Roughly six months ago, I joined a fortnightly writing group. Every other Wednesday, we meet in the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London and listen to each other read pieces, offering suggestions and critique. I’ve read a couple of pieces through the six months, but mainly these were short stories that I’d written a while ago and wanted more feedback on. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I started reading something longer… specifically, Fight or Flight.
I enjoy listening to others read, especially when it’s a longer work that you’re receiving in installments. Even though critiquing is an aspect of the group, so you can be relatively sure that the version you are hearing will not be the finished product, it’s nice to sit back and have stories read to you over time.
The great part is, even though this group all write in different styles over a number of genres, the feedback is incredibly insightful and very helpful. Sometimes it’s about word use or sentence structure, but more often, it revolves around character use, plot design, and imagery. Where to cut down, where to add in, really great responses.
What I’ve found funny, however, is how much editing I manage to do myself split seconds before the group hears it. As you’re reading, you can pick up clunky sentences and find places where you’ve used the same word to describe something multiple times. I end up editing as I go.
Last night, for example, I found a use of a name at the beginning of a sentence, and before I even said it aloud, I knew I wanted to use ‘she’ instead. Mostly, this is little things, but they can be incredibly helpful in the editing process.
Earlier in the year, while I was editing Dead and Buryd, I took part in an accent challenge on a site I frequent. You recorded yourself saying a number of different words to see how your accent compared against others. After doing this, some friends asked for me to read some of the book for them. My own little audiobook. I read about three chapters in installments and uploaded to a site for them to listen.
Again, you’d be surprised how much editing was done just by reading it. Words here and there that I cut, sentences that I realised sounded clunky or didn’t make complete sense.
If you’re not comfortable reading in front of a group, it’s not necessary, though it helps for larger feedback. Most smartphones and laptops have a voice recorder. You never have to let anyone else hear it.
Listen back with a printed copy and see where your reading differed from what’s on the page (if you didn’t manage to change it while you recorded.) Also listen for areas where you stumbled over sentences or words.
You’ll be impressed with how much you pick up just from yourself.