oh, the horror!! the absolutely most cringe inducing moment in an aspiring writer’s journey…. and you thought the hard part was over now that you had a finished manuscript.
perhaps not everybody has this dilemma. in fact, it’s one that i would hope other writers don’t have, considering what we’ve chosen to do. yet, as much as it may not make sense, this is a serious obstacle for me! but i and others who hope to publish really just have to suck it up because once you’ve finally worked your mind and fingers numb, and probably more than once or twice, it’s that time.
let others read it.
ouch, even writing that made me wince.
in college, i took a few peer review courses for creative writing and one for essays. they were, simultaneously, my favorite and most hated classes. for those who are unfamiliar with how these classes work, let me illuminate. you write a story or an essay on, then you email it to everyone in the class by a certain deadline. by class time, everyone should have read it and made notes, printed it out, and brought it to the round table in class. then, for an excruciatingly slow thirty minutes or so, they go around the table and tell you what they thought, what was wrong, what was right, if they liked it or hated it, and whatever else. and as they hurl their opinions at you, you can do nothing to defend yourself. you just sit there with this i-am-trying-to-be-stoic-but-really-look-sick expressions on your face while they take that piece of you and tear it to pieces…and that’s just for the stories they actually liked. then they give you their copies of the story that they’ve got all marked up with their violent red ink so that you have this collection of carnage to look through for the rest of your life, in case you start to feel good about yourself. the first few times, I actually cried…and they didn’t hate the stuff i wrote.
that being said, it accomplished its goal. i really did become a better writer, and i got better at critiquing work for others, learning how to express a criticism in a constructive way to make it less personal (as much as criticism of that sort of thing can be impersonal), and how to give effective suggestions to help improve. i learned, as one of those critiquing, that the more you can find to use that red pen on, the better off that writer will be. this, of course, helped me to understand that all that bleeding ink on my own stuff was important and not to be hated. it didn’t keep me from hating it, but it also kept me from running from the room in tears each time.
on a similar note, critique partners…get one! at least one. beta readers…get several! why both? you want the perspective of a fellow writer for the technical suggestions, for pointing out areas that need better wording, to make you dig deeper and help you pull out the best of what you can do. these are the people at the round table. they need to be ruthless and heavy on the red ink. this is the only way to help you give a better product. this must be someone who’s writing you respect. not necessarily from the same genre, but someone who you can admire for their style. otherwise, you probably won’t take their critique seriously. i found a few partners, only one of which actually writes the same genre i do. but it works. they find things in my manuscript that i need to improve and help me get it all whipped into shape.
beta readers would be next. these are the writing professionals, these are the sample audience. their opinions are vitally important. these are the people that are going to tell you if you are going to be successful when you publish. writing for a living doesn’t do you much good if people aren’t going to want to read it, right? find some people to read your manuscript. these should be people who already read that same genre, and preferably people that don’t know you well, or at all. you can find people online in all kinds of places. i have found a few on facebook who follow one of the same authors i do. more i found through friends. there are sites you can visit, as well, and i’ve seen people on twitter ask for people willing to beta a manuscript. be careful, though. you want to protect your document before sending it out to anyone. also, give them something to do other than give you a “like” or “hate” opinion. i make out a questionnaire specific to areas that i am most concerned with as well as an overall critique. here is the one i sent with missing:
Beta Reader II Questionnaire
- Please rate the main character, Rowan:
- Is she relatable? Likable? Sympathetic?
- Her growth throughout the story – is it believable? Not enough? Too much change?
- Is she consistently portrayed?
- Can you picture her while reading?
- Please rate Harrison:
- Is he relatable? Likable? Sympathetic?
- Is he consistently portrayed?
- Can you picture him?
- Rowan/Harrison: Do you like them together? How do you feel about the progression of their relationship?
- Rowan/Faith: Do you like the dynamics in their friendship?
- Faith/Mark: Do you like them together? How do you feel about the progression of their relationship?
- Rowan/David: Is the rivalry set up well?
- Harrison/David: Is it appropriately portrayed? Can you feel the frustration and anger from Harrison?
- Rowan/Lexie: Was their friendship believable? Was Lexie’s influence on Rowan’s life both then and now established and understandable?
- Are there parts that do not work for you? Be specific in your reasons.
- Are there parts that work really well? Be specific in your reasons.
- Did you find any loose ends or feel parts were unsatisfactorily unresolved?
- Was it easy to follow? Too easy? Too difficult?
- Did it hold your attention? Were there parts that lagged too much? Parts that you wished for more detail?
- Dialogue: Was it natural and flowing? Did it properly convey feeling and personality and relationship dynamics?
make sure you thank everyone who reads your manuscript, regardless of their opinions!! remember, it is a huge help to you. after they are finished and you’ve gotten their comments, it’s time to hit that writing cave again and being the next phase: editing.
this one is another one of those so-not-fun parts of writing. now that you’ve finished the manuscript, you have to redo it!! it can be tedious and annoying, it can be so frustrating, and it can take almost as much time as it did to write the freaking thing. if there are major edits needed, you might be tempted to toss in the towel…or the paper, as it were. and it is possible that no one liked it. while this may all be hard to accept, remember the reason you’ve used these partners and betas. if they are all complaining about something in your story that you really think works…well, maybe it’s not working. obviously, it is your story, your sweat and blood and tears, so no one can make you change it, but consider each report with the respect it deserves. then you take what you feel is needed and make it work for you. not everything is going to work for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. i had one beta tell me that i needed to change the name for one of my characters. i disregarded this because it did not improve my story. i had one who wanted me to add sex. again, in this story, it didn’t make sense. another wanted more time for the romance to progress before the end. while i agree that romance novels, in general, tend to write the relationships as going light speed, i had to reason that there are reasons for that.
on the other hand, several suggested some rather major things that i did change (and did so with gritted teeth and many hours in the dark with nothing but my laptop, pepsi, and a scowl), and it really did help. change is not always bad, writers!
the key to this is to remember your goal. then remember the steps it takes to get there. go onto amazon and read the reviews of some books that have low ratings. i do that and wince. so many criticize the writer for poor editing, plot holes, and more that could have been prevented had they gotten and used the help suggested in this post. i’m not going to lie, like other creative types, writers can be rather arrogant about their writing. i am no different, though i do try to temper it these days. it’s hard to accept that my first draft is just not good enough to publish. but how much harder on the ego would it be to publish something that’s just not good enough yet? i prefer to get the feedback before people can leave a review on amazon.
anyway, as always, just keep plugging away. happy writing!