I had my professional assessment in my course the other day. I’m studying to be an antenatal teacher with the NCT, and in the January before you graduate, you have to fill out an assessment grid all about yourself. If you get all seven or above, and you want to start your teaching career, then they book your first ever course in July. I mention this because of the assessment grid we have to use - twelve points we reflect then mark ourselves on out of ten. My tutor marked all my grades up from 7’s and 8’s to 9’s and 10’s and I’m set to teach my first course in July.
However, looking at the self assessment grid I got to wondering if it might throw some light on the whole writing lark. Seeing as I’m in reflective mood, let’s take a look at them-
Or when writing, what is motivating your characters. You have to know, the reader doesn’t. Or rather, they need to find out, and it might not be what you or they think it is when you start. It’s so much more fun when what we think is the motivation turns out not to be, or rather that the character start off thinking they want A, then discovering they actually want B, and perhaps even that it is A after all.
You could also tick the box here for actually doing some bloody writing. There are a billion unfinished books out there, but who cares about them? A writer who doesn’t write is a bit like a dancer who doesn’t dance, you kind of have to do it to be it.
How well do your characters know themselves? How well does the reader know them, and how? You can have a character who likes to think that they’re respectable, dependable and reliable - but who goes on to prove that they’re anything but - especially if they’re maintaining their innocence all the while - the classic unreliable narrator. Or, have your character know the truth of their nature and try all the way through to hide it because the world demands it of them - until one slip is their down fall. They key is that you as the writer must know your character absolutely, every beat of their heart and every inch of their dreams - then decide how much of it you choose to share with them, or the reader.
Respect for colleagues
This means other writers. They’ve all done it before you, you are standing on the shoulders of giants so do them the courtesy of treating the craft with respect.
Reception of feedback
Ah-ha! You will get feed back. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad, but all of it should be considered. Everyone wants someone to pick up their first book and say ‘why, this is wonderful, please collect your booker from the bran tub outside the door.’ They’re not going to. What might appear to be bad feedback, or hard feedback, is hard to hear, but once you’ve got over the pain, use it. Pain is there for a reason, pain is there to tell us we need to do something. You may decide that all you need to do is ignore it, you may decide that you need to jump six feet sideways - but think of it as something to use. Better you spend another twelve months working on it, than get another twelve rejections.
Ability to work as a team member
This I’m going to use to say that you have to get all your team players working toward the same goal, your book. You need to be up on the plot, you need the characters to work, you need to paint the scene, you need to keep up the pace - think of all these things as your team and don’t let one take over from the others.
If you have a deadline, meet it. A deadline is a gift, not a burden. Just be glad you’ve got one, if you ever do.
You’re creating a world, whether or not it’s a fantasy epic or Guilford in January, so do right by it. If the rain in your world is purple, it’s purple - so make sure it’s purple all the way through.
You are getting into the minds and hearts of your readers, I hope. Just be careful what you leave there.
Time keeping and punctuality
Ok - stretching the point a little but timing is everything in writing as much as comedy. Always be aware of it, when building tension, when wrong footing the reader, especially when telling a joke. If I might load a second point onto this one, I’d also underline the importance here of reading things out loud. Everything, every word of what you think is your final draft must be read out loud to ensure that it is readable at all. You’ll hear at once if the timing is off or out, especially when it comes to dialogue - and yes, you have to do the accents and the voices and walk around the room in the guise of your characters.
How you present your work is crucial. There is a professional form you should follow when submitting. It’s not a question of people being awkward, it’s not a question of them nit-picking - it’s the way things are done. If you don’t do it, they will simply have an easy reason to throw your manuscript into the slush pile. There are lots of good books on the subject of submissions which are worth the read.
Don’t give things away lightly. This is going to be my exposition rant. You need to know everything about everyone in your book and everything in the world of your book, then write as if your reader does also. Don’t explain anything, don’t take a moment to set the scene - just be in the world of your book. As your characters walk through it, they will cause ripples in it which will turn into waves which will rock boats - and that’s your story. You know what I’m saying here, don’t you? Show, don’t tell.
There’s lots out there, some of it good, some of it bad. When you’re writing, turn it off. When you’re promoting, turn it on.
Now, how does your writing stack up, from one to ten? Go on, give it a go, and hopefully someone will come and mark you up as well.