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!

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!

The Awesomeness of Finding a Writing Buddy.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

A couple of posts back, I ranted about the importance of improving your writing for the sake of the story. In that post, I touched on a few different avenues in which to do so: webinars, classes, critique groups, workshops. But here’s the thing, writing can be an incredibly lonely occupation, which I feel lends itself toward losing confidence, losing excitement and eventually giving up on goals.

The examples I gave above [on ways to improve your writing] are awesome for short-term motivation and learning new ways to harness your craft, but there is one avenue I highly recommend taking on the crazy road to publication: The Writing Buddy.

In the last couple years, I have had the incredible opportunity to meet some wonderful writers and have been blessed enough to form a friendship with these beautiful people that helps keep me [and I hope them!] motivated.

I know I just used a LOT of adjectives, but I can’t tell you how truly lucky I feel having these talented people in my life. Just this past weekend, my friend and critique partner, Chelsea, came with me to an abandoned asylum to scope out the location of my WIP’s big fight scene.

Though we didn’t actually get to go into the asylum 😦 (government property and such), it was still a fun adventure and I got to spend an afternoon just talking about writing and our different projects. If it weren’t for these little snippets of awesomeness, I’m not sure where I would be as a writer.

There are a bunch of opportunities for you to find a writing buddy of your own. Below are just a few of the ways I’ve met mine:

Local Writers Critique Groups
I found Chelsea (and so many other wonderful people) through Meetup.com. Mind you, not all writers groups are on MeetUp, but many are. (You also have to weed through numerous other types of social groups, but it’s totally worth it!)

National Novel Writing Month
I met SO MANY writers during NaNoWriMo this past November and all of them were absolutely fantastic. I keep in touch with a surprising amount given my introverted-ness (pretty sure this isn’t a word), but hurray for social media! Anyhoo, through NaNo, I met the awesome J.L. Gribble, a debut novelist whose first book, Steel Victory, comes out this summer. Check out the cover reveal here and for more information on Gribble and Steel Victory, go here.

Online Critique Sites
This is where things can get a little tricky. There are a LOT of critique sites out there, so you have to do your research and find what’s best for you. BUT you can find some very, very, VERY talented writers to help improve your writing. I found the BEST CP EVER online [actually, she found me, and THANK GOD!].

Just a quick rant about my gorgeous CP Lynanne (you can check out her blog here), there have been moments in my revision process where I look at a chapter and I honestly have no clue of where to go. When I get her notes back, it’s like a light goes off and I yell, “EUREKA!” It helps that she’s also a very talented writer, whose book series is super creative and an absolute joy for me to read (both excerpts and concept notes).

Back on topic . . . Yes, it’s easier to hoard your work and not share it with anyone, and like the African proverb says, you will go fast. But if you want to go far with your work, get a Writing Buddy and Critique Partner.

Happy Writing!