Trust me, you want a beta reader.

So last Tuesday I jumped onto Google Hangouts and discussed my current WIP with the four poor saps I convinced to beta read it. I cannot begin to express how eternally grateful I am to these wonderful people for taking the time to review my work. Their notes were everything I needed them to be and so much more. To repeat what I’ve said to two of the four (because this is the only phrase that comes to mind to describe how I feel): I feel like I’ve just won the expansion pack to my favorite card game.

But seriously, if I’m able to pull off what I’m aiming for, I am beyond excited to read the next finished draft. Granted, I may be a walking, talking zombie when it’s finished, BUT [I hope] it will all be worth it.

I know that the concept of having your first novel read from someone other than yourself is a very exciting, stressful, albeit terrifying notion. But I’m here to tell you it’s not as scary as you might think. You just have to go in with a gracious heart and an open mind. Honestly, the scariest part for me was pressing “send” and the minutes leading up to the critique. Once we were in the flow of the conversation, I bounced with excitement and my mind raced with ideas.

Now I’m not saying you should just throw caution to the wind and send your MS to just anybody. You should definitely vet your betas. My four betas covered a wide range of genres/audiences, which provided a really well-rounded review of the piece. All four were also novelists (don’t know how I got so lucky), which helped identify why some things were/weren’t working.

Below is a list of things I need to improve:

  1. World Building. The problem with creating a complex world with it’s own political/social structure is that sometimes you forget to clarify the rules of said world because your focus is on your protagonist. Your fictional world has to come across as vibrantly on the page as it does in your mind.
  2. Round out Secondary Characters. So this is one of those “DUH” moments where I knew the complexities of the characters, but the reader didn’t. As the writer, it is vital to communicate the intricacies of the characters important to the MC’s story. Otherwise, they fall flat against the backdrop, which is no good. Show the reader how awesome your cast of characters are! (Yes, I did scribble that on my notepad during the crit session.)
  3. Making the wrong promises. One of the podcasts I listen to, Writing Excuses, discussed the importance of the beginning narrative making the right promises to the reader. In the beta draft, the beginning narrative focused more on the MC’s trauma than how her current actions are driven by it. Focusing on the trauma set up the story to be a Who-Done-It, which was not what the novel was about.

Here’s the deal, the above list really isn’t that daunting. Sure, it means more work, BUT the MS will be so much better for it. I’m already knee-deep in revisions and I can already say I am loving the changes. Mind you, I’m saying this now at the forefront of the new draft, I could easily turn into a raging revision troll if left to my own devises.

Happy Writing!

Anxiety and Resilience: Waiting on the Critique

At the beginning of April, I took the plunge and submitted my WIP to beta readers. The five people reviewing my MS are all incredibly talented writers with works of their own and I am INDEBTED to them for taking the time tear my first book apart.

BUT . . . waiting for their notes has been . . . well . . . a rollercoaster of anxiety.

Now don’t get me wrong, I live for improvement. I am so excited to hear their thoughts and dig through their notes to make my WIP the best it can possibly be before I start querying it to agents. But no matter how excited I am for the draft that will result from their feedback, I can’t help but fear the potential for having my heart ripped out my chest.

For the majority, I like to maintain a rational, objective viewpoint when receiving critiques. No note is a bad note, regardless of its level of usefulness. I thrive off constructive criticism but this is my first time having my book read cover-to-cover. Safe to say, I’m out of my mind.

Below is an example of my mind this past month:

Right Brain: What if they hate it? They could hate it. It’s YA Urban Fantasy. They could definitely hate it.

Left Brain: Even if they did hate it, they wouldn’t say so. They’d give you criticism on what exactly obstructed their enjoyment.

Right Brain: But what if they hated it so much they just don’t have words?

Left Brain: That’s why there’s a rubric, to prompt feedback.

Right Brain: But what if it was so bad, we have to start all over?

Left Brain: Then we’ll start all over with their notes in mind.

On and on, this conversation went, plaguing my mind with stress and anxiety and doubt. These negative feelings are a part of life, especially in such subjective fields as writing and art. What’s important is how you react to it.

Regardless of what brutal notes I get from my beta readers, I know I’m still going to push forward and work hard until I achieve my goals. I’m just stubborn like that. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my 24 years, it’s that your level of resilience must be equivalent to that of your projected success. Dreams take time and hard work to come to fruition. So when you meet those roadblocks, if success is important to you, you’ll find a way to overcome them.

Here’s to pushing forward!

The Writing Slump

Well folks, I’ve hit it, the dubious “writing slump”. Granted, I’ve had a lot going on, but if you’ve been following this blog for a while, I think it’s rather clear that I don’t accept that as a valid excuse. Now don’t get me wrong, a break is good for the soul every now and again, but I look at my past month and the workaholic in me sees all the things I didn’t do. It’s a character flaw I need to work on, but in the eternal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking.”

Yes, that was a Buffy reference. Get over it.

Anyhoo, back to Vesuvius the writing slump (because I name things that make me angry after things that go “BOOM”), it’s not that I can’t write or won’t write, more over my brain is too caught up in what’s going on around me to focus on a new novel. Vesuvius just came in, scraped his rusted fold-out chair across the varnished hardwood floors of my brain, set up shop at the intersection of creativity and productivity and heckled me until I gave up and jumped into the next episode of Veronica Mars.

So yes, I had plans for this past month while book 1 was with beta readers. I was going to rewrite book 2 and map out book 3, along with publishing weekly posts here. The reality of this past month is as follows:

  1. 3 blog posts – skipped a week because I was coming back from a writing retreat with Raw Dog Screaming Press. It was a lot of fun and exactly what I needed.
  2. Read through book 2, made a lot of notes for changes to plot/character and such, spent the rest of the month mauling over whether or not to just start from scratch completely. I’ve rewritten the first paragraph in my head many, many, MANY times before going to sleep the past few weeks.
  3. Wrote the first chapter (that will be scrapped) of book 3. I don’t regret writing it, because of that scrap chapter, I was able to finally let go of a setting that was only half-cocked anyway. I did map out the book, but only got as far as the midpoint. Hint: Time Travel is not easy to plot.
  4. I also put together a 53-page digital magazine and put my sister-in-law and her puppy on a plane to Germany (for any of your who’ve ever flown internationally with pets through the military, you know that this is a HIGH-STRESS event).

I promise there is a reason why I chose to list out what I’ve accomplished this month. I wanted to show that just because we writers tend to fall on the side of “I haven’t accomplished anything,” doesn’t mean that what we’re feeling is the reality. So if you’re in a writing slump, take the time to make a list of the things you have accomplished during that time, it may take some of the pressure off.

Community: Why it’s important for writers.

Writers. The majority of us tend to swing toward the introverted side of the social pendulum, myself included. If I spend too much time in a social setting, my energy reserves fall into the red.

But as exhausting as some social encounters are, I do think it’s important for us to get out of our own heads and here’s why:

Reason #1 – Your health.

I touched on this last week, but burning the candle at both ends = not a good idea.

As creative’s, we spend HOURS buried beneath our projects. From our characters and plot to the writing itself, we obsess over each sentence, paragraph and page. Being devoted to your work is awesome but you need to remember to take care of you! I’m speaking from experience on this one. I will push until I can’t push any more and I’m left with a migraine the size of the Pacific Ocean, pounding against my skull like tidal waves crashing to shore. My lovely business partner, Sookie, was a kind enough friend to tell me to stop being stupid and curl up with my dog and take a break! If not for her, I would have kept working through it, worse for wear, and our April Edition of our digital magazine, Today’s Man, probably would not have turned out as nice as it did.

If you’d like to see our hard work, check it out here. It’s free!

Reason #2 – The work will be better for it.

So yes, in order to have a clean, brilliant piece of work, you have to put in the effort to make it so. This is an undeniable fact. However, if during that time, you’re groggy or you’ve stared at the work so long the letters just look like shapes, you are going to miss some things. My YA Fantasy series’ first novel is currently with beta readers after I had spent two months just hacking away at it. Don’t get me wrong, I made a LOT of headway with those revision. However, I started rereading it last week (because I’m a glutton for punishment) and already have a laundry list of new revisions to make. Without that break, those issues would have gone overlooked.

Reason #3 – Your sanity.

For me personally, especially in the stage that I am in now, this is the No. 1 reason I need a writing community. A couple weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to have my query letter critiqued by Danielle Barthel of New Leaf Literary.

I received this opportunity by participating in Writers For Hope, an annual online auction, whose proceeds support RAINN, a campaign to fight sexual violence. Every ten dollars helps a victim of sexual violence, so if you can give, RAINN is an incredible cause! You can find out more about RAINN here.

I cannot express how thankful I am for Danielle’s notes. They were everything I had hoped they would be – helpful, encouraging and gave me insight into how I needed to clarify certain things to make my pitch as strong as possible! And on top of all that, she sent me the critique within two weeks! But that incredibly quick turn around didn’t keep me from itching with anticipation. If it weren’t for my CP’s Lynanne, Chelsea and Hanna, I would have surely gone mad (in the Hatter way, not the Hulk way). So if for any other reason, you should surround yourself with a community of writers to help keep you sane throughout the submission process.

Reason #4 – Did I mention that the work will be better?

A few posts ago, I talked about the importance of finding a writing buddy. I bring it up again because YOU SHOULD REALLY HAVE A WRITING BUDDY! Seriously, along with the sanity bit, since I found my writing community, my writing truly has improved . . . exponentially in fact. I still have issues with gerunds, but hey, that’s what revision is for.

On Friday, I celebrated [one of] my critique group’s fifth anniversary. The anniversary was so much fun. We talked about writerly things and caught up with each others lives. It also reminded me of how much I’ve grown since I joined a little over a year ago and how excited I am for my [hopeful] continued growth, personally and professionally.

Moral of all this, even though you could hold up in your laptop all by your lonesome, slaving away on your WIP, should you? Even if you’re super anti-social, I think finding a community, even an online one, is worth the additional effort. You’re way more likely to get a return on your investment than not.

Happy writing!

You wrote a novel! That’s a Victory!

Not sure if you guys knew this, but novel writing is hard work! If you’ve written a novel (or any document that exceeds 50k words), raise your hand in the air AND HIGH-FIVE YOURSELF! Seriously, simply finishing a story is a huge accomplishment.

Now, if you’ve taken that doc, revised it then revised it again, go find someone to high-ten! You stuck it out through editing all those words and that is a serious feat!

If you’ve taken the plunge and sent your baby novel to beta readers, give someone an elbow-high-five because they’re awesome and so are you! Because here’s the scary truth, people are now reading a story written by you in its entirety.

I just took that plunge last night at 9:42 pm, and I’m still bouncing in my chair with nervous excitement. Seeming as how my border collie doesn’t have the capacity to give a high-elbow-five (though she gave awesome high-fives and tens because my dog is a genius!), I elbow-fived my desk. Cue funny bone that’s not so funny.

Well after I pressed the dreaded send button, sending my MS into the world after it’s fifth round of revisions, I was doing the writer-ly thing and downplaying the fact that I finished a novel. Instead, I was focusing on the possibility that the betas would come back with world-crushing, soul-sucking critiques and I’ll have to start from square one.

But my lovely friend and CP Chelsea told me, “Take the victory. There aren’t a lot of them.” And she was completely right!

As writers, and human beings, we face so much rejection and defeat that it’s almost illogical to belittle your successes.

So if you’ve achieved a milestone lately, whether it be large or small, treat yourself! You deserve it!

And keep writing!