When I was going through my recent writing-related doldrums, I decided I needed to take some positive action. So, quaking in my boots at my own temerity, I approached the rather terrifying doyenne of womag writing, Della Galton, about her Critique and Speak service. To my surprise, she seemed happy to take me on, so I chose a story that I knew wasn't working very well, sent it off with a cheque, and waited for her response.
I wasn't sure what I'd signed up for. I knew I was going to get a critique, but given that no critique I've ever had of a book-length work has run to more than 8 pages, I figured a short paragraph was all I was likely to receive. And probably quite a stern paragraph, at that.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Two full pages of critique arrived, with headings covering every aspect of the story including its title. Della praised some aspects of my writing, and gently explained where she thought I might be able to make improvements. Each of her suggestions made perfect sense.
Then we had the 'speak' part. I was nervous all over again, but you know what? Della's not scary at all! She's really friendly, and kind, and helpful! It was fantastic to be able to ask her questions, and she is certainly an expert.
Della's input has given me a boost and increased my confidence. She's helped me work out that I need to take more time over my stories: my fortnightly short story group deadlines are great for helping me churn out first drafts, but the impulse to follow up with submissions sometimes gets in the way of me polishing stories enough. She also suggested that I need to create more multi-dimensional characters, raise the stakes for my characters, and use more scenes in my stories. She gave me some great tips about how to generate ideas in the first place, how to build on those ideas, and how to come up with endings that have real impact. Our chat was relaxed and unhurried: we discussed the market, writers' groups, novels and non-fiction, and dogs versus cats. I'm sure we'd have got onto shoes, food, holidays etc if we'd been on the phone much longer.
I may well use Della's service again in the future, with a different type of story. The people in my short story group give excellent critiques and I couldn't do without them, but I did find it useful to have an independent and more detailed view of one of my stories, and a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of my writing. So if any of you are feeling unconfident, or have a story that's not really working and you're not sure why, or just want a second (or twenty-second) opinion, I would highly recommend Della's Critique And Speak.