Kate Long Answers Writers’ Questions

Thanks to the lovely Womag website, I have discovered a way of asking novelist Kate Long a direct question – and getting an answer! (You can ask her anything, within reason. Someone’s asked her ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ answer: moss green). Green is my favourite colour too! (but I’m more an ’emerald’ than a ‘moss’!)

So, this afternoon, I asked her ‘What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?’ and, less than an hour later, I had my answer, delivered on a webcab/video thing, so it felt like she was talking directly to me!

Her very detailed response (which, as she said, really depends on what stage the ‘aspiring novelist’ is at), was:

1. Submit stuff! If you haven’t finished a manuscript that you can send to publishers or agents, then try writing short stories and send them to competitions or write articles. Get used to submitting work. You’ll get lots of rejections and you have to learn to bear it!

2. Learn somehow, to differentiate the good from the bad criticism that you will receive on your work. (How do you do that? She’s not really sure! But it’s something you learn, the more you write!)

3. You have to put the hours in, you have to keep at it. Even if you’re just writing a sentence a day. Don’t stop!

If you want to see Kate deliver this advice ‘in person’, as it were, click here.

But why not ask her a burning question yourself?!

PS: I would not normally be ‘allowed’ to blog on a Sunday night, but my ‘partner’ (for want of a better word) is watching ‘Top Gear’ so we have come to a happy compromise! I don’t say ‘I HATE this programme!’ because I am busy blogging and he doesn’t say ‘I feel like I’m watching the tele’ on my own’ because he’s in heaven with cars and Jeremy Clarkson! It is, as they say, a win-win situation and one I can highly recommend!

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4 Responses to Kate Long Answers Writers’ Questions

  1. Putting the hours in and writing something every day seems to be the advice given by all successful novelists and it’s got to be the way to get a book finished. I just wish it wasn’t so hard…

  2. Sue Bodilly says:

    I just read your PS ! You are joking about the emotional blackmail from your partner – how sad – you sound like an intelligent woman !

  3. Kate Long says:

    Just been surfing about and found this post: many thanks for the mention, Helen.

    I’ve been thinking about how you learn to differentiate helpful from unhelpful criticism, and I’ve come up with a few more pointers. I might add them on VYou sometime. So, firstly, ask yourself if the critic has understood your work/your aims/your intended audience. I’ve had sixth form students complain there “isn’t enough action” in a Jane Austen novel, as if a decent fight scene or two would ‘lift the whole thing a notch’. If the criticism of your work isn’t relevant – ie that your novel doesn’t do something or other which you never actually intended it to do – then dismiss that suggestion because it’s not relevant for your writing at this time.

    Therefore be clear who you’re writing for, and with what intent – do you want to deliver a moral message about the way the world works? Simply entertain/distract/console? Make your reader consider an aspect of his or her own life? Shake everyone up? Get their hearts racing, give them nightmares? There are so many different styles of novels out there and each requires judging by a different set of criteria. If your critic hasn’t ‘got’ your work, then treat their advice with caution.

    That said, even misguided critics can offer up a gem here and there, so just because one point might be wrong, another could have some merit – don’t be too quick to dismiss.

    I used to use (and actually still do when my editor sends back her notes) a tick, query, cross system. I’d put an x by anything I knew immediately wasn’t an appropriate criticism of my manuscript, a tick by a criticism I knew was probably right, and a question mark next to something I needed to go away and consider. Everyone needs feedback/editorial input at some point in the process, so having a system like this is useful.

    Perhaps the best way you can build confidence in your ability to judge your own work is to continually read and analyse the work of other authors – obviously those with similar styles to yours but also those who write in different fields and genres, so you become used to judging by different criteria. That’s a muscle well worth exercising.

    • Kate
      thanks for taking the time to write this – it’s really useful! I hadn’t thought about before about the importance of considering whether the critic has ‘got’ what you are trying to say and I’ll certainly bear that in mind! Helen

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