Last week I made two people cry. Well not me personally, but my writing.
We had to submit a short story to the Comma Press writing group in Sheffield. As with all writing groups, the members scrutinise each other’s work, commenting on its strengths, weaknesses and areas to improve. Sharing your work with a new group is always daunting. I used to be a nervous wreck, but I’m getting better at it.
Anyway, last week I wrote my story and sent it to the group. When I arrived one of the ladies said it had made her cry. ‘Sorry,’ I said, thinking she was probably an emotional type (like me) and cried at anything.
But then when it came to feeding back in the group, another lady said it had made her cry. ‘To get that kind of emotion is a sign of a good story,’ she said. I kid you not, those were her words.
‘Thank you,’ I said, almost bursting into tears myself.
The story was based on the death of my nan, who died in October last year. I cried when I wrote the story, and that emotion must, somehow, have come through onto the page.
Getting feedback on your writing is difficult, because it’s so personal. To improve, you have to detach yourself from the work, analyse every word, edit to perfection.
So, once the crying was out of the way, that’s what we did.
We looked at the pace and the structure and the themes and the imagery. We looked at the character development, felt something wasn’t quite right, and changed it for the better. That one little change made the story so much stronger.
I think it’s important when you’re giving feedback that you firstly read the story as a reader. Do you enjoy the story? Is it engaging? Did it make you cry? What did you like about it?
Then, I think you should read as a writer. How is it structured? What techniques have been used? How can it be made better?
There’s a distinction to be made. If we want to be better writers, we have to read as writers. We have to study the work of other writers, and try and understand what makes a piece of writing great. It’s about digging deeper to get to the root of the story.
When the group meets again next month, I’ve promised myself that I will respond as a reader and a writer. Honest, but constructive and helpful feedback will make us all better writers.