pierWherever I live in the world, I seek writers.

Regardless of genre or experience, I always learn from encounters with other word-wielders.

That can be critiques of my work, critiques on theirs, appreciation of distinctive skill or recognition of differences.

I’ve passed through half a dozen peer review sites and despite battling egos, trolls, princesses and carbon copies, I’ve taken something valuable from each.  I have three real life groups, two writer friends and an opinionated (but usually right) relative. All this input makes my work better.

Talented writers and readers add something crucial, usually to one of three areas of my work:

  • Structure
  • Style
  • Sentence

Nowadays, I tend to lean on my superbly talented Triskele counterparts for the grunt-work of knocking my work into readability. But I hereby tip my hat to nine individuals who’ve changed the way I write.

(I’ll divide this into three parts, as it’s Sunday and you have awards ceremonies/period drama to watch.)

Here are the first three precious stones.

Structure: Sheila Bugler

Sheila Bugler picAn online critique partner for years, Sheila has an expert eye for crime plotting. Her early analyses of my work were 70% enthusiasm and 30% criticism, which mattered a lot in my under-confident days. Then she took the gloves off.

Every plant must be resolved, each choice driven by character, and nothing can ever turn out as the reader expected. Pace is driven to meet audience expectations of the three act tempo. Stand back and assess your handiwork and if you see saggy bits, get stitching

Sheila’s brilliant debut, Hunting Shadows, is a masterclass in crime writing

Style: Max Orkis

Max-OrkisPart of a real-life, meet-in-person writing group here in Zürich, Max appreciated style better than most. He spoke his mind and insisted I did too. He pushed me to tell the truth in my writing and demonstrated how to get braver. No euphemisms, but tangible, meaningful nouns, verbs and culturally loaded imagery. Max wrote as he talked. Fearlessly. And regardless of personal original standpoint, he showed (and told) how to use any voice with conviction.

I miss him.

I don’t know why I’m using the past tense. He’s not dead, just gone back to San Francisco.

His short story, In Passing, published in The Milo Review is available online. Enjoy.

darren-guestSentence: Darren J Guest

I’ve never met Darren in person, but via online debates, discussions and right-down-to-the-bone knife fights over writing, we know each other pretty well.

Darren administers the harsh slap to Gerund Addiction: “Slipping off her shoes, Sophie sighed and relaxed. Sipping the gin and tonic restored her good mood. Pressing the answerphone, she stretched, sighed and smiled silkily.”*

And then gives you a good thrashing for alliteration and adverbials to boot.

(*I never wrote that – it was an example, honest.)

Darren’s Dark Heart is scary, smart, weird and brilliant. Just what good literature should be.

Three more great writers and their top tips next week.

    4 replies to "Ten Things I Learned From My Peers #1"

    • francisguenette

      What a great way to shout out the accomplishments and contributors to your success. No writer is an island, that is for sure. We are only as good as those dedicated people on our team.

    • prue batten

      Teamsmanship. As ‘francisguenette’ says, it’s tangible proof that ‘no man is an island’ and especially writers. With the quality that Triskele publishes and the clever consolidation of like writers into a specialist cooperative, I think you are extremely lucky. As a hist.fict writer, I needed a team and found two beta readers I trusted for reasons of style and knowledge (they are slave drivers!). Also an editor (John Hudspith – whose light touch and ability to hone rather than change an authorial voice is appreciated). Super post and helps formalise something I have always believed. Thank you.

    • jilljmarsh

      Thanks Francis, thanks Prue! Absolutely true that we all need other writers to keep making us improve. That Susan Sontag quote comes to mind: ‘But writing is an activity that in my experience doesn’t get easier with practice. On the contrary.’ And agree with what you say about John Hudspith, Prue – he’s on my list of ten. He also did a guest post for me on distorters, which is a really useful read. https://jjmarsh.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/fishing-for-distorters/

    • johnnycrowman

      Reblogged this on On Writing & Editing.

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