Viz Comic and The Critics – Forget That, Writing Feedback Is Useful

Since Viz comic launched in 1979 it has become a staple of British life, harnessing smutty innuendo loved by the Carry On watching public, reinvented for the punk generation.

Regular readers will know The Critics, a couple who in this cartoon are delivering an excruciating and hilarious meta-commentary about Christmas.

Viz’s parody is an hommage to critique overall.

It reminds us of what we’ve heard about art, read in column inches about the latest album or film release and identify in those who ‘spout forth’ about every creative thing around them.

The Critics can deconstruct any art form including the written word.

Are there are times when critique can be positive?

When giving feedback about writing, yes there is.

In a talk hosted by Kingston University with Baroness Gail Rebuck of Penguin Random House, students of the MA in Creative Writing asked what was important to ‘get published,’ the holy grail of many.

The discussion centred on the art form of writing and ‘being good’ but it was also mentioned that in the MA programme, students are expected to do their part in promoting themselves and their work.

Author marketing, in other words

One of the early members of the Surbiton Writers Group who also holds a MA in Creative Writing said: “I’m not so good at all the promotion stuff that they expect you to do these days, I like the writing but, well, I know what I’m good at.”

They took part in our first writers circle in 2015 and at the moment all SWG members are thinking about critiquing afresh as our next feedback group is coming up.

How is feedback part of knowing the strengths of your work?

Like it or not, publishing is a business and a competitive one at that.  Even with MA’s in creative writing, those who are producing work are competing inside an industry that many thousands of writers populate.

Authors work, in the main, alone. It is just you, your imagination and your words. That makes for an isolating experience that is remote from the eye of potential readers.

Writing is a solo task 

Writers will have done a lot of thinking, creating, drafting and committing to their written ideas long before it gets to the point of deciding what they want to do with it.

Some ideas are left at the draft stage or the ‘in my head’ stage for weeks, months or years before they are ready for someone else to read them.

Some pop out more quickly and almost fully formed.

However it happens, in order to compete within the writing field it can be useful for others to read your ideas and give feedback to you.

Blind spots exist in everyone. Writers can be so wrapped up with ideas that often stumbling blocks are missed until it’s too late and they’ve run the risk of someone in the industry rejecting them.

Beta-reading for established and new authors 

Established writers seek out feedback as much as newbies.

Beta-readers are people who read drafts of work that are complete from the perspective of the writer and ready to be sent off for a competition or publication.

Beta readers are often professional writers themselves, they can command an income from their work and they know the writing business and the industry inside out.

The Surbiton Writers Group runs quarterly writers circles

We don’t offer beta-reading services but we do have a writers circle.

The writers circle, so called because we sit around a table together and discuss work, is a closed session.

In it we give detailed feedback to our members who are ready to take the next steps with their work.

Format of work 

There is a maximum word limit for any writing that is submitted for feedback. This helps people drill down and focus on having a meaningful discussion of work.

We take at least 2 hours to give verbal feedback and it’s supported by a summary written on paper for the writer to take away also.

The circle is open to members who have a skill, interest or commitment to developing others’ writing and interested in giving feedback both verbally and in writing.

Join us to find out more…

What critique isn’t

The Critics show the worst of what giving feedback can be like; pretentious, over-subjective and useless to anyone but themselves.

The SWG writers circle doesn’t do that. We focus on constructive feedback; that means feedback that the writer can really take away and use.

We pinpoint what areas work and what areas weren’t so successful for us as readers. We listen to the writer talking about their work too.

Our discussion intends to help the writer solve issues they themselves identify but also ones that a blind spot may have prevented them from seeing too.

At the end of our writers circle we hope that the writer has a clear road map as to what to do next, if one is needed.

We aren’t high falootin’ about it and don’t give feedback like The Critics.

At our writers circle people will know what their writing was like from the point of view of friendly readers – readerships are wide and varied and our group members are too!

We are like market research!

Writers circles for 2016 /2017

Our next writers circle on October 29th is already full, however we will be running more in 2017.

If you’d like to attend, contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll tell you what happens next.

There are always spaces around the table for new people who like reading and giving verbal and written feedback.

All we ask is that you devote the time to considering another person’s writing and like developing written work.

Want to join? contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com.

Happy writing!

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016. 

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Genre Based Writing: A Film Is A Film, A Play Is A Play And A Book Is A Book

“I watched that film but it bugged me all the way through, it wasn’t anything like the book.”

How many times have you heard this from people who are disappointed that their favourite read didn’t keep their favourite bits when it was adapted for screen or stage…

They followed its new incarnation but something about it wasn’t right.

New characters appeared, dialogue altered, the plot wasn’t the same or bits were cut out.  For them it made story a sort of Frankenstein of the original.

“Why did they do that,” they ask, deflated, “what’s that about?”

Genre based writing – the mantra

Writers often talk about writing for a specific genre. “Know your genre,” is a mantra.

Genre means the particular style of a particular work of art. Think about selecting a film to watch or a book to buy, they are often grouped, advertised and sold in genres.

Action movies aren’t the same as historical romance, well not usually

Horror isn’t the same as a musical. Even the Little Shop Of Horrors is a comedy rather than blood, guts and gore.

Genre works because it fits the style of the medium a book is being adapted into.

A writer thinks about the genre when they are looking at adapting a book to screen or stage.

The genre affects the adaptation

Holding a new book in your hands is a different experience than sitting down in front of a live or on-screen performance.

You are the only person in charge of turning the pages so there’s no time limit on how long you take to finish it, that isn’t the same with a play, film or TV show.

Aside from the editing the publishers or you did to make the content and the word length fit the book format, the length and everything else is in the hands of the writer: what they decides goes.

With a produced performance there’s a time limit to how long the story has before it’s told. Some characters and plot devices translate better from the page onto the screen as well and they may not survive the cut.

Book reading – you colour in the blanks

Then there’s the imaginative element. When you are reading a book it’s your imagination that colours in the blanks; that hears the voices of the characters, sees what they are wearing and visualises the settings.

In the world of performance, the art director, actors, costume designers and stage managers are doing that for you. There are even composers to add to your emotions and the setting too.

A play, a TV show or a film is a visual medium. A book isn’t.

Adaptation – the work of the team of writers

The work of a writer or team of writers is to approach the book as the basis of what is produced.

The word ‘basis’ is important here.

Telling the story in a linear, literal way as it is on page will not necessarily fit the visual genre and time limit on telling the story on screen or in a live performance.

A writer or team of writers have to view the book through a lens or as an audience member

And that changes how it’s told.

Breaking the rules

Adaptations can be done sympathetically and in some cases, they enhance the original.

The BBC TV series Wolf Hall took Hilary Mantel’s writing and turned it into a historical drama that authentically looked and felt like Tudor England.

“It’s such a long, long, book,” said someone, “it’s filled with minutae of detail that sometimes goes on for pages. I really liked the adaptation, it showed the best bits I felt.”

Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men was adapted for film from a teleplay. The film has 96 black and white minutes and only one set to tell a story and tell a story it does so very well.

The writer, Reginald Rose, adapted it for stage and it recently closed at London’s The Garrick Theatre, to rave reviews.

However the ‘genre’ rules still apply; there were differences between the original TV screenplay, the film screenplay and the stage performance.

A book is a book….

Reading a book is an imaginative experience and the 3D experience on screen or in a play is created in the mind of the reader.

The book is them and they are the book.

In the visual and performance mediums of TV, stage or film, the writers do that job for you.

This can change the original but sometimes it’s done so well, it becomes a classic in it’s own right.

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016.

What’s your favourite adaptation?

Do you think the writers did a good job?

What book do you think is ripe to be turned into a play, TV show or film?

 

Surbiton Writers Group Talks: Pearls Of Wisdom About Writing Success From Author Peter Wells

“Through fiction you can talk about your observations in life in a way that resonates with other people,” said Peter Wells  in yesterday’s talk on publishing success to the members of the Surbiton Writers Group. 

Although he has always been passionate about literature and writing, Peter’s publishing success started one morning in 2011 when he had an inspiration for a new story.

The inspiration itself was not unusual: since the early days when he took a degree in English Literature at Manchester University his imagination was full, but this story was different – it made him start a blog.

His blog Counting Ducks was born from a desire to write in a way that others can find and read.

Reading ‘Ghost Of A Love Affair’ and ‘A New Bard Strides Forth’ from Counting Ducks prompted some to sit back and shut their eyes to fully enjoy his prose and from both pieces Peter’s signature style was clear.

Whether bitter-sweet, he prefers the word ‘melancholy’, or laugh-out-loud funny, his writing style is wordsmithery and imagination mixed with universal truths.

Peter divides up his writing into 2 types; humorous and not-humorous, but his advice about writing both is clear: “always be real, tell the truth, read, read, read, write every day and be serious about your writing.”

“People want to read things that are real because it connects them to your writing,” he advised.

The work and objective of writing a blog was not to be underestimated to the world of publishing.

Garnering over 5000 followers in the years since that first post in 2011, it was this following coupled with the quality of his writing that attracted the attention of his publisher.

Now writing his 3rd book, he’s learned a lot along the way. He says he is “fanatically interested”  in developing characters and for him it is one of the most important aspects of getting his writing right.

But writing is a business and without a following and a market, a term called ‘audience’, publishers may think twice about investing in your work no matter how original and good it is.

“How do you build your audience?” asked one SWG member.

“Get to know people who read your writing,” he said, “look at your website stats, your blog will tell you what is working.”

“Be polite, treat social media as you would if you were saying ‘hello’ in real life and like and comment on other writers blogs,” he added.

His final words come down to attitude and polish.

“For every finished piece of writing there are hours of editing and honing it until it’s complete,” he said. “Never ever ever publish something until it’s perfect,” he added.

He tells himself: “nobody is interested, you have to get them interested.”

Success has come quickly for Peter and is well deserved.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter and like Counting Ducks here.

Follow our blog to keep up to date with our news and events and join us by emailing surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© Carrie Henderson 2015

The Circle Of Write: The Surbiton Writers Group Has Launched!

surbitonwritersgroup.org.uk
L-R. Dmitry, Lisa, Alex, Darren Yallop. Founder members of the SWG.

The first ever writers’ circle of the Surbiton Writers Group met on Saturday 18th April, launching with a lively discussion about what makes interesting and good writing.

Around the table are those writing fiction, online writing, journalism, short stories, are in the business of writing, produce writing and performance, write plays, edit screenplays and are writing longer works like books.

Starting off with a practice critique from an excerpt by a published author, the mix of writing backgrounds worked well with everyone offering an opinion about what worked and what didn’t work in the chosen piece.

Not everyone agreed with eachother but that’s OK! Disagreements were not important, the objective was saying what worked and what didn’t work in the piece and what adjustments could be made.

A writers’ circle can help be helpful for writers who want to hone their work through sharing it with a critical audience.

Traditionally made up of people who write and are interested in developing writing towards publication, it can be an essential part of the writing process.

They develop a writer’s critical skills and indicate what the reader may find enjoyable or not, about your work.

Writing circles are trusted to be honest in a way that develops work rather than detracts from the confidence of the writer.

The Surbiton Writers Group is a closed writers circle – which means members have to book in to join – and meets monthly. From the next circle SWG members will have their own work critiqued by the members.

We consist of a broad group of writers from lots of different genres; including those who have taken courses, are hobby writers, write in their spare time, and / or have writing qualifications.

All are welcome, we are friendly and down to earth. The more variety of writing ‘voices’, the better.

If you are interested in joining email surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Writing Tips – Using A Writing Plan

It might seem antithetical to the creative process or even restricting to have a writing plan.

There might be lots of reasons it doesn’t sound like you.

Your writing process could be more fluid and flexible, one that allows inspiration to evolve before you put words to paper. You might not want to tinker with what works well for you.

Devising a writing plan doesn’t have to stop your natural writing flow. With a bit of adjustment, it can help rather than hinder.

Writing Plan SurbitonWritersGroup

What is a writing plan?

It’s a timetable that defines how much time you will write daily. 

A writing plan is a framework you can use to set deadlines as well.

Setting out clear blocks of time to write and defining what you do with that time can be a useful tool in getting past the barriers that prevent you from putting your writing ideas into action.

If you are aiming to submit for publication or a competition deadline or have a date for self-publication a writing plan can help you achieve your objective.

Here’s how it works

Let’s face it, the short story you are working on, the book you are writing, the lyrics you have in mind or the poem you have scribbled on the back of an envelope isn’t going to write itself.

It’s down to you to get the words finished

For some people the very idea of committing words to paper can be intimidating.

Thoughts like “I can do that – they aren’t finished in my head yet” or “oh no, putting words on paper means they have to be right first” can get in the way of making a start on that project.

Using a writing plan helps you take the steps forward to get a draft completed

Getting the draft completed is a really big step on the way to getting it tied up and finished.

You will be half way there!

Here’s what to do

Life stuff sure gets in the way of writing. Boy, oh boy does it ever.

That last minute call to ask for a lift, that shopping trip you have to do, that TV programme you can’t miss and that phone call that you have to take. It all gets in the way.

Most people write in their spare time. To have a writing plan means making a choice to timetable regular writing into some of that spare time.

“Oh but…”

No buts! You can start small.  Starting small with a writing plan will still reap rewards.

The great news is that even 15 minutes writing time every 2 days will mean you’ll end your week with more words than you started with.

Try adding in a deadline

Some authors talk about setting deadlines to help focus their mind on the writing task in hand.

If you want your writing plan to work because you have a deadline you will need to adjust your plan.

For a writing competition you might need to produce 1000 edited words in 2 months time, for instance. A writing plan can help you meet that deadline.

Writing maths

Work out how fast you write for. Most people can write at least 500 words every 2 days.

If you write 500 words every 2 days and your writing plan sets aside 15 minutes every 2 days, you should have 1000 words in your draft version at the end of 4 days.

Finishingabook the surbitonwritersgroup

Fantastic!

It is, isn’t it. Using a writing plan in this way makes the enormity of the deadline feel more achievable.

It’ll help break your writers block and you’ll feel the sense of achievement and satisfaction that you’ve completed a step on the way to achieving your goal.

That builds confidence which in turn builds incentive to continue.

Oh but…

That again.

It is true that you’ll have to put aside other commitments. It starts with making it clear to yourself that you’ll be writing to a writing plan and then to others who also need to know.

Once that’s done though, you have bought yourself valuable writing time. Before you know it, you’ll have your first novel!

Do tell us your tips for using a writing plan in the comments below. Do you use one? Does it help?

We’d love to hear from you.

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

Writing Tips: Break That Creative Block – The Hat Game

blank computer screen surbiton writers group

The screen flickers back at you blankly, goading you to write something. Your fingers twitch with half formed thoughts, but nothing comes. 

All you want to do is write something, but your mind is a wasteland. You tell yourself: “write something, Goddammit!”

We’ve all been there with the dreaded creative block – the feeling you get when the flow of ideas dries up completely.

When it strikes fiction or creative writers it can stall progress because the words are all their own.

Non-fiction writers find the creative block can happen because they struggle with organising factual information in the right way.

But The Block can strike anyone while they are writing no matter what genre it is!

What can you do about it? 

One idea is to try The Hat Game. You don’t need a hat or a even a cat, but you can use a bowl or a table.

How to play The Hat Game:

Get 3 pieces of paper:

Paper 1 is for nouns.

Paper 2 is for verbs.

Paper 3 is for situations or settings.

Now use paper 1,2 and 3 to type out, or write down, examples of each thing.

For instance. A noun could be “table.” A verb could be “running,” and a situation or setting could be “trapped in a locked railway station.”

piles of paper surbiton writers group

Write as many examples as you like. 

When you’ve finished, cut out each example noun, verb and situation or setting so that they are on one strip of paper each.

Next step. 

Put them into piles of nouns, verbs and situations or settings.

Fold them over so you can’t see them. No peeking!

Here’s where the fun begins. 

Pick one example from each pile.

Open them up and look. Then write as much as you can using each noun, verb and situation or setting.

You can write anything you like, but you must use each example.

Doing The Hat game is a really good way of getting words to flow, when you think the river has dried up. 

It distracts the mind from The Block and frees up your creative juices to flow again.

Having fun is essential when you are writing – your readers sense it when words are dry and forced.

The Hat Game is great for reinstating that creative flow!

Let us know what tips you have for breaking The Block too!

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

Mary Lawson Author : Writing Is A Gift : At Waterstone’s Kingston

Author Mary Lawson lives in Kingston Upon Thames with her husband and children but it was her early life in Canada that inspired the characters and settings in her books; Crow Lake, The Other Side Of The Bridge and Road Ends.

“Is that the one with the snow?” A person once said when they asked where her accent comes from, a story that makes her laugh and the audience along with her.

Reading from Road Ends at Waterstone’s book store in Kingston, her voice has an unmistakable Canadian burr which makes the plot, dialogue and humor come alive.

She talked of the inspiration behind her characters:

“I relate to Kate in Crow Lake,” she said. “I feel I know Kate.”

“Arthur Dunn in The Other Side Of The Bridge is  a big solid serious man. I’ve never met someone like him  but I can imagine him there.”

A member of the audience points out that her writing centres on dysfunctional isolated families. She pauses to consider the situations she places her characters in:

“There are no ‘authorities’ in the community that  I grew up in,” she said, “to save the Pye family in Crow Lake.”

The character of Edward in Road Ends was, “very hard to write, he is not a sympathetic character but I wanted people to understand and forgive,” she said.

“Characters evolve. I don’t necessarily know they are going to be like that.”

Of the difficulty imaginging an unsympathetic character like Edward.

“The character is not me and it’s not making decisions that I would necessarily make.”

She published Crow Lake when she was in her 50s. What does she say of the journey to becoming a published writer.

“It was pure chance,” she said. “There is a ridiculous amount of luck in this business.”

“I’d worked all the way through the Artists and Writer’s Yearbook, there are a lot of pages. I started at the top – I knew I was going to get rejections – I worked my way down.”

“Top agencies expect exclusivity. They will only read if you can guarantee you have not sent it to other agencies. They’ll keep you holding on for 9 months. There’s no cultural shift in this industry.

“I went to an agents office and it was this deep in manuscripts,” she gestures to eye height, “then you think they’ve lost it at the bottom of a pile. “

“Be patient, think no news is good news. I was on a creative writing course and there were other writers that were good, really good, but they just didn’t get published.”

“Do you have the persistence and do you have the luck,” she added.

“To do this is a gift,” she said, talking of how writing her books enriches her life and we’d agree.

Mary Lawson was personable, postive and engaging, an inspiration for both writer and reader alike.

© Carrie Henderson 2015

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com