Death Of 1000 Cuts is my weekly blog about learning to write and edit fiction. New posts appear every Thursday, plus the occasional bonus post when I’ve got extra content to fit in. The most popular feature is ‘In The Barber’s Chair’, where we take the first page of an aspiring author’s novel or short story and look at ways to improve it.
As a result, I’m always looking for new submissions. Before you even think of submitting, please go and read some 1000 Cuts posts. If you suspect receiving similar feedback would leave you feeling discouraged, then please don’t submit. The last thing I want is to crush someone’s creative spirit. Maybe your writing is a nourishing hobby, and the craft side of things isn’t particularly important to you. Absolutely fine.
Death Of 1000 Cuts is about honest, practical feedback. If, having read through some previous posts, you think you’re ready – and that the experience would be useful to you – then I’m looking for the first page of your novel or short story. 250 words max, plus a title at the top. Please don’t include explanations or a synopsis or an apology – just a title, the text, and your first name. By submitting, you’re giving me permission to publish your work on this blog forever, and you’re also giving me permission to engage with it robustly and honestly. The work, of course, remains yours.
Please ensure that the work showcases your craft at its very best. Ideally, if it’s from a novel or short story, you will have completed a full draft of the novel or story it is taken from. Make sure you’ve redrafted it and done line edits. Read through some previous 1000 Cuts posts then see if you can tighten your work even more.
Done all that? Okay. Submit via the ‘Contact Me’ link on the right. And thank you. There’s no blog without your generous submissions.
After submitting, please be patient. I do my best to get round to as many submissions that follow the above guidelines as possible, but the blog is popular and you will probably have a significant wait. Even more reason to make sure your work is absolutely the best you can make it before emailing it to me.
Can I submit poetry/non-fiction? You are a poet/non-fictioner, after all.
No. That is to say, yes, you can submit it, but no, I won’t give you feedback or feature it on the blog. Death Of 1000 Cuts is a fiction writing blog. I sometimes write posts about the craft of poetry, but not under the ‘death of 1000 cuts’ tag. Frankly, I can’t be arsed explaining why plainly bad poems are bad. This probably makes me a genre-traitor or something.
You critiqued my first page. Would you like to critique the redrafted version?
No thank you. One bite of the cherry is plenty for me. After that, it becomes slightly a case of diminishing returns. By all means send me the rewritten version, if you’d like – I’ll probably read it, I just don’t have time to individually reply to everyone who does so. Well done for getting back on the horse, though. And good luck!
How can you judge an entire novel by the first 250 words? That’s not enough!
Having written reports on over 100 manuscripts by aspiring writers, I can tell you that problems on the first page are almost always a microcosm of the flaws of the novel as a whole. Weaknesses in style and pacing tend to be endemic, rather than teething problems that vanish once an author finds her rhythm.
Still, you’re right. Of course you can’t judge a novel by its first 250 words. I’m not professing to. I’m looking at opening pages because they carry a disproportionate amount of your novel’s semantic and aesthetic freight – they create your fictive world out of nothing, rack up expectations, suggest genre and tone and introduce stakes. If you’re planning to submit to an agent or editor, they are your shop window.
Certain questions of structure, thoughts on bridging passages and denouements, are admittedly tough to address in this format, which is why I write other Death Of 1000 Cuts posts which tackle more general compositional principles of fiction. If you have a specific area you’d like me to cover, by all means drop me a line and let me know.
By what authority are you passing judgement on all these writers? Who died and made you King Goodprose?
Well, you can check out my Bio page to get a rough idea of what I’ve done professionally. In addition to what’s on there, I’ve been editing manuscripts and teaching creative writing for nearly 10 years now.
But I think this question strikes at the heart of something fundamental. The internet is very fond of sharing ‘writing tips’ listicles from famous authors, containing 8-10 wise-sounding maxims that appear useful but improve people’s prose not one whit. Aspiring writers meekly accept this mish-mash of glib truisms and demonstrable bollocks because it is Handed Down From The Masters.
Until I ascend to my rightful place at the centre of the western literary pantheon, any feedback I give on a writer’s work will have to be judged on its merits. I’m very comfortable with that. I’m not asking you to take my opinions on trust. Read the extract. Decide whether you agree. If you don’t, please add a comment at the bottom of the extract in question. I’m very open to debate and a plurality of voices. In The Barber’s Chair is not about waiting to hear what Tim Clare thinks of the latest submission – it’s about you developing your ability to self-edit, so you can apply the same tools when revising your own work, and hold yourself to ever-higher standards.
Why do you have to be such a douchebag?
As a writer myself, the most useful feedback I’ve received has – without exception – always been the most blunt. I look back fondly on the most brutal takedowns of my work offered by friends, because it has always led to the biggest gains in craft.
So the short answer is, I’m trying to be helpful. I’m trying to model the honest response of a reader who has paid for your book in a shop, or a busy agent reading your first page. I’m holding it to the absolute highest standard I can. I want to help you close the gap between what you’re writing now, and the novels that gripped you so totally that you thought: my God, I want to do that too.
Remember that every author has asked for my feedback, and that every author knows the 1000 Cuts house style. If I were stealing works-in-progress off people’s laptops and ripping them to shreds then I’d agree, that would be douchebaggery of the highest order, but these are solicited, free critiques.
The fact that, since the blog started, I’ve had a steadily increasing stream of submissions, demonstrates just how badly aspiring authors are fiending for honest, practical advice. There’s this myth that up-and-coming writers are a species of precious, preening, delicate milquetoasts who can’t bear to have their delusions of genius shattered by the slightest hint of criticism. Nonsense. Almost every writer I’ve encountered through this blog has been a no-nonsense, self-aware slogger, keen to put the work in where needed, and keep chipping away until they level-up. They just want someone to tell them if they’ve got spinach in their teeth.
My critique of a writer’s first page is not a referendum on their worth as a human being. The extract is just writing. It’s just a product. As such, it can be changed and improved.
I write dreadful sub-par poems and prose all the time. When I do, I’m faced with a choice. I can identify with those products as an extension of my identity and labour to defend them – and thus my self-image as a competent artist – against criticism. Or I can choose to view art as a process, and look at ways of making my work better. It’s rarely easy! But really, whether a novel is good or bad doesn’t alter a person’s worth one bit. You wrote a shitty novel – so what? Why should acknowledging that be a source of such huge emotional pain? And why should your self-worth improve one iota just because you wrote a masterpiece?
The more we can learn not to identify with the work we produce, the better we can get at assessing how good it really is – rather than how good we’d like it to be – and adjusting accordingly. I can’t pretend I’ve mastered this, but frank, unpatronising criticism from friends has always helped remind me of it.
Mollycoddling a writer with havering qualifiers and the ever-popular ‘praise sandwiches’ only sends the message you’re not good enough for real criticism. You can’t handle the truth.
You are good enough for real criticism. Of course you can handle the truth. Not only that, but you can grow from it and produce some the best fucking writing this world has ever seen. I sincerely believe that.
I’m trying, in my own clumsy, flawed way, to wake people up. And so I cut deep.
And that’s why I have to be such a douchebag.