Writers, Love Your Beta Readers!

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One of the ways for writers to get their name out there, in the BIG WORLD OF FICTION, is to write short stories and then get them published in anthologies and magazines.  This has been the way of writers for a long time, even with diminished printing opportunities and the rise of e-books.  But, writers still have to find venues. You can search them out yourself, join a mailing list for writers, or you can follow around other writers.

I’ve been on one of those writer’s mailing lists for a while, but I always seem to be working on something other that the promoted style/genre.  The only time I had used one of the suggested publishers, I didn’t even get a response to my submission.  But, still, I always browse it, to see if anything jumps out at me.  Toward the end of June, something did…

A call for noble-bright fairy tales for a short story anthology came up, and best of all IT PAID FOR THE STORY!  I had the time and a story in mind, so I decided to finish up an old, neglected project.  But, since I only had a month, I had to figure out a way to get a critical eye on it, and not my own.  Ten revisions, a couple of months apart, was not going to work. So, I contacted five people I have beta read for, and asked for a huge favor.

It was a crunched together Franken-story, made of former blog posts with pictures removed and a long part that had only ever been written in longhand, and not even in the correct order, yet.  It was messy, and not even proofread with in the meager skills I do have. Sending it was uncomfortable.  Like wearing-your-underwear-on-the-outside-while-in-public uncomfortable, and not in a cool or sexy superhero way.

So my beta-friends read for me, and sent back notes with a superhero-like quickness, giving me extra time to mull over their thoughts.  I was able to spackle up some plot holes, give a few explanations and descriptions that were missing, and rewrite some awkward passages that I knew were awkward (but, still, needed to be told).

BUT, there came a point that I realized the rest of the suggestions really were opinions.  Their questions and observations, while good, were from the point of view of themselves as writers. Things they would have addressed if they were the one writing the story.  And it was MY story.  So, I sent a mental hug for their time and effort, promised myself to send more “thank you” emails, and got to work with final edits and proofreading.  I was able to submit two days before the deadline.

And I realize that once again, here on my blog, I’m not just preaching to the choir (by talking about writing to writers), I’m preaching to the preachers, rabbis, ministers, and priestesses.  If you are an experienced writer, and have already gone through all this, I hope I gave you a moment of nostalgia.  If you are going through this now, know that you are not alone, and I hope you will find and keep some good readers.  If you have yet to go through finding and synching with other writers, for better or worse, then you are forewarned.  It’s a stressful experience, even when it’s a good one.

For now, I keep writing and working on other projects, and try to ignore the waiting period for acceptance/rejection clicking along…

Urg.

 

 

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Habits and Revisions (and Some Heartfelt Advice)

 

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My day job.  I love it and everything about it, but it’s the reason I am not so good at the computer thing.

Habits are a strange concept.  You want to break the “bad” habits, and start the “good” habits, and that’s a lot to expect from something our brains designed to help us get through each day so we can conserve energy for the big things.

 

I’ve been trying–and failing A LOT–to start the habit of daily drawing.  Inktober really opened my eyes to my need to create art, and I already knew that I think in pictures. Novel writing is the process of me learning to slow the pictures enough to describe them to a reader, so why not put in the pictures, too?  Life keeps putting great stories in front of me that are drawn very… Well, you don’t have to be Bilal, Serpieri, or “Moebius” to tell a story with pictures.  (I mean, have you seen “The Walking Dead” original comic? Clean and clear, but simple.)

But, FIRST you have to give yourself permission to do the creative thing, the fulfilling thing, even if it’s not one of the official “important things.”  I’ve bought a few high quality art supplies, but they sat, unused.  I found my old art supplies, packed up for probably a decade or more, but they continue to sit, unused.  So, I bought some really cheap art supplies, but they have also sat for three weeks, unused.  The few times I’ve drawn in the past month are just pencil sketches. I can’t seem to give myself permission to play.  Where is this block coming from?

So, for now, I’m researching habits, and how to start them.  Maybe more pencil sketches will relax me enough to reach for the charcoal pencils, or even–gasp!–the charcoal sticks!  (I’m already wiping my hands in reflex.)

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Revisions for my Sci-fi Romance are going very well.  I’ve had some real “Eureka!” moments.  For those who don’t know, I come from a family of serious DIY people.  “Good homeowners just do it themselves,” is the family motto, even when you’re renting.  Need to tile a bathroom?  Fix a leaky pipe?  Put up drywall?  Read a book, find a video, figure it out yourself.  The DIY lifestyle also applies to cars, jobs, health–mental and physical–and pretty much everything else that life can throw at you.  Just do it yourself.  Surprisingly, this attitude has mostly worked for us, both as a unit and individuals.

So, for various reasons, I’ve brought that attitude to my writing, and there is PLENTY of writing advice out there.  I’ve recently come across a couple of books that seem to have expanded and refined my sense of storytelling, and I’m excited to share them with you in my “Low-Budget Writing Program.” I’ll have the newest post up as soon as I can get it organized.  I hope it will help those of you who are DIY writers, whether you are shooting for self-publication or trying to improve enough for acceptances from agents or editors.

Of course, the increased perception has caused a reaction of “OMG, I’m a horrible writer,” but that is expected and will be worked through.  Focused practice and skill progression will calm the panic.  This ‘aint my first time in the saddle.

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On a last note, if you have not cultivated a few trusted beta readers then you NEED to work on that.   Not only will you understand storytelling better when you have to explain to someone what they have missed, but an outsider’s eye on your own work is priceless.  Well, not priceless, since editors will have a rate to charge you, but I think you understand what I mean.

I have a few people I have exchanged work with and they have saved my bacon this month.  I spied an anthology that would be a good fit for one of my developing short stories, so I rushed through a readable rough draft.  BUT, without a chance to let it get “cold” any objective revision would be difficult.  I begged for help.  Everyone came back with notes early, so I have time to revise before I submit.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Be well, my friends, and Happy Writing!

Revision’s Threshold

I feel the edges of a new threshold pressing around me.  It’s the Cave of Revision, and it’s dark.

I take comfort in the knowledge that many other writers have passed this way, some famous, some not so much. Some of these writers are my friends, who have given me advice, or written books or blogs about how to keep going.  How to keep pushing yourself into a better writer.  How to push yourself toward being published, past the level of the hobby writer.

I do note, however, the few who wistfully warn me away from going any farther down this road.  Their forlorn words are weathered signposts, encouraging me to stay on the path of the blissful hobbyist.  Keep Away!  Turn Back Before It’s Too Late!  Don’t Go This Way!

But it is too late.  I need to tell the story that burns too brightly in me.  Not for fame; I see how it ruins so many lives.  Those it touches contort into impossible shapes to keep that limelight on themselves.  And not for riches; that is its own kind of hair shirt.  I have no need to get-rich-quick.  I simply want to be spoken of with affection by those that know me, and make a comfortable living doing something I love.

Writing is my second chance, my “do-over”, but only because I am already doing it.  I have other choices, and some of them could earn me a living if I focused on them.  Art is in my hands, and in my head, and in my heart.  I will still do other arts; I’ll never give up my anarchistic hobbies, and the soothing rhythm of needle and thread can free your mind to pull apart plots and characters, then stitch them back together, better.

My beta readers have given me enough to see my way, at least the first steps.  I have some hard work ahead, and even harder decisions to make. I’ll hone the edge of my skill against the words of my bookish mentors, and hopefully kill my darlings mercifully. They won’t stop the story burning its way out.  (Hey, maybe I should get a Doctor to check that.)

So, like the archetypical Hero, I ignore the warnings, tighten my belt, gird my loins, and check my weapons.  Looking back down the path, I see the lessons I’ve learned.  Some were painful, some were fun, all were necessary.  I glance at my companions, those I’ve gathered along the way, and step forward, into the Cave of Revision.

Damn, anybody got a light?

Climbing the Next Step

I handed off my first manuscript to my first round of beta readers.  It was a leap of faith in myself, that I could someday tell a story well enough to publish it.  I’m not saying it was exactly like leaving the house without my infant for the first time, putting her care totally in hands other than mine, but it was.  I’m trying to not worry.  I worry.

I simply can’t afford an editor, and the time and money to find the right one (who will actually improve my work) aren’t resources I have at this point in my writing career.  So I educate myself as much as possible, learn the tools in the word program, and rely on a circle of close friends who also read/write.  They will guide me up the next step toward self-publishing.

Self-editing had become a round of avoiding the manuscript, not writing other projects because I was using my limited writing time to edit, and editing grammar in scenes I wasn’t sure should BE in the manuscript.  To re use the over used metaphor; I could see the forest, loved the trees, but suspected some of those trees need the axe.  I called in the beta-lumberjacks, because they’re ok.  Even if they wear suspenders and a bra.

I could see the non-vicious circle of self-editing becoming a comfortable home, and how so many writers live there.  Endlessly picking and adjusting, never showing their work to another person because “It’s not ready.”  I have new respect for the writers who have overcome that fear, and more empathy for those who haven’t (yet) taken that step.

To help distract myself from the counterproductive editing, I managed to pick up one of my other projects, and I’m trying to get it into the shape of a rough draft.  The feel of applying pen to paper, gliding across in loops and squiggles, is a productive effort and hugely creative.  Daily word count is so much more self-affirming. I remember this joy.

It’s crap.  But it’s glorious, visceral, and colorful crap.  Crap that can be useable, once refined.  This time, the estimated word count is manageable, something that could make the rounds for small publishers.  It’s also vampires.  Simultaneously popular AND overdone, but the story wants what it wants.  <shrug>  So, we make it fun, sexy vampire romance crap, rolling in modern cultural jokes and stereotypes, while picking apart the legends and applying science like a halogen lamp.

And my search history gets weirder…