Feedback. Criticism. Critiques. All of these words might cause you shivers of anxiety. But, good feedback will push your next revision into a more polished, more publishable state. As writers, we have blinders on to certain things. Having good beta readers gives you the opportunity to identify issues you can’t see because the work is too close. There is nothing more valuable, in my opinion, than good beta readers. I’ve also found that with draft two, I may know something isn’t right, but I can’t quite put my finger on what. Readers can help you identify the issue. Here are some thoughts on how to get the most out of your beta readers.
First off, get good readers.
Prepare your readers.
You have feedback. Now what?
I wrote this a long time a go as a description of fighting depression. Riana is the mc of the first manuscript I wrote, The Dragon’s Eye. For those of you still standing in the gale, keep fighting! Also, creative opportunity: write your own ending in the comments below.
She bared white knuckles to the storm in defiance. Riana shouted back her own thunder. Her odd silver hair streamed with rain blown straight back by wind, violet eyes barely visible slits streamed tears mixing with rain as it ran down prominent cheek bones. Lightening danced in the open field illuminating where Riana stood shin-high in mud. The thunder roared in deep, rolling tomes of anger echoing over and over in the dark sky above her.
“You can’t have me!” she shouted, the words scraping out of her already raw throat like razors. She could feel her heart racing, a caged bird about to beat free from its prison. The breath stung in her lungs as she raged on and on against the storm.
She thought she would drown as she fought in the sheets of rain; her rasping protests outshouted by the fury of the storm. But, she couldn’t run anymore. There was no hiding place where the dark cloud would not follow, daunting her every move, an unwelcome shadow hanging on her shoulders.
The wind blew harder and colder. The rain flew at her like stinging arrows. Riana was forced backward a step. She dug her heels into the slime that used to be solid ground. She crossed tired, slender arms over her tear and rain-stung face and shrieked in agony. Thunder clapped so loudly it knocked Riana to the ground, mud oozing over her body. She stood again when the gale had lessened and prepared for the next onslaught.
It sure is a process! In case you’re new to all this writing stuff, be warned: writing a book is a LOT of work. For writers who adore pumping their writerly muscles, process is the way in which we work out our skill and talent more efficiently.
And I’m all about efficiency. As a full time mom, full time Marketing Communications Specialist and writer aspiring toward traditional publication, you bet your booty I’m all about working smarter instead of working harder.
The Broken Veil began, as all books must begin, with an idea. The concept came from a dream which I quickly scribbled into a poorly written short story.
So, step one in the creative process…
DREAM! Write down your dreams, go to new places that tickle your imagination, feed your inspiration with art, books, movies and other works by other creative people.
After that, I daydreamed some more and used both my husband and the wonderful Rachel Pudelek as sounding boards to my concepts and story ideas. Thank GOD for trust-worthy sounding boards! All writers should have at least one.
TALK ABOUT IT. You will be surprised at how either awesome or trite your ideas sound on your tongue instead of in your head. Cats can be good listeners. Mostly, they don’t interrupt.
Next came the research phase. I was inspired by some obscure elements of my heritage, and so, went about reading various sources about that genealogy. I was veracious in my hunt for knowledge, always growing the concept and story already blooming in my mind. And also, learning stuff is just cool.
RESEARCH. Whether it’s history, subject-matter, mythology, etc. take the time to learn things that will add details to your book that make it authentic, thus rooting your reader in reality and allowing the fiction to feel alive.
When I had a good handle on the world I wanted to create, I got to know my main characters. I had my lovely mother do star charts on the major characters and from there, I wrote out character sheets for each. Sometimes, we call this having coffee with characters. We ask them questions about who they are and they answer. Yes. Being a writer is slightly crazy.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Knowing the nature of your characters, their flaws and strengths, their cravings and aversions, their back story and motivation will drive your story forward, and allow them to arrive to the scene and behave as any real person would behave.
Okay, so at this point, I’ve done a lot of prep, but not all of it. Next I need to know the main plot of my book and roughly the steps along the journey. Based on suggestions I’d learned at the 2012 Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, I used 3×5” note cards to separate out those steps, writing a concise sentence of the action that needed to take place to push my story forward, and which characters (and in my case, creatures as well) would be included in the scene. It’s okay if your story completely morphs along the way. Plotting to begin with gives your writing process the structure to play efficiently in your world.
OUTLINE YOUR PLOT. In whichever way is easiest for you. Notecards are optional.
NOW IT’S WRITING TIME!!! I kept my notecards close by and referred to them when I got lost in the story. I didn’t stick to them always. I allowed myself to discover the story as I wrote it. So, plotting… more like guidelines than actual rules.
WRITE THAT BAD BOY! And be flexible in discovering the story, referring back to your outline frequently for direction.
After the first draft is complete and you’ve discovered the full story, as well as any new characters, it’s time to revise. This is when you take a look at the ending of your book, decide what’s missing to build up to that ending, and then adjust it. Catch the details as much as you can on this revision. Work out the plot holes and timing, fold in the new characters that revealed themselves, tease out the subplots, build the relationships.
Editing doesn’t mean I was done. Not by a long shot. I knew after draft two there were some things that needed changing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why or how. So, I enlisted the help of a very few readers. You can choose a critique partner or alpha readers, or as I did, a combination of both. This is a crucial step in the process. You cannot create a whole world, new people and story without the feedback of others. By employing more than one person, you gain different perspectives and opinions. But, don’t use all your readers at once.
Parcel out the reading of a draft two (or three) to people who can take on the loving job of providing solid feedback. This is a major effort on the part of your readers.
Bribes with cupcakes and alcohol are encouraged for their labor.
Make sure when you accept the feedback, you do it with an open mind, or you risk missing an opportunity to make your manuscript amazing. It’s critical to understand their feedback will be subjective. I had to learn which pieces needed to be adjusted and which pieces needed to be left the hell alone. If more than one person has the same feedback, chances are, it should be changed.
LET SOMEONE READ IT. And… LISTEN TO THEIR THOUGHTS. Also… APPRECIATE YOUR READERS’ AND CRITIQUE PARTNERS’ SACRIFICE OF TIME AND ENERGY.
After I read feedback emails, marked-up manuscripts and took notes on conversations with my readers and fabulous critique partner, Ms. Rachel Pudelek, I sat on it. I digested it. I thought about it. I wrote copious other notes about which actions made sense to take, which actions I definitely did not like, and which actions I was somewhere in middle about.
I then outlined the changes I wanted to make to the manuscript, based on the amazing, awesome feedback of my readers and crit partner. After that, I got busy adjusting, rewriting and revising again.
When I was done with the third revision I was in love with the story and ready to start querying. I am currently reading my manuscript on my kindle, with my laptop handy to adjust all the little things I’ve goofed up along the way to a new revision.
READ YOUR OWN WORK IN A DIFFERENT FORMAT, ADJUST AS NEEDED.
I hope this post is helpful! Everyone’s writing process is different. What works for me, might not work as well for you. So, in that case, write your own blog post and share it in the comments below!
Misfits are we.
We are the object of judgment.
Our character is scrutinized.
Our methods questioned.
Even our preferences considered odd.
With eyebrows raised, they shake their heads.
We clearly don’t fit in.
We are lonely.
Until we bumble into other misfits.
Who we call kindred spirits.
Or speculate we’ve spent other lifetimes with them.
And guess our psychic abilities drew us together.
Misfits are we.
Wild and crazy.
We can’t be pinned down.
And we change our minds frequently.
Like, every day!
We can’t describe our spirituality as neatly as the name of a religion.
We simply believe.
We believe that people are not all as bad as the pessimists make them out to be.
We believe in potential.
To grow and learn and evolve our spirits.
With quiet introspection we unlock the secrets of the universe.
And discover it’s not all darkness,
But, shot through with a million glittering lights
Gleaming with moonbeams and starbursts and golden suns.
Given what we’ve seen.
Given what we know of human nature.
To have hope is a crazy notion.
But, we’ve always been a little off-kilter.
We’re kooky enough to keep hope alive.
All we strange misfits seeing silver linings, and storm-drenched rainbows.
And we turn our inner light, and silly dreams outward in our insane ways.
We paint beauty.
And share kindness.
Even against awful odds.
In the face of bullies and cowards.
In the worst of circumstances.
Though we are scarred.
And socially a little awkward.
We just can’t help ourselves.
From painting rainbows.
And dreaming of dragons.
And cooking something sweet to sooth weary souls
We’re a little different.
All we misfits.
But, when we consider the alternative, we decide
We’re okay with that.
Several years ago, a woman I was connected to on one of the many social media channels responded to a post of mine and asked me to contribute to her my definition of happiness.
I never answered her.
Why? Because I’m a flake? Maybe, partly. But, not completely. I opened a reply to her several times. And as the cursor blinked at me in anticipation of my words, I found I had none to sate the hungry screen.
It was such a ponderous question for me. And it bothered me that I didn’t have an answer. How could I not know what it meant to be happy? I had a healthy family, a job, a young, but happy marriage and I was pursuing my dreams. Was my life perfect? No. Of course not! Whose life is perfect? Nobody’s. But, I had blessings and I recognized them, so how could I not understand happiness?
Probably, because I wasn’t truly happy.
Over the last five years or more since THE EMAIL, I have thought about happiness. I regularly revisited the request, stared at the words, contemplated the subject and went away, clearly unauthorized to provide an answer. I even wondered why I had ever felt qualified to click the reply button in the first place. Who did I think I was to say what happy is or isn’t? Who did I think I was to say what anything is or isn’t.
Nobody. That’s who I am.
And that was very much at the crux of the issue. How could I be happy if I was nobody? Nobodies don’t get to be happy. No. And the idea of happiness was far too foreign. I was more comfortable talking about what I SHOULD be. That I SHOULD be happy. I could tell you at length how blessed I was. I could tick off how lucky I’d been to find a kind and caring husband, and get a good job, and have healthy children who were smart and sweet and well-behaved. And I could attribute none of it to me.
Which, was A BIG, FAT LIE.
I was denying myself of everything, even my own identity. I could not be proud, because being proud meant I had to recognize that I was a part of the equation. And that’s just not allowed.
Hey, listen. I know you’re a wondrous creation. I get if you want to be humble and give glory to God or Goddess or the Universe, whichever entity you worship. That’s super altruistic of you. But, the fact is stuff happens in your life because of your choices. Your free will leads you down your own path. (Psssttt… Christians… that’s kind of the point of this life. Ya know, free will and all?) If you say that you have nothing to do with the success in your life, then the opposite is also true. Then, you have no responsibility for the misfortunes in your life, even if they resulted from making a stupid decision. If everyone decides they have no ownership of their life, the world turns to shit. So, give yourself a little pat on the back every now and then. Stay humble, sure. But, then recognize the power God/Goddess/Universe/Whatever gave you and that you CHOSE to use it in the right way.
As the years went by, I faced up to the fact that I was unhappy. Life happened. Loved ones died. Other loved ones made life changes which affected me. And through this process of living, the past was massaged out of my subconscious. And I was ANGRY. I was SAD. I was HORRIFIED. I was SCARED. I was DISAPPOINTED. I was REGRETFUL. All of it hurt deeply. The emotions were so BIG! They were in my face, screaming for my attention. I so wanted to pretend they didn’t exist, but I had reached my threshold for holding back emotional shit. It was spilling over whether I wanted it to or not.
There is no hiding from such profound self-discoveries.
But, still. I had a choice. I knew I had a choice. Many days, you could find me curled up on the floor of my bathroom, or on my bed or on the floor, praying, PRAYING to not be so ANGRY, SAD, SCARED, REGRETFUL, HORRIFIED, DISAPPOINTED. I ached to be happy.
And all this emotional shit that filled me up was making me, quite literally ill. I was physically, physiologically responding to the deep scars in my soul which bled and oozed a rank pus of bottled up, denied, suffocated collection of emotions.
What’s a girl to do? Screw the lid tighter on that crazy? Nope. The lid was broken. I could either, continue to fester and leak, or I could let the healing finally happen. If I could allow myself a small sense of worthiness that I deserved it.
So, I strapped on my wading boots and went exploring through the deep parts of me. In search of a glittering treasure I hoped I had inside.
The journey was ugly. There were moments I withdrew from the search. There were inadvertent emotional lockdowns, inexplicable outbursts, shoving away of loved ones, retreat from friends and just plain bitchiness. I was no treat for company.
But, inside, I was asking myself what needed to be heard. I was allowing the story to be told, with every shred of emotion that had been denied. My inner child wept, screamed, stomped her feet and raged until I got the whole story. And I thanked her for sharing it. I showed myself the compassion that I so willingly showed others and withheld from myself.
Because I believe that we are worthy of kindness and love and grace, even when we are unworthy. And if I believed that my fellow humans – who were flawed and sometimes downright awful – then, it wasn’t such a stretch to agree I too was worthy.
I am a happy person now. Does that mean I don’t get angry? No. If the situation calls for it, you bet, I’m angry. And sometimes when it doesn’t call for it. But, it doesn’t rule me. I hear it, and then let it go.
I think happiness is to not deny or even overcome what we call negative emotions – anger, sorrow, pity, regret – but, accept them to push us into a better place. Grow because of them. Reach a higher state of being and understanding after experiencing them. Saying negative emotions shouldn’t exist within us is a big, fat lie and a misunderstanding of the beauty of the human existence, with all of our fascinating colors and shades and emotions. Telling yourself you shouldn’t feel something is telling yourself to be inhuman, to be flat, to be one-sided. By accepting ALL of our emotions, find peace over situations that cause us hurt, rather than deny they happened at all, simply scrubs all the facets of our souls, like the cuts in a diamond.
And then when we stand in the light, baby, you can bet we’re gonna SHINE.
So, what is happiness (to me)? To rejoice over our crazy, imperfect lives, with all its ups and downs and twists and turns. To FIND the good, to SCOWL at the bad, to CRY for sorrow, to ACHE with hurt, to LAUGH and LOVE and BREATHE in each moment as a gift, whether it is viewed as negative or positive.
What do YOU think is happiness?
I don’t know about you, but winter is always tough for me. The days are short.
The joy of Christmas is over and we’re catching up from the time off at work, getting our families back into the groove and gearing up to accomplish all our well-meaning goals for health and prosperity, etc. and so forth, which we then abandon by February. So, January?
It’s only been a few weeks since my time off and I’m already looking forward to the next holiday. Why? I get home from work completely wiped out and feeling lazy. And I actually like my job! So, I don’t know what my deal is. Why the attitude doesn’t match up with my heart, but something had to give.
I came home from a long day, grumpy and tired. I plopped down on the couch and ate the dinner my husband made for me, after which I stared at facebook for a few minutes, scrolling past everything, not interested in anything. Sitting was not the answer. Resting was not the answer.
When I was little and I pitched a fit about something (you can picture me: pony tail, angry hazel eyes, adorable pout and crossed arms), Dad would say, “Hey. You need an attitude adjustment?” and show me his knuckles mock-menacingly. I pouted more. To which he would reply, “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” And he’d walk up to me and rap me on the head. “Bonk!” he’d say. “There. Attitude adjusted.” I’d smile and giggle and the spell of bad moods would break.
Since dear old dad isn’t in close proximity to give me a rap on the head, I had to administer my own attitude adjustment. I rose from the couch, tackled the dirty dishes, then pulled the weights from their dusty corner and MOVED. Five Finger Death Punch and Volbeat serenaded me to push-ups and lunges and when I was sweaty and tired, I felt the best I’d felt all day.
So, what’s your restart button to a bad mood? What helps you move from negative to positive?
Plots, character arcs and tension are not the only things writers have to understand these days. With the advancement in technology comes a whole slew of opportunity turned responsibility to incorporate your thoughts and story into a format that agents and editors want to receive. For some, this can be a daunting task, if all you’ve ever done in a Microsoft Word document is open it and begin typing.
For the first dozen or so years of my career, I took on various positions of administrative support. I learned in those positions, you gotta move with purpose, or let the snappy pace of a busy day run you right the hell over. I’ve also always hated wasting time. Because of these things, combined with a natural curiosity about the software I work in, I tenaciously sought out information that would make me an administrative beast of efficiency.
But, not everyone who writes has a knack or eagerness to try different techniques using a software program that seems overwhelming and frustrating. I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned. If you have something you’ve learned that’s even better than what I post, please share your thoughts in the comments! (or write your own blog!) I love learning new things and welcome the input.
Today’s post will be on setting up the body and chapter headers of your Word document for a manuscript. I’m working out of Microsoft Word 2010, but most things here will translate to 2007. 2003 users… you can follow the gist, but the ribbon format of Word really changes the layout and navigation in the Microsoft programs.
There are a ton of sites out there with notes on what the formatting should be in your manuscript when you send it to an agent or editor. Here’s one: theeditorsblog.net/2011/01/05/format-your-novel-for-submission/.
Basically, you want your document to be set up with 1” margins all around, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, double-spaced with a first line indent, and aligned left. There also recommendations on your header and title page, chapter and scene breaks. Visit the link and review it.
Now, let’s talk about formatting, baby.
The rubber meets the road! You know what you’re supposed to do, but how the heck do you wrestle that Word document into perfect manuscript-submission worthiness? This is what I recommend.
Set your document up BEFORE you start writing your manuscript. I also recommend after going through these steps, saving the formatted document as a template for any new manuscripts.
Chapter Headers! Oh how I hated chapter headers, until I found a nifty trick.
Snake Gold Eyes
1 – Snake Gold Eyes
2 – Hunted
Hope you find this helpful! Would you like to know how to do something specific in Word? Leave a comment and I’ll see if I can answer your question!