A couple of months ago, I volunteered to read submissions (aka “slush”) for Water Dragon Publishing when I had some time. After picking his jaw up off the floor, the editor welcomed my offer and said he would send me some manuscripts when I was ready. With the beginning of spring break, I finally had time and was provided with 16 manuscripts to start with. It’s been a fascinating experience for me.

When my brother Philip Brewer attended Clarion, he mentioned that he’d been expecting that getting his own manuscripts critiqued was what would be the most useful thing. But it turned out that critiquing other manuscripts and seeing what other people made of them was actually more useful. Reflecting on the experience he wrote a blog post about how to critique a manuscript. In my case, I was writing something far short of a full critique, but I found these principles helpful to structure my thinking.

I’ve come to realize that most of what is published in science fiction falls into a rather narrow slice of what gets written. And so studying what’s been published is not particularly useful for learning. What gets submitted, however, is a much richer source of data for learning to recognize problems. It’s hard to look at my own writing and recognize problems with exposition or pacing. But the slush pile has a lot of manuscripts where these problems are manifest. It’s been really helpful for giving me a better sense for how to recognize and address these problems with my own writing.

I’ve finished a first slug of manuscripts and requested another set to look at before spring break is over. It’s not something I’m going to want to do forever, but it’s been a fascinating adventure. What I really should do is join a writing group. But I haven’t found one yet where I feel comfortable. I’ll keep looking.

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