10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known As A Newbie Writer; But I Learned The Hard Way

I’ve dreamed of being a writer since the 4th grade. I think that would have been 1986, or there about. But I didn’t actually do anything besides jot down stories and ideas once in a while until 2006. That was the year I quit my job, became a stay-at-home mom, and moved two hours away from friends and family. Even then, I entered the pursuit of literary endeavors blindly. And I must say, pretty naively. There are a few things I would love to have known in 2006 that took me years to learn, so maybe this list will help any newbie writers, or not-so-newbie writers, who happen upon this post.

1 – Make Writing a Priority

I’ve talked about this several times, but most recently in a blog post here. You have to make writing a part of your life, your schedule, just like your family, your job, school, whatever it is that makes up life for you. If you want to be a writer you have to find room to write. And I’m not one of those “write every day” people either. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t do something related to my writing career, but I don’t write every day. Sometimes it’s as simple as connecting with other authors on Twitter, reading a blog post on writing advice, promoting someone else’s book, or reading a YA novel.

You have to decide this dream is worth something to you, and that’s not measured in books sold, dollar signs, or accolades. I haven’t made a penny or sold a single book yet. But the keyword there is “yet”. The dream doesn’t come true without the hard, hard, exhausting and never ending work. The idea that you have to pay your dues first is very, very true. And even once that dream is “real” the money and fame might not be. It’s going to have to be an important part of you to keep going.

2 – Own It

Do you write? If the answer is YES, then you’re a writer. Own it. You’re not an aspiring writer: you’re a writer! It doesn’t matter if you’re traditionally published, an Amazon ebook writer, fan fic or WattPad writer, or just a writer who puts words on the page but hasn’t found your avenue of publication yet. You write = you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter if you’re terrible or fabulous, fresh and new or cliched, traditional or groundbreaking. You’re a writer. Don’t let anyone take that from you.

And never be ashamed to declare it proudly. I spent years too embarrassed to tell people I was a writer. Mainly because I had mentally tied the idea of success and legitimacy to the idea of being an actual writer. It took me a while to accept that if my fingers flew across the keyboard placing black words on a white page, I was in fact a writer. And a hard working one at that. There was no need to be embarrassed because I had no outward signs of achievement yet. I write; therefore I am a writer.

3 – Accept That What You Write is Crap

Not very confidence inducing, am I? But you need to accept this. Especially in the beginning. Even the best writers produce some pretty awful first drafts. And second, and third . . . That’s why writing is a process. You may write a beautiful first draft, or maybe it’s simply word vomit with a little structure. Either way, it’s on the page, and that’s a start.

Most people aren’t born amazing writers. Even those that go through creative writing programs in college don’t always pop out a best seller on their first go. It takes practice. Critique. Swallowing your pride and working harder. Then more writing. More critique. Repeat. Repeat. Writing that first draft is often the fun part. Fingers flying, words flowing, ideas bursting from your head faster than you can tap letters on the page. But writing is also in the nitty-gritty hard work of revision and reading the same words again and again and again.

But don’t be embarrassed by that word vomit either. We all have it. Whether it’s an entire first draft or just a few chapters that stubbornly stick between the slats of our imagination and won’t slide through into words. DO revise your first draft before you seek out betas. DO continue to learn how to be a better writer and apply that to your work. But DON’T give up because that first go isn’t a shiny golden baby, but rather a wrinkly, pale, yet somehow lovable one. Ugly babies often grow into wonderous humans.

4 – Never Stop Learning

I don’t care if you have an MFA, you can always learn more about writing. And if you’re like me and have an associate’s degree in a field unrelated to writing, there’s a lot to learn. I always did well in my English and writing classes, so it’s not like that aspect was a challenge for me, but there were definitely things about grammar, punctuation, and writing that I never knew or had forgotten. (And probably still don’t know.)

But brushing up on the basics isn’t enough. There are as many different writing styles and approaches to craft as there are writers. Read the novels of writers you admire, check out blog posts and articles about how to write better, and read books on craft. There’s always something more to learn, and sometimes you just need a reminder of something you’ve heard a hundred times but can’t quite seem to apply to your own writing.

And yet, that’s still not enough. One of the most important parts of writing—and a part I feel is too often neglected—is learning as much as you can about the identity of the character you are writing. If you’re an Own Voices author, then you have a lifetime of experience to fall back on when writing a character that represents your identity. But if you’re not, you’ve got a steep learning curve to catch up and be moderately effective. If you’re not Own Voices, you will never be the best person to write that story, so it’s going to take you a lot of extra work to still be an acceptable person to write that story.

5 – Don’t Let Your Mom Read Your Work

Okay, I’m being a little facetious here, but seriously, don’t. In fact, don’t give it to your husband, brother, sister, dad, aunt, cousin, best friend or the post man either. I know how exciting it is to have that finished manuscript in hand and want to share it with someone, but people who know you are not the best ones to share it with. Like I said, I’m kidding—a little.

It is okay to let family and friends read if you just need a meaningless ego boost so you can brave the idea of actually letting another writer take a look at it. But if you think you’re going to get useful feedback from anyone who actually knows you in the flesh, it’s unlikely. Maybe, just maybe, you know another writer, or your sister has a writing degree, or Uncle Buck published a novel, but even then, they may not objectively be the best people to look at your work. They love you. They’re going to see you every holiday, birthdays, and lots of places in between. They have a vested interest in your happiness. You don’t want that in a critiquer.

True feedback comes from people who don’t care if they hurt your feelings. True critique comes from people who write. We know (hopefully) what goes into a good novel. We have read many great books, and written our own (quality subject to opinion) and can see where you’re telling vs showing, or using too many -ly adjectives, or know a Mary Sue when she skips across the page. We know craft. Your mom doesn’t. And even if she does, she may love you too much to crush your dreams. Get yourself a dream crusher CP. They will only make your writing better.

 6 – Find Yourself a Writing Crew

Writing is by nature a somewhat solitary endeavor. From my experience, a good majority of writers consider themselves introverts and reclusive. We’d much rather hold the company of our next manuscript or a favorite novel than hobnob with anyone anywhere anytime. But that can be detrimental to your development as a writer. And the good news for introverts? Most of the interaction you have with fellow writers is online! Yay for the internet!

I didn’t start using Absolute Write forums until 2010, almost 4 years after I started writing! Sometimes I look at that join date in my profile and think it must be wrong. It feels like some of those writers have been with me since the beginning. But that just shows the value of good writing friends: because I can’t actually imagine doing what I do without them, even though I did it for 4 years.

Twitter blipped on my radar in 2014, mainly because of a pitch contest. I came for the chance to pitch my book; stayed because it became one of the best ways to network with other writers. Even though AW made me feel less alone and I love my AW friends (they’re with me on Twitter, too), Twitter made me feel like I belonged! Sometimes it can feel like high school with cliques and drama and arguing, but I was in this big pool of thousands of writers who had opinions and ideas and talked about process and marketing and just everything! My knowledge grew by leaps and bounds just from exposure to people just like me (and many not at all like me) and the industry itself.

Your writing crew can teach you to be a better writer, teach you about the industry ins-and-outs, provide support for all those moments of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-anyway?! You need beta readers and critique partners, advice and moments of solidarity over just how hard this all is, and sometimes just someone to laugh with and relate to. Some people might think this is sad, but I barely talk to IRL friends anymore. Yet I talk to my online writing friends every day. It’s not sad to me, because I’ve found my crew.

7 – Be a Cheerleader

Being a writer is hard. I think many of us are prone to anxiety in the first place, but putting out something so personal into the world is double anxiety inducing. That novel, short story,  or poem is a piece of your heart, your soul. It’s your imagination and dreams come to life in black and white—and sometimes color if you’re a picture book or graphic novelist. It’s months and months of late nights, neglected housework, and missed social engagements. It’s not just words on paper.

And that’s why we need cheerleaders. This kind of goes along with the above about finding your writing crew, but it’s more about what you can do. Maybe you don’t need cheerleaders, which is fine, but I think many people would give up if they didn’t have others cheering them on. And seeing the success of others can spur us to believe that yes, this too can happen for me.

There are many ways to be someone’s cheerleader. As a beta reader or critique partner, think about what the MS has done right as well as where it has gone wrong. Once again, not everyone needs this. I can get along just fine with a critique that shows me all my flaws but doesn’t point out my triumphs. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the compliments, but I don’t need them. Yet, in the beginning I think I did. Now I’m confident enough, but you might not always know the temperament of your fellow writer, so try offering positive feedback as well as negative.

Social media is another great way to offer encouragement. Like and/or share a blog post, leave a positive comment on a Tweet or Facebook post, and offer congratulations at agent signings, book deals, and signing events. Share in the excitement and happiness for your fellow authors, because they deserve the celebration now, and it makes you feel happy and excited too. Besides, they’ll be there for you when you have something to celebrate!

8 – Take Criticism (and rejection) Like a Champ

If you want to succeed in writing, you will have to learn to take criticism. And yes, no matter how experienced you become, criticism can still hurt. I’ve been writing with the idea of achieving publication for more than ten years now, and hearing that an editor “didn’t connect with my character” or that a beta felt a line in my book was sexist or that my critique partner thought a sub-plot was too unbelievable still stings pretty bad. You labor and love over every character, every plot, every paragraph, hell, every word! Criticism can feel downright personal.

But it’s not. So stop. Step back from the critique in whatever form it comes: beta or CP critique, agent or editor feedback, book reviews, or online comments. STEP. BACK. When you’re too close to your work, it is hard to think objectively. When you’re upset about a comment, it’s almost impossible to think objectively. STEP. BACK.

I’ve seen it many times. (I’ve done it a few times myself.) A critique hurts and you seek to defend yourself, or maybe strike back at the critiquer, or even find other voices that support yours so you can feel like you’ve done nothing wrong. But you’re not helping yourself. In fact, you’re actively harming yourself. I’m not saying that every critique and comment is valid, but I will tell you that every critique and comment is valid for the person who has given it. They’re not out to get you. Try to look through the lens that they are viewing your work; listen to what they have to say and weigh it as objectively as you can; do seek other opinions, but make sure they aren’t just people who will agree with you, but rather people who have a similar lens as the original critiquer.

Obviously I’m talking about a lot more than comma placement or “tell vs show” here. Sometimes critique can be as simple as that. And sometimes it can be about harmful representation for which you are not the best person to decide if it is or isn’t. But you have to learn to be objective, put aside your hurt, and evaluate the critique for what is best for your novel—and most importantly—best for your readers.

9 – Don’t Query Recklessly

Querying itself is as much an art form as writing. And jumping into it head first without learning the art can damage your chances. That doesn’t mean if you make a mistake or a query faux pas that you should pack up your lap top and throw in the towel. I’ve had some pretty egregious mishaps myself (like the time I used the wrong name for an agent) but I still managed to find an agent who loved my book.

Good news: there’s a plethora of querying advice on the internet. Google, as always, is your best friend, but to get you started, below you will find a few posts I wrote about querying that link to my favorite posts and articles about querying. Yes, it’s a lot of reading. Did you think this would be easy? It’s not. Not only do you need to read all that I wrote, and all that other writers and agents have written, but then you have to decipher what is best for you. Because everyone has different advice. And then figure out what’s best for the particular agent you’re querying. Because they each have their own likes and dislikes. Which means more research. Oh, and you’ll need to research which agents would be a best fit for you and your book. That’s more research.

You owe it to yourself and to that book you spent months, sometimes years, writing and polishing. Querying can take as much time as the actual writing. But you want to do it right, not quickly.

Queries! Queries! Queries! – Part One: Researching Agents

Agent Research: I forgot to tell you something!

Queries! Queries! Queries?? – Part Two: How to write a query letter

The Query Process: It’s Own Brand of Crazy

Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

10 – Give a Hand Up

As we move through our journey as writers—whether our goal is publication or just the joy of writing—be willing to give a hand up. That’s how our writing community grows and progresses. Chances are you’re going to be given beta reads and query critiques from other writers, especially in the early years, so you have to be willing to do the same in return. In the beginning, it’s a trade of scratching each others’ backs, and you get the added benefit of learning a lot about what will work for your own writing by reading and critiquing others. But as you become more experienced, you can offer a valuable helping hand to beginners.

And this goes for book promotion and book reviews as well. An author’s bread and butter can very well depend on how many reviews they have on Amazon or how their sales did that first week after release. We have to be willing to support our writing community in anyway we realistically can. It’s instinct to keep your eye on the prize ahead, but I also like to keep an eye and a hand out for those climbing behind.

So that’s about it. Truth is, you may have to learn these things firsthand for yourself. But at least if you read this, you know to be looking for those learning opportunities. And maybe you’ll catch on just a little faster than I did. Good luck!

 

Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

Cloud computing concept
Ahh, the rejection letter. The big “R”. That nasty little email we wait and wait for, only to drown in sorrows when it arrives. But is it really all that bad? Um, yeah, it is, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s 5 reasons why those R’s can be a force for good:

1) I’ve sent out thirty queries and all I have to show is an inbox full of form rejections. (And that doesn’t include all the “no response means no”)
Okay, yeah, this is the worst. You’ve spent months, maybe years, perfecting that novel. Then months (hopefully not years) perfecting that query. Not to mention the agents who want a synopsis. And of course, every agent has different requirements: No attachments – Everything in the body of the email – PDFs only – Word doc only – Synopsis – No synopsis – 1st 10 pages – 1st 3 chapters and on and on . . .

You’ve worked your butt off and all you get is a lousy form rejection. And it’s headed with Dear Author, or maybe they used a name, just not your name. It can feel like utter, abject failure. But you’re wrong. First, let’s look at that statement: You’ve worked your butt off. You have! You know more about how to write a query, what to avoid, what agents might be interested in your work than you did before you started. It may not be much conciliation at this point, but just think of the experience you gained. Most authors aren’t published on their first try, so failure at this point isn’t really failure. It’s just one step in a long journey, so don’t stop now! (Incidentally, 30 queries isn’t that many, so don’t stop at thirty!)

2) I’ve received several requests for partial or full submissions, but they’ve all come back with a form rejection. Yup, this one’s hard too! You’ve gotten your hopes up that maybe, just maybe, an agent or publisher is going to like your work, then bam! None for you! But yes, there’s a sliver lining here too. So said agent or publisher read your letter. Either they liked your query, or the writing sample, or both. Worst case (and you’ll never know) they weren’t very impressed by the writing or query, but thought the premise of your story was interesting enough to give it a try. Unfortunately you have no idea why they decided to reject, but you do have something. The query worked. Or maybe your writing sample was strong. The idea has promise. Maybe the agent didn’t connect with it (universal agent code for they don’t want to represent this story) but that’s okay. From what I gather, an agent has to really be in love with an MS to represent it. You may just have to go through a lot of query letters before you find the agent that does. So keep sending out those queries, because clearly something is working.

3) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission telling me what they didn’t like about the story. Well, honestly, this one isn’t too bad. Rejections suck in all forms, but knowing why an agent didn’t fall head-over-heels with your novel is fantastic. Why? Because you know what you can work on. Or, in one case for me, I knew that agent wasn’t right for me anyway, so I didn’t feel bad about the rejection. She thought the story was going to be more character driven by my query and writing sample, but was disappointed to find out it had a lot of action. Cool! I have no intention of changing my YA novel to remove the action, so no biggie. She wasn’t the right fit. Now, had she said I did too much telling instead of showing, or the middle was boring and bogged down, or my MC was too whiny and annoying, then I have concrete things to work on. Not that you have to take what an agent says to heart. He or she is only one opinion, but it does give you something to think about.

4) I received a personalized rejection for this novel based on the query and the writing sample, but the agent asked to see my other work. Um, so just to be clear, there’s nothing sad about this! The agent liked your writing. Let me repeat: THE AGENT LIKED YOUR WRITING! This is golden. Not only are they asking to see more of your work, when you have something ready to send, there’s a good chance they will remember you! Be sure to mention your previous work and that they said X, Y and Z about it. Now is not the time to be shy. Consider this your personal invitation, because you now have a leg up on the entire slush pile!

5) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission, but the agent invited me to submit my future work. Once again, no frowny faces here! So they aren’t interested in representing this novel, which stinks, but there are often reasons. One of my latest rejections on a full was because the Post-Apocalyptic market is flooded and she didn’t think she could sell it. But she had many wonderful things to say about the manuscript. Take those compliments, store them in your little heart of hearts, and get back to work! You have agents who want to see future work, so make that future work. And make it as good or better than the novel they rejected. To repeat, this is a personal invitation. And just as a little tip, I got in the habit of telling the agents what I was working on next when I sent them my submission (I’m talking requested material, not query.) This generated interest by several agents in my next project. I have agents eager to see my next novel, and it isn’t even written yet!

So that’s all I have. There are many kinds of rejections, and I’m sure I didn’t highlight them all, but this should give you a little boost in finding that silver lining. Rejections are hard, no denying it, but if you want to do better, get better and be better, you must learn from them. I haven’t completely given up on I Have No Name, but I’m happy to save it for later while I work on another project. And I have learned so much about how to navigate this business in the mean time that my energies are far from wasted!

What have you learned from rejections that has helped you (or is currently helping you) to be a better writer and make the next one stick?

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone!

Your Novel Is Not ready

So you finished that novel! All 129,000 words are shining and screaming for attention: Read me! Read me! Read me! But they’re not screaming at you. Oh no, they have much juicier prey to sink their many, many, many teeth into. So you hit up your husband, or your mom, or your sister, or that college friend who was an English major. But let me stop you right there . . .

First, there’s a good chance your novel isn’t ready to be seen by anyone. Believe it or not, you have some editing to do. Read through that monster, and take your time. Check for typos, delete unnecessary sentences, replace and/or delete filter words. You may need to cut scenes that aren’t advancing the plot or combine characters because you have too many, or any number of other tweaks and fixes to make that novel shine. And you’ll get far more out of your readers if you’ve ironed out some major kinks before you toss it in their lap like a basket of rocks.

And keep in mind, friends and relatives are not the best readers of your work. If you need a confidence boost, and don’t mind burdening your loved ones with that task, then go ahead. But don’t expect real constructive criticism. Even if they’re a reader. I have found not one of my family/friend readers have given me very useful feedback. Well, excepting that one doctor who helped with my medical scenes. And my Hubby who always asks important questions about the story. Otherwise, they serve to help me believe it isn’t total rubbish. That’s about it. (Even if it was total rubbish!)

My advice to you would be to read as many books on writing as you can find, Google articles and blog posts on revision and editing, check out my post on filter words—coming soon—and while you’re at it, my Pinterest board The Business of Writing is a plethora of articles and posts related to writing. There’s no shortage of info to help you be a better writer, so use it. It can’t hurt, and it will most likely help in a big way.

Newbie Post #10: Filters Are For Coffee, Not For Writing!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .
Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

One-Night Stand

I think we can all agree that we writers have a world. Critique groups, writing circles, online forums, blogging, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We are inundated with ways for our traditionally hermit-like tendencies to branch out into social sharing, learning, critiquing and commiserating the woes of being a writer.

When I first started searching the online forums, reading blog posts and generally dipping my toe (then diving head first!) into the world of writers, I came across a lot of new information. For one, there a lot of acronyms. It took me awhile to catch on to all of these, and I might do a quick post in the future, but I did eventually get them. I still only use a few, because I’m a write-it-out kind of gal, but it’s helpful to know what other people are talking about.

And the process of writing and getting published was a huge mystery. I learned from doing and from listening to others talk about their process, until now I think I have a pretty good handle on it (says the woman without an agent or book deal.) What really has me confused are two things: Writing Prompts and NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I know what both things are, but I just don’t understand their purpose. They seem pointless to me. And for those of you who may be wondering what NaNoWriMo is, it’s National Novel Writing Month, held every year from Nov. 1 through the 30th. Pretty much everyone in the writing world has heard of this. If you haven’t, no biggie, but you might want to get out more. 🙂

So why don’t you see the point?, you say, your hackles rising in irritation at my audacity. I love writing prompts and NaNo is my favorite time of year! I will tell you why, but let’s start with writing prompts.

I have notebooks full of ideas. I have ideas from my ideas. I have kernels of thought buried in my brain so small and inconsequential I haven’t written them down. What do I need writing prompts for? The exercise, you say. The act of taking an inspiration and turning it into a short story. Many a novel has been derived from a short story derived from a writing prompt. I’ll give you that. But if you have ideas that are inspiring you, why do you need more? And if you’re writing everyday like a good novelist should, why do you need the exercise?

This may sound like I’m being detrimental and mean, but really I’m not. I get they work for other people, but they are pointless for me. And there’s a tiny, persistent voice inside me that says they should be useless for you too. It’s small, easily shouted down, because what works for one writer doesn’t always work for the next. I allow that, but I feel if you are taking the time to write shorts based on writing prompts for the fun or the exercise, or you are doing writing exercises of another nature, you are wasting time you could be working on that novel. Writing itself is an exercise and if you are writing everyday with an end goal in mind (completed novel) then you don’t need the exercise of prompts. You’re already doing the work of improving by simply writing. And then there’s the editing phase. You learn more in that than you do the whole time your plowing away to reach The End, because now you’re networking out to others. Your betas will tell you what’s wrong and hopefully give you pointers on how to fix it. You yourself will read and see that first drafts are crap. Beautiful, shiny, wonderful crap, but crap nonetheless.

So this is where I’ll leave writing prompts. If they work for you, okay. But ask yourself if all the time you spend coming up with short stories you’ll never use would be better spent actually writing the novel you’ve been dreaming about for years. If the answer is no, then by all means, prompt-away. But if the answer is I don’t know, or maybe, or yes, then drop the prompts and get with that guy, er, novel that will stick with you through the test of time. Make a commitment. Don’t be scared! What’s the worst that could happen? You write 30k words then lose interest? Maybe, but that sounds a lot better to me than 30k split over ten stories that just sit on your blog or hard drive and never go anywhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends, and your writing career won’t be either. So treat it like a long term commitment, not a one-night stand. Quit being a writing whore!

And on to NaNoWriMo . . .

By now your blood is boiling at my insulting attitude, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me. I’ll be a little gentler on NaNo, though based on his popularity, I think he can take it. So, once again for anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo’s purpose is to write 50k words in one month. And I have actually heard of writers who have turned their NaNo-baby into a polished, published novel. I think Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a NaNo-baby. Hmm, I like that term, NaNo-baby. I think I’ll keep it. And like your NaNo project, you may want to keep it too. At least here I can see the purpose. NaNo teaches you discipline, gives you goals, shows you how to track progress and takes those constant-editors and turns them into word-churning machines.

But I’ve never actually worked that way. I have carved out blocks of time in my life for writing. Very little interrupts that. I get done what I can get done and that’s enough. Unfortunately, I am a constant editor, and this is an area where I could use some improvement, but the discipline required to complete 50k in a month has never seemed like an asset to me. I’m in it for the long haul, the career, the commitment. There’s no short cuts to success and serious writers don’t need gimmicks to get them to complete a novel. In case you didn’t hear the sarcasm in that last sentence, it was there. I fancied myself above such silly games. I didn’t need to be tricked into writing a novel, I’ve completed two, by golly!

But you know what, I’m beginning to rethink that. No, I don’t need NaNo to complete a novel. I really have written two full-length novels. I know I can do it, and I have no doubts about my abilities to complete decent fiction. I’m no Hemmingway, and neither do I aspire to be, but I’m pretty sure my YA is better written than half the crap produced these days. Of course the other half makes mine look like cow dung, but still, middle of the packs not bad. So what can NaNo do for me? Well, like I said, I’m a constant editor. If I really look at the amount of time I’m writing, (this includes networking, blogging, etc., not just writing) I have a part time job of 18-20 hours a week. Some weeks more if I can squeeze it in. But I could write faster. I could force myself not to go back and correct every mistake, or re-write something because it “sounds” bad. That’s what the editing stage is for.

Like I said, I don’t need NaNo, and I’ve never participated, not only because it seemed pointless, but because I was already in the throws of writing (or in the throws of life!) when NaNo came around. Right now, though, I’m querying agents. So really, how much time per day does that take up? I’ve been networking and blogging (a very little) and generally spreading myself thin over Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write and Pinterest. All of which has value, but I’m ready to start writing again. So why not? I have the second book to I HAVE NO NAME pretty much plotted in my head. It’s ready to go. I just have to pull the trigger, er, hit the keyboard. Why not turn it into a NaNo-baby? I’ve heard NaNo-babies have a face only a mother could love, but that’s okay. I’ll polish that precious bundle until she’s a shiny, sparkly manuscript.

And I have no illusions about winning NaNo. (You get to call yourself a winner if you complete the 50k, no matter how terrible they are!) Chances are good that life will prevent me from achieving that illustrious number, but it will kick start my writing. And for me, it’s more about teaching myself to push through and write than anything. Even if my NaNo-baby is a preemie at only 20 or 30k, I’ll have something to work with. So okay, I’ll give it a shot!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready To Be Seen By Anyone!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .

Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .

Shaking hands  people

I’m writing my Newbie Posts a little out of order. As I started writing this one, it turned into your-novel-is-not-ready-to-be-seen-by-anyone!, so I took a step back and realized I had another post to write. That will be Newbie Post #9, so look for it in the future. 🙂 But today I’m going to talk about why Beta readers are so important, but not always so important.

You’re at the point you’ve edited your novel several times (*not everyone agrees on how many edits a novel takes. I’m from the 20+ school, while Stephen King says only a couple, but we are not Stephen King, so edit heavily!) and you’ve let your husband, mom or best friend take a peek. They rave about how wonderful it is. How proud they are of you. What an accomplishment you’ve achieved! But before you send that bad boy off to an agent with a hastily slapped together letter stating your mom thinks it’s the next best seller, take a step back. Mom and Hubby are not the best judges of your work, unless of course your mom is, oh, I don’t know, J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood. If not, you may need some beta readers.

But how do I find a beta reader? I don’t know any writers. I live in a small town and there aren’t any writing groups! Just hold on a second and realize we live in the digital age. You have beta readers right at your fingertips. You just have to find them. I found mine through Absolute Write. I’ve talked about this website many, many, many times, and I will continue to do so. Without them, I’d be no where. If you’re writing in the black hole of loneliness, then you need to get out there and connect. You’re reading my blog, so that’s a good step, but find a critique group, forum or even just a couple other writers to form a circle of critiquing partners. Here is a short list of places to to start with, but really, I just used Google, so you can find some too:

Absolute Write: Beta readers, Mentors and Writing Buddies
Goodreads: Beta Reader Group
Tumblr: Find Your Beta Reader
World Literary Cafe: Beta Readers and Critique Groups

Seriously, it’s not hard. Just step out of your shell, place your fingers on the keyboard, annnnnnd reach out! Get connected. When I started on Absolute Write, I spent most of my time chatting in the newbie forums just to get to know people, and lurking among the forums geared towards my writing, too afraid to comment for fear I’d look like an idiot. That’s okay. You learn. That’s what forums are all about.

I’m digressing. Maybe you’re already on a forum, and this isn’t about how important it is to network (but it is important!) This is about how reaching out to another writer and sending your precious literary baby through the internet to reside in someone else’s computer is downright terrifying! What if they steal it?! What if they publish it?! I’m not going to lie, it could happen. There are copyright laws which I am not very knowledgeable about, so don’t get that info here. And I’ve heard the Poorman’s Copyright is a bit of a myth. A writing friend of mine had all her work copyrighted, and advised me to do so as well. Admittedly, I have not. No good reason, just haven’t done it. Still, the risk is minimal. I have never had a beta steal my work, that I know of. And at least on AW, there’s a thread on betas to watch out for because of bad experiences. I’d say 99% of writers on AW have had a positive experience with the betas they have worked with through that site.

And just to be clear, most betas want something in return. You read my novel, I’ll read yours. Honestly, this is the fun part. Unless of course the novel is simply so bad it’s no fun to even edit. But I’ve only had one of those and broke off the relationship. Which is another point: make sure that novel is really ready to be seen. A beta will not appreciate correcting your repetitive grammar and punctuation mistakes or reminding you not to write like a valley girl (Like, he went to the store, and totally bought that milk!) You will get more out of your beta if they can concentrate on writing style, plot holes, character development and other important aspects of your story. And you need more than one. I had six betas for my last WIP. I’m currently still working with two of them, because we wanted to develop writing relationships beyond just the beta exchange, and I’m so glad I did. Having a trusted circle of writing friends is invaluable and I hope I not only develop more relationships, but strengthen the ones I have.

Before you exchange your novels, set some ground rules or at least get an understanding of what you want. Exchange a chapter to see if you both want to work with each other. Let them know, and ask them what they want out of the critique. And be sure to let each other know how you expect to be treated. Some people like to be handled with kid gloves, others like the rough treatment. Me, I like professionalism, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather they were rough. Hand-holding and head-patting gets you no where. Kick me in the ass or don’t waste my time. Only tell me you love it if you really do!

Great. You’ve exchanged novels, critiqued, and exchanged again. Now what? Your heart is palpitating wildly, you feel like you’re going to be sick, and you’d rather face Freddy Krueger right now than open that document. But like the scantily clad girls in horror movies who are going to go through that door no matter how many times you shout at the screen not to, you’re going to click OPEN on your computer. And there it is, in black and white, or red, or whatever color they edit in. The page looks like Freddy Krueger got to it first. Just breathe. It’s going to be okay. Read. And keep reading, until you reach the end. Now that you feel like crap, open the next one, because you got more than one right?

At this point you may feel like crawling back into that black hole of writing loneliness, but don’t. Let those edits sit and stew for a few days. And no matter what you do, or what was said, DON”T reply to the critiquer in a negative way. Don’t do it! What you may take as a personal attack or over the line was meant only as a way to help you improve. Critiques are very rarely personally motivated. Chuck those hurt feelings in the bin and move on. Writers don’t get to have feelings except the ones they pour on the page.

Okay, so you’ve simmered and thought about what was said and you’re feeling less homicidal and misunderstood. Time to move on. And it’s time to go back and look at those critiques again. This time with a cool, professional eye. If more than one beta is saying the same thing, LISTEN! Chances are good they are right. If even one beta is telling you to fix something that you have doubts about, there’s a good chance this is correct as well, but here’s where it gets tricky. My best piece of advice is to go with your gut. It sucks, I know. I hate it when people tell me this, but it’s true. This is your story, and no one knows you’re story better than you. This is not a license to freely ignore every piece of writing advice you don’t want to hear. Sometimes we need to hear that our characters are flat, or there’s a gaping plot hole, or the drama of a scene isn’t coming through. We also need to hear that we use certain words too much, or our voice sounds stodgy or we need to show more and tell less. It’s hard, but listen and try to see where they are coming from. Look at your writing and critically asses whether they have a point or are clearly off their rocker. I’m going to tell you that 99% of the time, the beta has a point. But that doesn’t mean you have to change anything.

The other side of the coin is looking at where the beta is coming from. If they are telling you to show more/tell less, but their MS is dripping in purple prose, they may just have a different writing style than you. But if the show/tell beta has a decent amount of both in their novel, they might know what they’re talking about. If they say your love scenes are too prim and proper, but theirs borders on erotica, once again, take it with a grain of salt. And if ANYONE is telling you to make a major change in your novel, think that through before you change or disregard completely. Do not make a substantial change to your novel that doesn’t feel right to you just because a beta, or even several betas say you should. This is your novel. If you aren’t happy with the end product, then it was a wasted effort.

Personally, I’ve had great experiences with betas. Even when I ranted and raved to my husband how this person or that was a complete idiot, they didn’t get me, they were complete morons, I would later come back to the critique and often find merit in what was said. Criticism, even constructive criticism, can be tough to take, but you can also get some pretty amazing benefits too. New writers learn from others how to improve, not only from the critique they receive, but from the ones they give. More experienced writers will still learn. Writers never stop learning, but they also give back something that they most likely received when they were starting out.

And just one little side note on the benefits of beta readers, especially those you develop great relationships with. I had a beta make a suggestion about cutting/combining characters and adding a sub-plot twist. At first, I disregarded the notion, because this was my book and no one was going to tell me how to change it! But that little seed she planted grew and grew, until I couldn’t wait to get back to the computer and make a major change. From that tiny comment and suggestion, a new character was born. One I loved writing and I think I might even make a novella of him someday, because I HAVE NO NAME was unable to delve too deeply into his life, but there’s so much more to tell. The point is, write the story that’s inside you, but be open to others stepping into that world. After all, that’s what you’re writing it for, right?

* I just wanted to be clear on the editing note above. I edit my novels 20+ times to finish, not just to find a beta. 3-6 is probably a good number before a beta, though everyone is different. If you are experienced and confident of your writing abilities, then edit the number of times you see fit, just remember you’ll get more out of a beta if the mechanics are down pat first.

Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts are One-Night Stands!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you win; Sometimes you LEARN!

Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you win; Sometimes you LEARN!

Hubby has this book. I’m pretty sure it was “required” reading from his boss. It’s called Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you Learn by John C. Maxwell. I have not read this book. And neither do I plan to. Just not my cup of tea. And I’m not sure Hubby has read all of it either. It is, in fact, his cup of tea. He loves books that talk about better ways to live and think and look at the world. He loves to let them pile up and collect dust on the bedside table. 🙂 I’m giving him a hard time, though it’s 75% true. He does read, but he works full time and comes home to a frazzled wife who just wants him to take over baby-duty. Plus he puts the three smallest boys to bed, so by the time that’s complete, he doesn’t have much time (or energy!) to read.

But I digress. I’m not going to talk about this book, just the title. Because it fits in very nicely with my next post. I didn’t publish my first novel. Most writers don’t publish their first novel. When you hear, “So-and-so’s debut novel does this-and-that,” usually that debut novel was not the first they wrote. Sure, for some of them it is, but the reality of novel writing is stacks and stacks of unused material that takes up space on our hard drive or in our filing cabinets, but never sees more than a few beta readers. It can be heartbreaking, allowing that beautiful story to molder in the recesses of whatever filing system we use, but it is a necessary thing. And it is not a failure!

I recently read On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. A book review will come later! But the one thing that stuck out at me was how many times Stephen King failed. By failure, I’m referring to rejection letters. Granted, he knew he wanted to be a writer from a very young age. He was sending in short stories at around 11 or 12. And receiving letters of refusal. He was good enough they didn’t just chuck it in the trash and laugh at some kid who dared to send in a story. In fact, he started to keep those letters on a nail in the wall as proof that he was trying! Eventually, he switched to a stake in the wall, the letters piled up so thick.

And he didn’t necessarily view them as failure. He saw the progress. First, the letters were form rejections, nothing personal. But after a time he started receiving advice along with the refusal. I’m too lazy to go look up the examples he listed in the book, but they were words of encouragement, advice for how to improve, requests for a different kind of story. Progress! Not failure. And he did the only thing he could do from them: Learn.

When I trunked my MG novel, it was devastating. It felt like I had wasted years of research, networking, writing, imagining and learning, and for what? That book as it stands will never be published. I could have been writing something else. I could be published by now. I could be living my dream, right?

Wrong! If I hand’t spent several years honing my craft on that novel, I’d have been doing it on another. And the novel I just completed wouldn’t be as good as it is (that statement is subjective. 🙂 ) I had to learn somehow. It’s just like my first marriage and my second. Now, I’m not condoning a trial-marriage. No sir! Try to make that first one stick. But in my case, we didn’t treat each other very well. It took that failure for me to know how to treat a spouse better and also what is acceptable in the treatment of myself. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t gone through so many years of unhappiness. There are better ways to learn, yes, but I don’t regret my life. I learn from it. Because if I’m not growing through my mistakes, then what’s the point of living?

And what’s the point of writing? My second novel, writing-gods* willing, will be published. Whether it is and I start work on a sequel, or it isn’t and I find something else to write, the next project will be even better. It will take less time, be written better, and continue to improve my skills every time I sit down at the keyboard. That’s what your writing career is about. The hard work of progress and improvement littered with a trail of unused material and rejection letters. If you’re expecting that fairy tale career where your debut is published to rave reviews, you’re in the wrong business. It may happen, but it’s rare, and that’s why they call them fairy tales!

What failures have you experienced and what did you learn from them? Would you take them back if you could or was the lesson too valuable?

*My sister would call this writing-Jesus. She’s a reporter, and news-Jesus helps her out with good stories every now and then, but I wasn’t sure how it would sound in context so I went with a more neutral noun!

Newbie Post #7: Where I talk about Beta Readers and why they rock! Most of the time . . .

Newbie Post #1
Newbie Post #2
Newbie Post #3
Newbie Post #4
Newbie Post #5

Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!

Elsa-Frozen-Disney-Wallpaper

I apologize for the title, but I couldn’t resist. It was so perfect!

So there I was, my 130,000 word MG novel at its first draft. Yes, 130,000 word MG novel. Then came the editing stage, something that was completely new to me. I knew my word count was high, but hey, J.K Rowling did it, right?

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Another lesson learned. J.K. Rowling can do whatever she wants because she’s J.K. Rowling. I had no concept of cutting scenes, finding the most important to keep, not padding my world building with a lot of unnecessary material, reducing number of characters, etc., etc.

I asked some poor, abused family members to read. One still has my printed manuscript in binders. That was six years ago. I’m hoping they’ve disposed of it by now. Anyway, my sister thought it was good. Of course she did. She’s my sister.

Girl Asleep On Her Notebook Computer

Onward and upward to finding beta readers. They thought the writing was good, though they had a lot of ideas for cutting and condensing. More work. Great! I love writing and I’m happy to edit. This was fantastic.

open blank book and puzzles concept

And so it went for a good year. Cutting. Editing. Obsessing over what to cut and what to edit. More editing. More thinking. Every spare minute dedicated to a manuscript and characters that I loved. I had a whole series planned and some were destined for death while others for a somewhat happy ending. The groundwork was laid for an in depth MG series.

There was just one problem. Okay, there was more than one problem. The writing was decent (I think), the story was intriguing, my characters were well developed, but it was still way too long and it smacked of Harry Potter. You just can’t write another book in that vein anymore. The chances of getting published are minuscule, but the chances of getting sued are through the roof. Not to mention the fan base would tear you apart for even attempting such a lofty goal. No, it wasn’t fan fic, but only someone who’d been living under a rock for the past twenty years wouldn’t notice the correlations.

I knew all the problems that existed with my novel and the unlikely chance it would get published. The belief that I was a writer, and that was my career (despite the absent paycheck) had taken hold and I knew I had to make the decision that was best for my career. It was time to let it go. Trunk it. Maybe some day I’d come back when I could divorce myself from writing the next HP and just take my characters on the journey they were meant to take. We’ll see.

And I had this idea, about a girl who lived alone for two years after a plague wiped out mankind, or so she thought. The story wouldn’t let go, and I was filling notebooks with research and plotting and character development.

1593-business

Somewhere along the way I found out I was pregnant with twins. Morning sickness took over and then my babies were born almost three months early. We spent months in the hospital, followed by the life changing experience of bringing home preemie twins. I didn’t write much for almost a year and half, but I had I Have No Name planned in detail in my head and in notebooks. I just had to start writing.

Writing isn’t just about the fame or the money (however small they may be) or even getting published, but to take the purist attitude that I am only an artist, I will write what I want despite the market and I will pay no attention to such mundane things as the business side of writing is tantamount to career suicide. I will state it loud and clear. My goal is to be published, have a decent following and make enough money that I can justify it as a career and continue writing. Anything less is failure in my book.

I understand I may not reach my goal, but I will do whatever I am capable of to achieve it just the same. Even if it means giving up on a novel that will never be published. There may come a time I say that about my current WIP, and I already have several ideas vying for the right to come alive. That is the business of writing, and though it was very painful to let that MS go, it was the right thing to do. You can’t hang your career on one manuscript. Or even two. Some authors publish their first efforts, but most do not and I will not let my first “failure” inhibit me from moving on.

Newbie Post #6: Where we discuss why not publishing your first MS is not failure!

Newbie Post #1
Newbie Post #2
Newbie Post #3
Newbie Post #4