• M.C.

Starting Small

Updated: Sep 12, 2020


If you’re like me, you love to write and hope to turn that passion into a career at the keyboard. You probably have several ideas for interesting characters, cool technologies, and fantastic plots. A novel or two might already be underway.

In going through the process, I’ve learned two things: join a critique group and start small.

Unless you’ve earned a degree in creative writing, your writing skills may need a bit of polish. Mine did. When I started writing fiction seriously, I considered myself an above-average writer, and I based that on the successful reports, presentations, and proposals I made in the business world. But the corporate world isn’t concerned with points of view, passive voice, pacing, narrative balance, three acts, or fulfillment of the protagonist’s journey.

It turned out I didn’t either. At first.

I was two-thirds through my debut novel when I finally joined a critique group. I had an awesome idea with unique characters, an engaging plot, and a sprinkling of humor that made be laugh as I wrote it. I decided that it was better to get other eyes looking at my work sooner than later, and I figured I my writing would knock their socks off.

Wrong.

Though my story had potential and they liked the characters, the opening was dull, there was too much backstory, and it wasn’t clear why the reader should root for my protagonist.

My writing needed work. Joining a critique group—my group meets online once a week—has helped my writing tremendously, as many other accomplished authors have pointed out aspects of my stories to review or reconsider. Different authors bring different perspectives, and some have helped me in different areas. They have suggested books, websites, and other resources that focus on creative writing.

But with this great feedback on my novel, I faced a dilemma on how to handle it. Do I stop where I’m at and go back and rewrite what I’ve done to incorporate their feedback? Do I continue on and wait until the end to rewrite everything? And I didn’t have an answer. It turns out I’m doing a bit of both, and I’ve had to extend my initial timeline.

Which is the other half of my suggestion: start small. Start writing with some short stories or flash fiction. When you present those to your critique group, it is much easier to rewrite and incorporate the impacts of the feedback.

Build your skills in steps, and when you get comfortable with the short story, move into your novel. With a stronger writing foundation, you’ll find your novel comes more easily, is more concise and engaging, and includes the elements of a successful book.