Friday, May 24, 2013

Critiquing Short-Stories the Boot Camp Way

and why I believe it's better

When working in a workshop environment there are many dynamics beyond merely the posted-stories and received critiques.

I argue that truth is imperative at all times.

If you critique me I need to know that the only thing affecting your critique is the text itself.

I need to know that you are not "being clever" or "being cute" or sucking up because I'm due to critique YOUR work. I need to know that you are not thinking about your last story that I ripped into. I need to know it's not "pay-back time".

I need to know that you're not angry with me because I ripped into Janet's story and she was upset, and you and Janet are now seeing each other. I need to know that you are not upping my scores or lowering them for any reasons other than the bare text.

When you are critiquing our one-legged, very shy Vietnamese refugee I need to know you're not being too kind "to help him fit in."

When you are critiquing Victoria I need to know that the shape and colour of your critique has nothing to do with her cancer scare. And when I read critiques done by Victoria I don't want to have to adjust every time and think well, she really likes John and she really dislikes Frank and she just loves romance and she just hates stories about infidelity.

I need to know that all stories are critiqued as objectively as possible and that the marks are for craft and not "I like" and "I dislike."

I need to know that when the group's professional writer or most senior member posts a story it won't be treated with more respect simply because it's known to be by a better writer. I need to know that our very green beginner will be judged on his text and not on the fact he's new.

Commonly, where the author is known to the critiquer the above is not the case.

I see every dynamic except the one that matters, seeking the truth about the text without any other factors applying.

So, the first rule of my group is anonymity of stories.

Method, Admin

Stories are emailed to a secretary and then posted by the secretary.

We encourage senders to occasionally send via a third party and attach a note saying, "Story forwarded on behalf of a known Boot Camper."

It doesn't matter how often this is done, it's just one extra layer of uncertainty.

We also post "ringers" - good or bad stories that are NOT written by a BCer.

Stories are formatted the same, same font, same headers etc.

The stories are author-blind, anonymous.

When we post critiques we write Story Name, Critiquer Name, Author Unknown.

If we have suspicions we write Author Suspected.

If for some reason we know whose story it is we write "Author Aware" but we make absolutely ZERO references to the author.

There is no within-crit hinting. We never say, "This looks a lot like Dave's work," because if we do people immediately change their approach.

The Critiques

Critiques should be easily comparable.

That is, if there are ten critiques I should be able to see at a glance what all ten people thought of the opening, character and so on. The story's author should not have to wander in a labyrinth to discover what George thinks of the opening. It should be easy. George should be able to cut-and-paste ten Crits-of-the-Opening into a single document to see, on 1-2 pages, the individual impressions, the average impression and the cumulative impression of just the opening.

This is a very sobering exercise.

Critiques should be instantly comparable.

Words are fuzzy, a mark is not. We write copious remarks, just like any other critique group but we also give a mark based on the Boot Camp Grid.

That mark is a snapshot, a summary of all our words.

If 110 means "publishable in a small paper journal" then 112 is a clear statement saying, "this is just about publishable" and 102 is saying "needs work".

You can hide behind fuzzy opinions, but your mark is a clear line in the sand.

For every element there is a par mark (eg: 11 for Opening, 12 for character.)

A story with all par marks would have a total of 106, and is very solid, close to paper-publishable but without that extra "zing"... as zing is added and the story passes 110, then the story is expected to find a home.

So for example, if a draft is exactly all-par-marks, (106) and then the story is improved by one mark per element (115) it's clearly publishable.

The difference between 106 and 115 is, however, immense and it may take a year to cross that gap. (It may have taken 1-2 years to get to 106!)


After a while (maybe six months) we can just "see" a story from its chart, just like a doctor, though he needs to examine the patient (the text, or the words in the critique) can also at-a-glance see how the patient is doing from the numbers, his "vitals" - BP, heart-rate, temperature, bloods.

Critiques are done to a template
ensuring that nine elements are ALWAYS discussed.

That is crucially important. I have seen critiques that are 2,000 words long that are nothing to do with the story! They start something like:

When I started to read this I thought of Flowers for Algernon and strangely also the third book in the Harry Potter series, and in a way, "Lolita".

Mavis and I were having breakfast on the veranda (a really beautiful morning - I had Eggs Benedict and orange juice, Mavis just had coffee - she just doesn't "do" breakfast, ha-ha-ha!... and I mentioned the story but she didn't have time to read it.

There is a special kind of "cheat" critique where the author woffles a lot (as above) and quotes back a lot of the text (cut and paste is far easier than thinking but looks impressive) but never makes a clear point about the actual text.

To an untrained eye these critiques look the best. They appear to be highly detailed, but, to begin with, there's a pointless intro about where the author had breakfast or his current state of mind, then it begins:

I wondered about the title, but this opening:

Meredith Twp Evans and His Butty, Ernest Jones

In the villages all down this valley, from Senghennydd down to Caerphilly, they call me Ernie the Egg.

I do not mind this, but for the record, I am Ernest Jones, poultry farmer, son of Robert Jones, Deacon, and they are my hens that run amok on the hill above the town. You may eat whosoever's pigs you wish, but it is my eggs that you shall have on your plate if you sup anywhere in the valley from Park Hamlet right through Abertridwr. My eggs is on the plates for most the best part of Caerphilly, too, though I know of some Cardiff eggs there.

Yes, I am rich, and the boys in the villages, and the old men, make jokes about me. Yes, Ernie the Egg I am, and with a few bob, and sought after by the Revenue, too, but I am wealthy by fortunate accidents and hard work, and with the help of God, and because of a great and ordinary man, Meredith Twp Evans, collier, and because I am shot in the neck in the Great War and because I am a failed scholar.

The hens have been my livelihood but this have not always been so. Once I was to be a teacher, then a collier, then dead underground, then dead from a bullet in the Great War. That I am not any of these things is an odd thing for me, peculiar altogether, but facts is facts, which is why I will relate my story.

sort of made me think of Flowers for Algernon and strangely also the third book in the Harry Potter series, and in a way "Lolita". I was having breakfast with...

That's 290 words. Not a word of actual criticism. Then the critiquer spots a typo:

Oh, BTW there's a comma missing on line 7, and it should be it's not its before the word Christmas.

The author carries on this way, never actually talking about characterisation or the dialogue, or the plotting or the theme...

Just join the cut and pastes with a half line of woffle and spot a typo or two.

I used to have a spoof critique that really "looked the business" but said NOTHING.

It was 1,500 words long.

So in Boot camp we FORCE the critiquer to specifically talk about at least 9 elements. They cannot hide (even though some still try)


11 Opening
10 Character
10 Dialogue & Voice
11 Plot & Structure
12 Theme.
11 Seduction (Show-Tell, Author Intrusion, 'Carry', Dramatic Flow, Fictive Dream)
10 Language
13 Pace & Pacing
10 Ending
00 Bonus

Further Comments  & Suggestions

On my crits I will post the element marks with a one-liner summary as below, later followed, in the body of the critique, by a more in-depth discussion

Jeremy's Wardrobe
Critique by Alex
Author Unknown

Very occasionally I'll have a note here where I think something may be influencing my crit. or it might say, Sorry, author, but this is going to be a tough crit!


09 Opening  Unpromising start, felt weak and Baxter was not believable
09 Character Baxter as above, generally wooden characters pushed by plot
08 DV The speakers all sounded the same, too many speech-tags
10 Plot A few plot-holes but might be fixable (see notes)
06 Theme. I couldn't see a theme!
08 Seduction I felt "author-aware" throughout, a lumpy feel
09 Language OK-ish but a few clangers dragged it down
12 Pace  Didn't digress much, toddled along OK, last third a bit rushed
08 Ending Not convincing and the twist was a bit silly
06 Bonus I may have double-penalised, and overall I think it's worth 85

Then the body of the critique will begin with a summary, not so much of the plot (although it's mentioned) but a summary of what appeared to be the story's intentions


This felt like a beginner's work and in a way it's over-ambitious. There's a half-decent coming of age story, an almost separate SF plot, and some "interesting" philosophical musing about eggs. But the three elements don't organically come together and I felt the author's heavy hand controlling things. I fell that there are two separate OK stories and the egg-thing would make an interesting flash, but together they don't work.


Then we will get a few sentences (sometimes a few paragraphs) discussing the opening



One Common Objection

One common objection to the above method is for people to say, "but all the elements interact. How can you talk about X when it affects Y and vice-versa?

We know this, but we are attempting to isolate where areas are strong or weak.

Imagine a good writer who is just crap at dialogue. For everything else he's a par writer and if his dialogue was OK he'd be selling stuff.

Now, if I criticise the opening and mark it down because of its dialogue and then I don't like the character because of the way they speak... and of course I mark down the dialogue element... and I found the dialogue unbelievable and that hurt my impression of the plot... and I couldn't quite get the theme because I was distracted by silly speeches... and the readonability was seriously hurt by poor dialogue... and because the dialogue was silly I marked down the language... and because I kept tripping over the silly speech it felt slow so I marked down pace... and that final speech, WTF? so I scored the ending low...

So ONE problem (bad dialogue) has permeated through the whole thing.

The author gets terrible marks throughout

06 Opening  
06 Character
05 DV
04 Plot
07 Theme.
06 Seduction
09 Language
10 Pace  
07 Ending
00 Bonus

But really everything would be around par if we JUST fixed the dialogue!

So at the start, in the summary we might say. "There's a big problem with dialogue in this story so apart from "Dialogue" I will ignore the dialogue errors and discuss them in Dialogue and in the Further comments."

We then treat each element as if the dialogue was par. The exception is Opening, because we mark Opening for the immediate effect on the reader.

06 Opening  (Brought down by the dialogue)
12 Character (Ignoring dialogue issues)
00 Dialogue
11 Plot (Ignoring dialogue issues)
11 Theme.  (Ignoring dialogue issues)
11 Seduction (That is, with average dialogue it's not bad...)
10 Language (Ignoring dialogue issues)
12 Pace  (Ignoring dialogue issues)
10 Ending (Ignoring dialogue issues)
-3 Bonus Oh, that dialogue!

Note that par for dialogue is 12. The author has lost 12 points there PLUS another 3 in bonus, so a full 15 points have been dropped purely because of dialogue issues but the story's weakness has more clearly pinpointed AS a dialogue issue.

In the first critique the dialogue points are partly "lost" and it appears that the author is no good at anything. In the second case we have highlighted the key problem.

Obviously the discussion of the story would highlight that the main problem is the dialogue and would have a large proportion dedicated to the fact.

What's important is we've isolated the issue and not generally slammed every element (wrongly) because one element is poisoning our view.  It's the isolation and separation that enables us to appreciate the different building blocks and how they interact.


We encourage the author to critique his own story, but "as a stranger". That is he critiques the text and nothing but the text and never defends the text or "explains".

Authors are banned from arguing their case or explaining a story.

The text has to stand on its own and if anonymity is broken the thread is closed immediately.

"Clever" Critiques and "Being Cute".

When there is "no author" it is far easier to be honest, even blunt, but, because we are honest and blunt, (not cruel) there is absolute no room for "show-off" critiquers, those people who think the purpose of posting a crit is to show how clever they are.

Critiquing should not be a performance art.  "Cuteness" in critiques, sarcasm, sly remarks, and personal put-downs are banned and a critter gets only one warning.

Because we are tough, a common phrase in BC is, "Sorry Author"


We stress that the text is the text. We don't allow for a text being a first draft. We don't mark for potential. We treat the text as if we are a competition judge and the story is the story is the story, here, now, as-it-is, the end.

Why not allow for the fact that the story is a first draft?

Well, Point 1, Joe, Dave and Margaret's stories may literally be hot off the computer, genuine first-drafts. Paul's may be a second draft. Alice may always polish her work and submit a fourth draft. We don't know, so we presume, for the exercise, that every story is a finished story.

Thus, if the author (Joe, Dave or Margaret) gets a score of 101 and knows this is a rough first draft, chances are he or she will be very happy, knowing that when the story is re-worked it can probably get past 110.

Alice, OTOH might get 105 but that's for a piece she thinks is finished.

Secondly, we can't allow for "how-much-the-author-can-improve-it" because that depends on the author's experience and also the "knack" of editing and polishing.

Because I have been critiquing now for 21 years I can often "see" a story of 95 and "turn it into" a 112 in 15 minutes.

As an exercise I do that for the group maybe once a month (but note we are NOT a workshop - this is an editing-lesson, not an edit for the benefit of the author.

He does benefit but that's a side-effect.)

But if you knew this draft was mine, then you'd know that I could improve it by as much as twenty points. Whereas George is famous for making stories worse when he rewrites...

Hence we crit the story as finished, every time.

Improving the Story versus Improving the Author

I have had so many battles over this!

First, let's talk about the typical workshop.

We all turn up with our stories. Do we read the story out loud? That can be horrible! On paper a story may be superb but the reader is just a terrible reader.

Or do we let someone else read the story out loud (same problem) and he person reading may be an insensitive clod.

Or do we all sit round reading the piece, coughing and burping?

This method (out loud) and/or in a hurry, is, in my opinion, horrible, socially tense, often embarrassing and completely distorts the base-story, the TEXT, that was designed to be read in silence.

OK, let's talk about internet-based critiquing.

Everyone can view the story. In most cases they know the author's name and the author's history and what the author said about their own work (it still stings!) but we ignore all those weaknesses and just pretend that all is well in the State of Denmark.

Before we continue, this is the ethos of the standard workshop.

My name is Frank. I want to get my work read and critiqued so I can fix it and make it better and send it out and try and get it published. Unfortunately, to get MY work critiqued I have to read a bunch of crappy stories and crit them. I don't want to critique loads of other people's stories but I guess I have to. It's a chore. I do it because I have to. I get the crits over with. What matters is my story. Let's get to my story. And if that bastard Keegan gives me crap marks again, he'd better look out.

Anyway, let's get these crits over and done with done as painlessly as possible. That cut and paste the original text trick is good...

How often are differences of opinion really argued over? Nah, it' subjective innit? We just have to agree to disagree.

And does this critiquing stuff do me any good? A little maybe, but not much. As I said I do crits to get crits, that's all.
Woah, Hey Up! Here comes a crit. Ah, sheeit, it's Marjorie. I gave her a bad crit last week and now the beeatch is paying me back. OK I'll look but if she says any shit it'll be because she's a poxy romance writer and can't stand real writing or me.

Oh, she said she liked the opening.. dum dee dum, blah-blah-blah... but nothing else.

So the opening is Goooooood and I can ignore the rest cos she's a be-atch.

After 2-3-4-5 crits, Frank thinks about rewriting. Joe said the opening was slow.
(Nah, Marjorie who hates me said it was fine, so it must be really fine.)

But Joe rewrites.

Now a story is an organic thing.

Maybe, maybe Frank follows Joe's one piece of advice about the opening, and maybe he fixes an issue in paragraph seven (Pete said...)

But Pete only said fix paragraph seven because the opening which he thought was fine meant that X and Y and Z, and therefore paragraph seven needs a tweak. But if you change the opening, then everything Pete says doesn't work any more.

Maybe if Frank had fixed Para 7 then Joe wouldn't have complained about the opener!

But remember that many of these critiquers are non-published writers. What they think they know might be BAD. Maybe they've been told that a story should always open with a BANG! or open with dialogue. Maybe, because Victoria writes sugarey romances, that's why she's always pushing for you to stop saying "said". Anyone with an ounce of gumption knows, purred, growled, roared and thundered are better!

The point is you are writing by committee. You fix on the left because Joe said X, which makes something on the right wrong and upsets Dave, so you need a third fix to please both or worse you compromise to please everyone.


You end up writing mushy please-all sanitised guff.

Be HATED and LOVED. Write what YOU believe in, don't write to order, don't write to compromise, don't write by committee.

But, for now ignoring the level of critical expertise you are living with.

No, let's NOT ignore it. You need critiques, right? Why?

Because you haven't matured enough to critique your own work.

Let me repeat that.

You haven't matured enough to critique your own work.

Yet somehow your critiques of other people's stories are OK?

How does that work, exactly?

And Vee writes romances and you hate her writing, but she is critiquing YOU? Why?

It's the bland leading the bland leading the blind.

This why you can go back to writing groups five years later and the old stalwarts are still there. Five years ago they had no idea. Now they have had no ideas for five years and are somehow "experienced'. They are still in the same group and their work reads the same as it did back in the day. They are unpublished, or more likely they've now self published three novels...

So critiquing is a chore.

You do it because you have to.

You may learn a little from simply doing critiques, but your fundamental approach is not to treat critiquing as a way to learn craft. Instead it's that chore.

You're not really happy with the critiques of your work.

Something doesn't satisfy.

Although at least Billy spots the typos.

You write, get critiqued, get conflicting messages, manage some sort of rewrite, almost typo-free and yet the heart has gone out of the story.

Perhaps, technically it's better but basically it does nothing for you.

You send it out, it bounces back.

Why, after all these years am I still being rejected?

But this week woop dee dooo, a real live author is coming in. You won the lottery and he's going to edit your favourite story (the one that's had 39 rejections.)

Comes the night and boy does he rip you one. Big Bang start. Oops! That dialogue Oops. These plot holes, oops, oops, oops. And that narrative arc stuff, and the deep import (the what?) ooooops! And the ending is not the right kind of closure. Pardon?

Just do this, son.

Well you don't exactly LIKE what he's done.

Bit of a pompous twat if you ask me.

It was 11,987 words and now it's 4,500? What about the SF sub-plot and the bloody egg? How can you take out the egg?

The following week you tell Vicky you weren't that impressed. Sure you bought one of his books. That one about some chick called Lolita. Nah, read three pages.

But you send this mangled work off. Two weeks later it's accepted.

YOU'RE A PUBLISHED AUTHOR (and not self-published, either)

Holy Mary, Mother of God, you're the best writer in the room. People will now look UP to you.

What was Nabokov saying again? Euphony? WTF?

So despite having countless stores butchered and now one story fixed, you, Frank haven't changed except by a very small amount. You still think big bang openers are cool, and twists are cool, and you don't really get "theme" or that narrative arc bullshit but YOU'VE BEEN PUBLISHED IN THRILLING TALES!

The writer, after 5 years is almost as inexperienced as he was when he started.

Maybe he'll get a few small pieces in some dodgy web-zines, but...

Well, he can always self-publish.

Another Way

Imagine, just imagine, that you didn't write, you only critiqued. Imagine you could be persuaded that you don't need your stories critiqued, that you could learn how to be a great reader, a beautiful analyst, an excellent critiquer able to offer brilliant editorial suggestions.

Just imagine. You're on a desert island and the only thing to do is critique and argue over critiques. Imagine that somehow it's not a chore but it suddenly becomes cool.

It's like being a bike mechanic. Some old geezer shows you how to strip a Harley down, shows you how the pistons ride, the spark-plugs spark. Gradually you get to understand, I mean really understand bikes.

The old geezer, not a bike man now, a story man, he puts a story out, you read, crit, think it's shit. It's actually Hemingway and three people "sort of like it" one likes it a lot, three think it's shit like you think it's shit. But the old geezer, he fucking LOVES it, and what's more he's going to explain WHY it's good.

You argue back and forth, and frankly, OK, it's not shit any more, you see that, but it's NO WAY as good as the old geezer thinks. He's off his trolley.

Out comes another story. Wow, way cool!

"Stop Now!"
Jenkins raised the Zirgumflutter Mark 17 and aimed.
The sky was very dark.

Fuck, now yer talking. This is a good one, right?

Oh, fuck, the old geezer is ripping it to shreds. He hasn't got a clue. Maybe Frank should just give up and Self-Publish.

Who brought this old git in here anyway?

Well, you've paid your subs for the month and you quite fancy that new one, that wossername with the nose-pin, so you hang in.

Week four Victoria (remember her, seventeen SP novels now, one went to 998,876 for a day once) starts having an orgasm of some story. You look down, then up at the old geezer who nods. You speak.

Vicky. Vicky! Look that dialogue at the start it's unattributed. You don't know the context, you don't know the gender of the speaker. You don't know the tone of voice.


So then in Para 2, what d'you 'ave to do?


See, Vick? That unattributed dialogue, it's crap. If you had just said...

Holy, shit I've learned something

So Vick gives Frank the finger, takes off her fuzzy pink slippers. Frank says to the old geezer, "Hey, I actually get that. I get it. What's next?

And the old geezer says:

It was now lunch-time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining-tent pretending that nothing had happened.

"Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?" Macomber asked.


Human nature dictates that if we receive a critique of our work there's a totally natural feeling of focusing on the story, can it be made better, do I agree with that point, this point? 

The situation doesn't lend itself to considering the comments from a more general "learning about craft" perspective.

We are too close, possibly defensive, more worried about fixing this story now. 

There may be a SMALL learning effect (sometimes) but often "the shutters go up". This particular dynamic isn't designed for learning. That's the difference.

When critiquing is designed to be a learning environment, we downgrade the importance of the crit itself and downgrade the importance to the writer of the crit itself. 
This is the so-called "burn the story idea" not meant to be taken literally 

Now if we get ten critiques land and the marks are 










We can clearly see that 8/10 critiquers consider the story just about publishable (110 is the benchmark for "publishable in a small paper magazine.)

If we only had those 8 middling crits we'd have little variance and probably no teaching value. This isn't uncommon. Maybe half the Boot Camp stories are uninteresting from a critical point of view

 But one person has RAVED about the piece (150 would be the kind of score for a story in Best American Short Stories) and the last person (60) has said it's dreadful 

What happens next is that the person saying 150 tries to convince the rest that s/he's right.

The arguments have to quote text.

We don't say stuff like:

 "This was AWESOME! I just LOVED it! Instead we justify exactly why we gave 15 for the opening (par is 11) and 17 for character (par is 12).

We DETAIL our reasons, referring to actual text and quoting it, and then "our opponents" either agree or challenge our assertions.

Meanwhile the person who said 60 either realises his error or is also trying to say, "No, you're all wrong. It's junk" 

It's THIS, these debates about differences, that is the core learning engine in Boot Camp, and every successful Boot Camper will tell you that is precisely where they learn.

Of course the stories posted are BCer's stories and of course they "want" critiques" and of course they go away and tinker, but we DON'T workshop, we don't normally offer editing tips (except where I choose a story as suitable to teach something.) 

So for example we rarely post rewrites. 

Instead we say, on to the next story. Instead of spending forever, "poishing a turd" we say, the writer has improved by critiquing so his NEXT story will start out better.

And this leads me on to the next core principle in Boot Camp

We write a lot.

I have had people arrive in Boot Camp who say they write 1-2 stories per YEAR. They agonise over them, rewrite 27 times, tinker, add a comma on Monday, take it out on Tuesday, put it back in on Wednesday.

Whether or not they make the story better, they are learning very little.

They are not producing loads of work, facing daily challenges, trying voices, styles, genres. They are, instead, working, working, working on a story that was written by them when they were at their lowest level of ability. That core may be fundamentally weak.

Now what if, instead, they write a story a week?

What if, every week they talk craft, critique, argue over critiques? Craft sinks in or is sucked in by osmosis. You notice an unpleasant big bang opener in someone else's story and determine to yourself that YOU won't do that. You see awkward speech-tagging and internalise the better alternatives.

While story two may not be noticeably better than story one, story SEVEN will be, and story twelve better again. That is, just by writing, writing,writing in this hot-house environment where craft is spoken all the time, your routine, basic, first draft becomes of a higher and higher standard.

Let's put numbers on this.

You join. You're a very decent beginner and you write 85. We can concentrate on your stories and maybe get them to 94 (1 point on every element). Once in a blue moon a story of yours appears that can jump 2 points per element (103 overall).

Remember we are concentrating on your stories not you, the writer.

Sure, you improve a little bit. Maybe six months in your core story has reached 90, from your starting 85 and you can edit-polish these to 98 or 99 and once every three months to 107 or so that might just publish.

Because you are concentrating on stories you're not working hard at understanding craft. Of course you pick up snippets, you do grow but the fundamental "you" has only moved from 85 to 90.

Remember you're concentrating on rewriting those stories 2-3-4 times and then polishing. You don't have time for craft threads and arguments over other people's stories.

Now go back. You arrive and can write 85. You write a story a week but you "Don't care about them. "They are just for the group to critique."

Instead of rewriting you don't bother. All that time instead is devoted to discussing craft and arguing over critiques. Gradually the desk drawer fills with first-drafts.

But then, that same six months in, you realise something. Your twin had improved from 85 to 90 but you just posted a 99, you are MILES ahead. Now your first drafts are so much better that if you rewrite once and polish once they are publishable.

By "not worrying" about "this story" (the current story) by just pushing on you have stopped wasting time polishing beginner works and have raced towards getting intermediate scores.

Now, rather than REWRITE those early stories (you're good now, you can turn 85 into 95 with one editorial pass) you read Story 1 (which scored 85), BURN it and totally write it again. But now it comes out as a first draft scoring 101 and can easily be made into 110+

You became a better writer. Now you're into a totally new territory. Your DRAFTS score 100+.

Previously you needed to spend months polishing and you still didn't get to 100.

So, in Boot Camp we demand a full story every two weeks, but we try to persuade our members to write a lot of shorter stories or flashes as well as their fortnightly story. The perfect Boot Camper would write six flashes and a story every week, critique his own work but not even bother to read what others say about his work.

The writing is muscle-building, that's all, and providing stuff for the group to critique.

We should write every day and live, breathe, eat writing, think like a writer.

98% of the craft knowledge that is seeping into our bones is happening because we live in a hothouse critical environment with words being the topic of the day.

And I tell Boot Campers, be serious, formal critical, analytical BETWEEN stories, but when it comes to writing, "write drunk" let go, have-not-a-care, freewheel, sail, be in the zone, Just Do-it!

The craft is in your blood now. You don't need to think.

So the choice is, start with ordinary stories and tinker, tinker, inker, work, work, work on something that at its core is beginner's work


write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve
write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve
write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve
write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve
write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve
write it, forget it, critique, talk craft, improve

This way, instead of improving by a point a month, you'll surge forward, and there will be days where the story that emerges starts out as good.

Wow, now maybe this one is worth polishing.

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