Bullshit to Bullseye – Being The Writing Bull

One of the occupational hazards of writing is occasionally submitting / subjecting your work to a public critique during the drafting process. And even though this is usually done in a trustworthy space (I hesitate to use the term “safe space” with all its loaded connotations), it still can be a trial by fire. I hope and expect to receive honest, objective and constructive critiques, be they praiseworthy or critical.

            I recently put up the first draft of the potential opening section to Hole In The Sky for a critique on my favourite writing site, SFF Chronicles, asking the specific question of whether it worked as an opening. I was unsure as to whether to keep Sand’s first chapter as the opening (my preference), or to start with Grub’s more conventional opening chapter. The feedback was split almost perfectly down the middle between people who really liked it, and people who were turned off by it. So in that respect I didn’t really get an answer to my original question, but departed with useful feedback. Tan todo bueno.

            In the end I decided to stick with my original vision for the piece, which was to use Sand’s chapter. I think this is the right thing to do.

            I’m a bullish writer at the best of times. I’ve written before about my confidence in my ability, and my desire to continue to learn and improve. It’s an extremely common trait for amateur writers on writing groups or critique sites, to do themselves down and be overly self-deprecating about their own ability and output. I’m 100% convinced that to be successful you have to be the bull, to dig your horns in when it comes to matters of your own vision.

            The ability to be the bull and furrow your own path is a useful one. It’s what gets books written. I believe that there’s no such thing as awry ambition, just awry execution.

            However, without temperance, bullishness can easily warg into overconfidence, stubbornness, and the dismissal of others’ critiques as bullshit, which is dangerous territory. The feedback of others is critical (pun intended) in helping your book become polished and palatable; striking a balance between the useful feedback of others and one’s own vision is therefore paramount.

            In the wake of my HITS crit, I’ve decided that the overriding ambition, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, should be the defining, central blueprint to which the author should adhere when building their work. Anything else – style, language, structure, form, chronology – is effectively scaffolding, and can be added or taken away or changed at any point. And at some point you will need to change it. By doing this you might end up hitting the bullseye.

            It’s tricky putting your stuff up to crit and not ending up more confused than before, but we’re writers. Somos todos locos toros.

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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