Tell me what you think. Be honest. I can take it.

Scenario A: My wife comes into the house, fresh from the hairdressers and says, “What do you think?”
Scenario B:  My wife shows me a hairstyle in a magazine that she is thinking of getting herself and says, “What do you think?”
Or perhaps consider…

Scenario A: My six-year-old daughter brings me a page covered in pencil lines and dodgy felt-tip and says, “Do you like it?”
Scenario B: I am in an art gallery, looking at a canvas covered in pencil lines and dodgy felt-tip and the gallery owner sidles up to me and says, “Do you like it?”
Or even…
Scenario A:  I am in a writers’ group meeting and I have just heard someone read out their own work and the chair of the group invites me to share my thoughts and criticism.
Scenario B: I am in a writers’ group meeting and am looking at a nameless manuscript that I’ve read the night before and the chair of the group invites me to share my thoughts and criticism.
In all three cases, my responses given to the ‘A’ scenarios would certainly be politer but the answers to the ‘B’ scenarios would be more honest and accurate. Does that make me dishonest and evasive? Or just British?
Although Heide has blogged about the curious business of writing in public, I think constructive criticism is something that is most useful when delivered anonymously or indirectly (e.g. through written feedback). We don’t tend to give good criticism when face to face with the author. If someone looks me in the eye and says, “Tell me what you think. Be honest. I can take it,” the last thing I am going to be is honest.
Heide and I have each written a full chapter of the Clovenhoof novel. We intend to submit them for anonymous criticism at Birmingham Writers’ Group in January 2012. This will involve us providing anonymous printed copies of our work for writers to take away at one meeting and to feed back on at the next.
The criticism we will get from that might be harsh, might not be what we want to hear, but it’s probably going to be the most useful criticism we’re going to get.
Posted in 2011, Writing Tagged with: ,
3 comments on “Tell me what you think. Be honest. I can take it.
  1. Sarah says:

    You mention that you have each written a full chapter, do you think that collaborative writing is slower than writing alone because of the combining of ideas or faster because of the competitive aspect?

  2. Iain says:

    That is a really interesting question, Sarah.
    Is collaborative writing slower or faster than writing alone?

    The answer for me is yes and no. And part of that is due to questions about when does the writing of a novel begin.

    For me, when I am writing a novel, I write approximately 1,000 words a day. Or, to put it another way, a whole novel in fairly good shape edit-wise in about 3 months.

    But that's just the writing. I personally can spend between 6 and 12 months planning a novel before starting it. It is probably a year end to end between jotting down the first ideas and finishing the last chapter.

    Our current writing speed is relatively slow (in my view at least). We have completed something like 14,000 words in 4 weeks. However, where we've been much faster is in the planning. We've gone from "Hey, let's write a novel" to those 14,000 words in little over 2 months. Now that's fast.

    The basic writing is going quite well and you're right in that we seem to treat it as a competitive sport. I count how many words Heide has written, laugh at the funny bits and wonder how I can make the bit I'm writing better. Where we then slow down is that we've spent probably two weeks reading, pondering and editing each other's work before going onto the next chapter.

    We should have the third and fourth chapter ready by January 5th 2012. I think we will then pick up speed. We'll have written a third of the entire novel then and the arc story will hopefully (!) be clearer to us.

    What strikes me most is that I've never had so much fun writing a novel. I've enjoyed it in the past and I have felt driven by the challenge. But, just like running a marathon or going on an arduous yet satisfying hike in the country, it's proved a lot more fun with the company of someone else.

    Of course, Heide mgiht have different opinions on the matter…

  3. Heide says:

    Hi Sarah!
    I agree with the part about it being fun, and definitely agree that it’s like a competitive sport! Whether the pace is slow or fast, the real bonus, in my view, is that I can’t see any reason for it to slacken. When you’re writing a novel on your own, there’s a great long section in the middle where the initial thrill has worn off, but the end is not yet in sight, and that’s when it starts to feel like hard work. I am absolutely certain that we won’t get that, because there’s so much extra motivation that comes from collaborating.
    What’s particularly telling for me is that in the run-up to Christmas, which tends to be crushingly busy, we are still getting through the work. And that’s because it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like fun.