Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Five Pages Update

Back in January, I posted that I would read and critique the first five pages of your story. If you’re among the many who submitted and did not receive a reply, I need to apologize. Turns out I’ve critiqued many of the stories sent to me, but none were ever sent out.

You see I had a system. I wrote the critiques and left them for my wife to review and then mail. Why? Because she was concerned—and rightly so—that I might be too harsh or blunt in my comments. When it comes to writing I’ve lost much of my sensativity in the same way I suppose some doctors can become insensitive to the emotional impact of their treatment. I focus on the problem more than the person. I’ve learned not to let comments about my writing harm me emotionally, but this is a skill most aspiring writers don’t have yet. Robin checking to see if I was being an ass seemed like a good idea. Problem was that she became very busy with more important matters and never got around to the Five Pages Project. I didn’t know this until a few of you resubmitted stories I’d already thought I’d done.

So here’s the deal. I’m just going to mail these out ‘as is’ and will continue to do so. This means they’ll be ‘blunt’. Try not to hate me.

You all should keep this in mind: I am not trying to help you be better writers. I’m not trying to teach you to write. I can’t do that. No one can. Only you can teach yourself how to write to the best of your ability. What I will do is explain how I think you should write, which is exactly what any instructor will do. Most teachers base their comments on the foundation of an education they received (which may or may not be of any practical value) but which they believe in because it was what they were taught.

I wasn’t taught anything. Everything I know about creative writing I discovered for myself. As a result, I have a very specific, and admittedly, narrow view of what constitutes good writing. Many works that society admires I don’t care for. I recognize that this is based on my opinion and personal taste, and you should too, because that is what you will receive if you submit your work for my review. In other words, if I trash your wonderful story, remember it’s just the opinion of one guy. And if I’m harsh, or sound uncaring, also remember, I wouldn’t be taking the time to do this if I wasn’t trying to help. Still, it is up to you to decide what advice is worth listening to, and this is another skill you’ll need to develop if you’re to become a successful author, because you’ll be getting a lot of it.

Also, since I started doing this I can see that I’m actually averaging one critique a week (not ten a month.) And by the way, if you send more than five pages, I’ll just be reviewing the first five.

As for what I’ve read so far…

A lot of the submissions are average—what I would expect from new writers. Almost all of you suffer from the same basic mistakes: excessive telling instead of showing, excessive exposition, explanation syndrome, trying to be too artsy, trying to demonstrate your vocabulary, wordiness, setting-the-stage syndrome, dull beginnings, action-packed but confusing beginnings, keeping too much from the reader, telling the reader everything…and so on.

The first five pages are hard, so are my critiques.

And again, sorry for the delays, many of you will be getting responses soon. If not, resubmit.


  1. It's cool that you would even do this. I've heard many writers who have "made it" indicate a need to "give back" in some way or another, which sounds awesome to me now, and hopefully still will when I've "made it". Did this offer have a cut-off date?

  2. No cut off date. No guarantee either. I've received many more submissions than I can comfortably respond to. So I tend to pick one at random each week and critique it.

  3. Rats...looks like I missed this notification when you started this project, Michael!

    It is pretty awesome of you to take the time to offer some insights to new writers--and honestly blunt critiques now can be a huge help later.

    Just one more reason that you're one of my favorite authors, Michael!

  4. I'm getting philological education. And i dont like writing! at all. I like learning languages and reading books. But not writing. And what is the most interesting - my parents are writers. When i was to write comparative essay - it was like a torture. And nobody wanted to help me. Nowadays i've learned to do it almost good.

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