on the radio, at bedtime and in the classroom, was (and probably still is) an introduction to literature long before we read it for ourselves. We learned how to sit still and focus; how to imagine ourselves in another world; how to suspend our disbelief.

I can still remember the frustration I felt looking at a storybook and being unable to decipher the letters. So each night, when my father read me the latest installment of Rupert Bear in the Daily Express, I insisted on studying the words so that I could match them to what he was saying. Soon I could tell if he was trying to cut corners and read the short verse instead of the much longer prose! These experiences translated into an insatiable appetite for fiction, long and short. But for reading, not writing. That came much later.

Although I speak the words aloud when I write (and often suggest to writers whose work I am critiquing that they do this to check the dialogue, sentence structure and clarity) the idea of reading to an audience was unthinkable for many years. All my life I have shied away from public speaking (which rather scuppered my early political ambitions) and always insisted in being on the production side of school plays because, although I knew how a role should be played, nerves would have strangled the words before they ever came near to being spoken.

So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to read my prize-winning flash fiction Mother’s Pride at a flash slam on National Flash Fiction Day in Oxford two years ago. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I became and every day I had to force myself not to pull out. But my husband came along for support, there were a couple of faces I knew from the internet, and everyone was very friendly. They were also, I realised with relief, at least as nervous as me. So I sank a glass of red wine and got the job done, and it was fine – even quite good! I can’t tell you how proud I felt when other experienced readers told me they would never have known it was my first time.

My second public reading wasn’t such a success. It was at the first meeting of Southville Writers, in a Bristol pub, and the background noise made it impossible for me to tell whether I was speaking loudly enough. Turns out I wasn’t! No one had any idea what my story was about until they read it afterwards.

My third venture was last Saturday in the Bristol Foyles, at an event organised by Southville Writers and Bristol Women Writers, where a mixture of poetry and prose was read over a five hour period. It was great to hear poetry read by the poet not in that monotonous, dreary way it is so often presented (think of Roger McGough on Poetry Please). This was real and vibrant and the writers knew exactly how to get the best out of it. I learned some valuable lessons about pacing, expression and delivery during those few readings, which I was able to use a short time later.

There were long breaks in between sections for chat and I had fun catching up with a couple of regular live performers I had met before, whose names (Pauline Masurel and Kevlin Henney) invariably crop up on shortlists and as winners of short fiction competitions. By the time my name was called I wasn’t too jittery, despite the large coffee. It went well, although I had a last-minute panic over differentiating between three separate voices, even though I’d practised and practised. I more or less pulled it off without stumbling and this time I knew everyone could hear because I had a microphone!

Again, the feeling of achievement was immense and I am now looking forward to my next performance – a reading of my 300-word story, Care – at the launch of the Worcestershire LitFest Flash Fiction 2014 Anthology in November, with much less fear. I’m hoping it gets easier every time, but I have a feeling I’ll always be grateful for a swift glass of wine beforehand.

As a listening experience, I can’t recommend live readings too highly. I find that hearing the words the way the author intended gives an extra depth to the story or poem and recreates that feeling of being immersed in another world that Listen with Mother gave us. In an age when it is all too easy to skim the surface of experience on social media, electronic games, film and television, this is a real treat. Please, if you see an event near you, do go along and support the writers. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

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If you have any tips or tricks for live performance, I’d be very glad to hear them. Please leave a comment below.

 

My humorous flash, The Farcebook Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, made the long list of Flash500 this quarter but not the short – my first submission not to do so. It isn’t deep or moving, it’s just a bit of fun, but I hope it gives you an idea of my views on social media. Don’t get me wrong, I use Facebook and Twitter, but I do think they encourage narcissism and superficiality in a world that doesn’t need any more of that. And don’t get me started on ‘selfies’…

Anyway, I hope it gives you a bit of a chuckle this fine Monday morning. You can read it here. All comments welcome.

eatingcoverfrontmedEdge of Passion E book 1000x1500This week I received not one but two paperback anthologies, each containing one of my stories, both of which I am extraordinarily proud to be a part of. The first is Edge of Passion, a Crime, Mystery and Suspense Romance collection, to which I was invited as a guest writer with one of my Strid stories, Two of a Kind. The other, Eating My Words, is National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 selection of fifty flash stories, and includes The Bedroom Tax, my satire on this government’s morally bankrupt plan for saving money. Both of these are available in kindle and paper formats. While it’s lovely being published in either form, there’s nothing quite like holding a real book with your name in it. Especially when it’s among writers whose work you have long admired!

I am also delighted to be Alfie Dog’s featured writer for the next two weeks. Alfie Dog publishes in several downloadable formats and there’s something for everyone, so please pop along and have a read. If you fancy an unusual and entertaining insight into the red-light district of Coventry in the 1970s, try Footprints. It’s not what you think.

Otherwise, things are fairly quiet. We are hoping to move house this year so our energies are divided at the moment. However, when it’s all done, I will certainly have plenty more story-making material. You meet some very strange people…

Have a lovely weekend!

 

BSE2013Some years ago when self-publishing ebooks was still new, I decided to give it a go. I’d wasted years sending novels out to agents and publishers and getting nowhere. I’d had short stories published in magazines and anthologies and some articles and poetry accepted but, apart from one book (The Man with the Horn) which was taken on by a small press, my novels never managed to find homes. Though agents said they liked my writing and often made suggestions for commercialising them, none of them was willing to take me on. I watched my life slipping away while my books languished unread.

Venturing into the ebook market changed all that. I now have readers – not huge numbers but better than none – and I get some small recompense for my literary efforts.

Formatting and publishing ebooks involved a learning curve but fortunately for me, not a steep one. I already knew the basics of using Word and how to layout documents; I knew a fair bit of HTML and I had a general grounding in IT. Formatting the ebooks still required a little trial and error but I soon learned by my mistakes. Before long I was up and running and checking my sales every five minutes.

In those early days I did my own proofreading – something I also do for others – and since I had a basic understanding of Photoshop and design, I created my own covers. Indeed, I did everything myself from writing the book to banking the US cheques. (Amazon now pays directly into a bank account, so at least that bit of faffing about has gone.) I was confident enough in my ability to offer to assist other people in getting their ebooks published.

So, if I was managing by myself, why did I decide to join an author collective?

I had been sending my new book – Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion – out to agents but again I had no luck in getting anyone to sign me up.  Hoping this would be my breakthrough novel, as I felt it was the best work I had done so far, I longed to see it in paperback format not just digital. I wanted to possess the real artefact to hold in my hands and caress.

Self-publishing a paperback is both easier and harder now than it used to be. Easier because the processes become more and more user-friendly as time goes on; harder because the marketplace is swamped, the Amazon algorithms are less favourable to independent authors (unless you first sell vast amounts of books), and it’s a struggle to make the book visible to readers. There is also still some stigma attached to self-publishing actual books – I believe this is because sometimes those books are not well made, not vetted in any way for mistakes and the covers look homemade. The thought of producing a paperback all on my own was daunting.

Enter Triskele Books.

I already knew the women who set up Triskele (JJ Marsh, Liza Perrat, Jane Dixon Smith, Catriona Troth, Gillian Hamer) virtually from online writing groups and I went on to meet them at a couple of their book launches. I knew their writing and they knew mine. They had produced some excellent books housed in droolworthy covers. By the time they broached the subject of my joining them, I had already decided to approach them. We came together at exactly the right moment.

Joining Triskele Books meant I no longer had to do everything myself. The cover of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion has been created by Jane Dixon Smith (herself a Triskele founder, writer and professional designer), the proofreading has been done by Perry Iles of Chamberproof, and I’ve had input, advice and encouragement from other members of the group.

Mistakes in an ebook can easily be rectified: typos and formatting can be put right; a bad cover can be changed for a better one. When it’s a physical book though, any overlooked errors are there until the next printing and are often costly to correct.

coverIf I had tried to do everything myself the final product would not have been as polished as it is going to be. When going it alone there is always the temptation to cut corners. Any cover I might have designed would not have been as sleek and professional as the one Jane has created. Left to my own devices I would not have sent the manuscript off for a final proofread – and it would have been the worse for it. I would not have made the cuts and rearrangements which were suggested by members of the team.

Triskele has its own website, blog, bookclub, Facebook and Twitter pages and, because there are several people involved, a wider reach when it comes to gaining readers. Their books look highly professional and can stand alongside traditionally published books with their heads high. There is quality control regarding both form and content – they lend their name only to books that are well written and that ultimately look great.

I’ve always been a loner and, like Groucho Marx, wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the Triskele collective I believe I have found a group of like-minded writers. The collective is composed of talented individuals who have come together to create a greater whole.

I am honoured to be among them.

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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, a novel about a woman’s search for a missing manuscript and subsequen disorientation, will be available as an ebook in August/Sept 2014. The paperback will be available shortly thereafter. The Man with the Horn, a novel based on the myth of Dionysos, is being re-edited and will be available as an ebook soonFor more information visit Barbara Scott Emmett’s blog or follow her on Twitter @BSE_Writer.

Don’t Look Down, a thriller set in Germany, The Land Beyond Goodbye, a novel set in the Australian outback and Drowning: Four Short Stories are all available as ebooks.

 

A WEEKLY INCENTIVE TO WRITE

Jo Publicity PhotoI find one of the hardest things about being a writer is getting started. By that I mean putting pen to paper or words into a blank document. In my experience, once I type the first line I’m away and all is well. Opening that blank document and starting to type is the problem. That’s why the Write-Invite Competition, Write On Site was perfect for me for a couple of years .

On its website, Write Invite describes itself as ‘in a nutshell a literary open mic’. Their Write On Site Competition runs every Saturday from 5.30pm until 6.30pm. You are required to join as a member, then once the countdown reaches 17.30, you are given three themes and required to check the terms and conditions box, then pay the £4 entry fee via Paypal. It’s possible to buy credits in advance, which is advisable, as it speeds up the whole process. Once you’ve paid, a text box appears and you begin typing your story, which you have to submit by 18.00. Your words are automatically saved at intervals during the thirty minute period.

I remember my first attempt at the Write On Site Competition very clearly. I was very much on edge and worried I wouldn’t get a complete story written in the thirty minutes. When I had a mere five minutes left before having to submit, I was shaking and breaking out in a sweat. Talk about an adrenalin rush! The sense of relief when you hit the ‘Submit’ button and see your story as ‘Pending’ is enormous! However, rest assured that each time you enter, it gets easier and you are able to produce more and more words in the time limit (particularly if, like me, you are a 60wpm touch typist!).

So, are there any hints and tips to make the Write On Site experience less traumatic?

Firstly, I recommend having a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage to hand. This frees up the sub-conscious and helps you ignore your internal editor/critic.

Secondly, write from the heart and don’t worry about the market or genre. Simply immerse yourself in the words. Remember, it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!

Thirdly, it helps enormously to have your notebook next to you as you write. Like most writers, I regularly go out and about with my notebook, writing down images, experiences, snatches of conversation and ideas. If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it. Sit down on a park bench, in a café, somewhere overlooking a beauty spot or bit of coastline and write down your observations.

A few minutes before Write On Site begins, I flick through the pages of my notebook and pick out a few images or phrases. Often I use one as the first line of my story. I’m the kind of writer to whom setting is very important, so my first line is often a piece of imagery, which places the reader firmly at the scene. This gets round the problem of staring at the blank page wondering how on earth you’re going to begin.

It also helps to have an idea in mind before you’ve even seen the themes. For example, I might spend a bit of time in the hour leading up to Write On Site thinking about the sort of relationship I want to write about. For example, ‘today I think I’ll explore the relationship between a father and his gay son’. Or I may choose one of the ideas in my notebook and fit it to one of the three themes. That way you’re not going in totally ‘cold’.

Once you’ve written that first sentence, you need to forget it’s a timed competition and immerse yourself in the writing. Lose yourself in the story. However, do keep an eye on the time. When you have about ten minutes left, you need to start winding down the story and think of an ending. Try not to end the piece too abruptly. Maybe have a closing image in mind before you begin writing in those crucial preparation stages.

I don’t usually think up a title until the last five minutes or so. Try to think of something quirky to capture the judge’s imagination. I find this one of the most difficult aspects of Write On Site, because at this stage you’re up against it time-wise. I never prepare titles in advance, as I think it’s very dependent on the theme.

Try to allow yourself enough time to edit. There have been many weeks when I haven’t had time to edit my story, but these days I find I don’t need to, as there are very few, if any, mistakes. This sounds arrogant, but it comes with practice. One of my early ‘tics’ was to slip into the past tense when I’d started in the present (particularly if there was a flashback scene) or vice versa. Some people may sub-consciously switch viewpoint. We all have bad habits. Another one is putting in too many weakening words like ‘just’ or ‘quite’. These are minor points that the Write Invite judges will happily overlook provided you’ve written a memorable piece.

Remember that Write On Site is a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be tortuous! Everyone is in the same boat in that they are all under pressure to produce a story in the thirty minutes. The story and/or idea is the most important thing and spelling mistakes and typos, for example, can be forgiven.

For me, Write On Site is all about producing a new piece of writing to hone and polish at a later date. I have been fortunate in that many of my entries have been in the Top Three, including my first ever attempt, which came third that particular week back in August 2011. I’ve been lucky enough to win the £50 prize on several occasions. Most writers will receive a short write-up of their story when the top three shortlisted stories are announced on the following Wednesday evening. This provides much needed feedback and encouragement. Some stories are ‘Also read’ (ie. they don’t receive a write-up), but don’t be put off. I know writers whose ‘also read’ stories have gone on to be published or win other competitions after a bit of a polish.

If you enter Write On Site regularly, then it will increase your productivity no end. In 2011 I entered 15 times, 43 times in 2012 and 29 times in 2013. That’s 87 new stories or potential stories to work on. I’d never have written so many without this weekly incentive. I have won the £50 prize seven times so from a financial point of view I don’t necessarily come out on top, although one of the stories I wrote for Write On Site has made me £200 so far. What was more important to me was the competition gave me the incentive to write something new. I came to look forward to my appointment with the computer on Saturday evenings and to the Wednesday afternoon ‘results email’. It is also fun to read the top three stories each week and vote for your favourite.

I’ve now taken a break from Write On Site, as I wasn’t getting so excited about doing it anymore and wanted to focus on my novel. Some weeks I miss it, but I have the option of joining in again whenever I want to.

So, what’s stopping you taking the plunge? Write On Site, although nerve-wracking at first, is a most rewarding experience.

You can read some of my winning Write On Site stories here. Just click my name to read:

On Good Authority, Dancing Girls, Surfer Boy, Alopecia and A Stray Dog, Skin and Bone and Tilly’s Tale.

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Twisted SheetsJo Derrick has just published her first collection of short stories from 1997 to the present as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, entitled Twisted Sheets.  Twisted Sheets is a bold exploration of love, loss and longing. Some of the stories started life on Write On Site!

Jo has been writing seriously since 1990 and has numerous short stories and articles published in a wide range of publications, including Mslexia, Writers’ Forum, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, Upstart!, Peninsular, Buzzwords, The Whittaker Prize Anthology and many more. Jo is the editor/publisher of The Yellow Room Magazine, a print journal for women writers and former publisher of QWF Magazine. She is working on a psychological crime novel.

The pleasure and the pain of Peer Review

I’ll begin by saying I doubt I would still be writing if I hadn’t been introduced to peer review by my good friend Simon Kewin back in 2008. The fact that he simultaneously gave up on it, finding it a block to his creativity, simply indicates the difference between our levels of writing experience at that time. He had already had over fifty stories published and I had just written my first, of which I was extremely (and mistakenly) proud. My introduction to You Write On was a baptism of fire but one for which I will be forever grateful. Today I am a member of four peer review sites, two public and two private, each of which has different benefits and drawbacks.

There are dozens of peer review sites available but for those who have never put their work up for public scrutiny, I would recommend YWO as a first step. This is how it works: you join, upload a short story or the first 7,000 words of a novel and your submission goes into a pot and takes its turn to be assigned to a reviewer. While you are waiting, you request an assignment and pick something from your daily choice of six stories to review. You rate the piece over eight categories and write a review that (hopefully) justifies those scores. It takes a while to get the hang of it but you soon learn how to give useful feedback and this in turn helps your own writing. It sounds ideal – you get free reviews and, if you apply the best advice, you can improve your writing at a much faster rate than if you sat alone filing rejections from agents and publishers. And, because there is a ratings chart that can win your piece a free appraisal by a publishing professional, there is an outside chance you will be ‘discovered’. However, to get to this stage, unless you have a rare and universally-recognised talent, there will be some unpalatable medicine to swallow along the way.

The pitfalls arise from the nature of the site. The competitive aspect adds excitement but brings out the worst in some people. They may praise your work to the skies but score you low because they believe this will scupper your chances of beating them to their coveted top ten place. Unfortunately for them, although the scores aren’t revealed, you can work them out by keeping a chart if you are so inclined. This leads to bitter complaints and arguments on the message boards but since there is a 1-in-5 removal option the writer can use to delete a useless or low-scoring review, the effects of ‘sabotage’ reviews are largely mitigated.

Another problem arises from the proportion of inept feedback that is bound to occur on a free, public site. You have to be realistic about the depth and range of feedback you will receive from amateurs, who may actually be incapable of writing a coherent review or story themselves. Not surprisingly, the varying quality of reviews  loosely reflects the varying quality of submissions. If you are baffled by the feedback you receive, take a quick peek at the reviewer’s own work…

As a direct result of both of the above, occasionally inner, or ‘knitting’, circles form, ostensibly to ensure that these members get more useful feedback (and better scores) than the outsiders. They get pally via the message boards or email and then try and ‘catch’ one another’s work to ‘save’ it from sabotage or useless reviews. If the circle gets big enough, it can begin to skew the charts and certainly affects the chances of receiving poor feedback if you are not one of the chosen few. Luckily this isn’t a regular occurrence.

All this nonsense aside, if you do go onto a site like YWO, you can strike gold; not necessarily by beating your way to the top of the charts, but by honing your craft, steadily improving with each upload. And the more work you put into reviews you give, the more experience you gain to apply to your own work. It’s win-win if you use the opportunities to full advantage. You will also grow a skin as thick as that on school custard so eventually you learn not only to thank every reviewer (good, bad or ugly) for their comments, but relish the insight into your writing that can help elevate it to a higher league.

Chances are that even if you make the top ten and win a ‘pro-crit’, you will not come away with a publishing deal. Only a handful of members have achieved one over the last six years. What you will get is a privileged view into what the professionals are looking for. Having had a good number of these I know that the more critical they are, the more useful they will be. Since my work only comprises complete stories, I have often received a very handy overview of what works and what doesn’t.

The other public site I belong to is Readwave. This is completely different to You Write On and has no competitive element. It is essentially a showcase for very short stories and true-life articles, which anyone can read and comment on. As such, there is little opportunity or appetite for in-depth criticism and most comments tend to be of the ‘I really loved this’ kind, possibly in the hope they will be reciprocated. As one of the team of Staff Reviewers, I tend to venture a couple of suggestions that I think will improve the writing/story but avoid rigorous analysis, tempted though I may be. Most of the time the writer leaves the piece exactly as it is and, frustrating as that may be, I have learned over the  years to shrug and say, “Well, it’s their story.” It won’t win any prizes, but that’s not really why they are there. They simply want to be read and ‘discovered’. And some stories/writers are. One piece  recently ‘went viral’, achieving 20,000 hits in one day! You can read it here.

Private sites are a different species altogether. Membership is by introduction or invitation and all the members have reached a certain level of competence in their writing and criticism. This brings problems of its own, strange as that sounds. When receiving criticism it is vital that you learn which to follow and which to ignore. If you are writing for the pleasure of the activity rather than to complete a novel, it may push you into producing something that isn’t really yours and with which you have no affinity. It is a trickier judgment when your reviewers are experienced, published and respected authors. But they are not YOU and they are not writing YOUR book. You still have to trust your instincts! What you do get on private sites is a small group of people who get to know your work and who can home in on your weaknesses – the ones you knew were there but were hoping to get away with – with accuracy and regularity. There is also the benefit of having several people read a whole novel and give an overview. I recommend it as the next step when your mixed bag of reviews on your open site starts to send you round in circles.

Eventually many writers suffer from review-fatigue and consequent boredom with writing in general. Several experienced writers I know have found that, over time, the act of picking writing apart can suck the fun out of the creative process and even from reading for pleasure. This is one of the greatest dangers of peer review. Strategic breaks and writing in different formats can help but a degree of honesty and self-knowledge is needed at this point. Do you continue to belong to crit sites because you still want/need help with your work or because you are addicted to the message boards and enjoy the support of virtual (and actual) friends? Is your writing and output improving or suffering as a result of your involvement?

Simon decided six years ago that peer review was having a detrimental effect on his writing and has gone from strength to strength since making the decision to go it alone, while I still need to be told that what I have written is a coherent story and not just a piece of semi-realised waffle. But these days I only need opinions from a couple of trusted people whose work I admire before sending it out into the world. Although my activity on YWO has dwindled to  nothing, I will always be thankful for what I have received there, including my rhinoceros hide.

So that’s my advice to new writers who opt for the bumpy road of peer review: give as much as you can and accept what is offered with grace and joy. If you do, you won’t regret it.

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If anyone would like to provide a link to their recommended peer review site, please add it below with a few words of description. On the other hand, if there is one to avoid feel free to say why. Thanks!