7 Simple Steps to Get the Best from Critiques.

I’ve been reading, writing, critiquing short fiction for the past few years, and reached the following steps by trial and error. This is what works best for me today.

  1. Write the story.
  2. Write several drafts until you think you can’t make it any better.
  3. Put the manuscript down for at least a month and work on other projects.
  4. When you pick it up again you’ll see the draft wasn’t so great. Edit until it’s a lot better.
  5. Don’t stop. Work on the story until you think it’s the tits, and importantly, you’ve pushed yourself to the limits of your ability.
  6. Ask your writing group to critique your masterpiece. Oh, and tell them to rip your work to pieces.
  7. Go back to step 2.

Another writer’s opinion could be a chisel or a sledgehammer. Either is a tool. Use it well.

Tired Writer


Keep the writing simple. If the reader finds it difficult to read the prose, the story will not be conveyed well. When writing intense scenes – sex or a fight, for example – remember the expression that ‘less is more’. I’ve known authors sum up these scenes in one well-crafted sentence.

An Exercise in Editing.


I completed the final edit of a story the other week; proud of a killer story. Yesterday, I saw a call for submissions that was perfect for it in all ways, it ticked every box, stroked all the editor’s needs, even I fitted the requirement. Everything matched, except for the word count: the story was 1500 words, the editor required 1200 max. (no, really, 1200 firm, I know because I asked). Originally, the piece was 2000 words, so I had been quite ruthless already, and could not imagine losing a further twenty percent.

I continued to check other markets while some needle-monkey inside my head told me that that first one was decent, and it was the right story. Treat it as an exercise, I thought. So I did, after making a copy of the first version.

That story is now 1198 words and has been mailed to the editor. I’m chuffed, thinking: I didn’t ruin it, it’s a tighter story. I guess that truth will be proved with an acceptance.

What Is It Really About?


The werewolf is used as a trope for many societal issues. Like that particular shapeshifter, I’m discovering that my story, Hashtag Rewilding works on quite a few levels too. Although, this is not a bad thing, I feel that is important to keep a short piece of fiction simple if you want to keep the reader engaged.

In preparation for the first edit, which – rightly or wrongly – I’ve undertook with hardly any downtime, I asked myself what is this story really about. This time around the answer – a clue to which is the title – was found when I asked myself a different question: why did I start to write a serious werewolf story when two weeks before I believed it would be many years before I could write such a thing without it being a spoof.

With that in mind I have begun eliminating any thread that may obscure the true nature of this story; any sentence that does not draw the reader in to hear what is whispered between the lines. I guess I’m editing, aren’t I?

My point here is this: Ask yourself what you’re trying to say before you begin to edit.


The Anatomy of Writing

The latest submission call I’ve responded to is a little different. It consists of stages. Round one of three: sub the final edit of your story’s first two hundred words. If it’s approved, you’re through to round two. Round two: sub the final edit of the first fifteen hundred words. So, I cheated. Well, not really: it’s just that the story is already written. Yet it still took me eleven hours of mouth chewing and beard stroking to get those two hundred damn words worthy. I don’t know if this is a comparatively short or long amount of time to dedicate to editing so few words, but it felt like it exceeded many rational limits. It also inspired this post.

Honestly? I wasn’t enamoured with this unusual way of submitting. All of my opening two hundred words have changed, many dramatically, by the final edit. Maybe the start sometimes reveals itself a thousand words in, or the first few lines are utter tiddlydoodle and only penned to get my brain shifting up a gear. Round one’s deadline is fast approaching, and having a day job, there is no way I could get a story written in two to three weeks. The theme grabbed me though, and maybe I did have an unpublished story, The Red Spot Murders, that would fit it well. This could be done after all, I thought

Tip – If you think your latest piece is the dog’s bollocks, don’t send it off to a publisher. Put it aside for a month, then reread.

Two years ago, I finished TRSM, leant back in my chair and thought, that’s damn good! And it was … back then. Not so now. If writers write and they read good writing they should improve with time and see errors in their work. And I saw a shedload.

Tip – Ask yourself, what am I trying to say?

Over the years I’ve realised that it’s very easy to slip into lazy-editing mode without noticing. You think the story works and you go through it restructuring sentences and proofing, and that’s it. Recently, I’ve been taking a step back, reading the story as a reader, and once finished, asking the above question. I’ve only done this after the first draft (at least) has been completed and each time I’ve managed to get an angle, helping hugely with the overall effect.

Committing to this submission call – whether I am to be included in the proposed anthology or not – was the correct decision. It has helped me sharpen the plot of a story of which I am quite fond, and it has pushed me, something which artists should be looking to do constantly.

One last piece of advice – Trust yourself.

 If you have spent ten hours editing two hundred words and it still isn’t quite right, don’t stop, thinking that it will do. It will not do. Keep going until you smile.

Is It Really That Good?

I was with the Nameless Writing Group the other night, talking about various submission calls we had, or were thinking about, sending work to. It was when two of us were getting quite involved in this discussion that one of the other members said, “You guys and your submission calls!”

The old adage, ‘Writers write’, is very true: that is what we do. Here’s another one for you: ‘Writers like to be read’. Yes, even though we’re often viewed as introverted types, we love an audience, if only to justify what we do or get our message out there. So we submit our work for publication.

Is it just about that though? Publishers want to reap the best stories for their magazines or anthologies. Many paying anything from contributor’s copy of the publication to professional rates of pay, and of course, there are often hundreds of writers vying for acceptance. It’s this competition which forces me to try harder; it makes me continue to learn and improve, and not be satisfied until I’ve pushed myself to craft my WiP into my best work to date.