Just Write It

Yesterday, my amazing CP, Alison, wrote an equally amazing guest post for YAHighway. It got me thinking about my own writing process.

A couple weeks ago, I finally finished the manuscript I’ve been working on since June. Right before Christmas, I posted on Absolute Write looking for a couple beta readers. I told them I’d just finished my first draft and needed fresh eyes before submitting to my agent. I had some great people offer to read, and they all told me the same thing. When they saw the words “first draft,” they got really nervous, until they started reading and realized it read like a later draft.

“Well,” I said, “I guess technically it’s not a first draft when I think about it, but in a way it is.” Which, I realize, makes no sense. Around this time my agent tweeted that she’s convinced everyone’s first drafts are complete crap. Everyone.

This all got me thinking: what is a first draft?

See, I consider my first draft to be the first one I complete. When I type those last few words and lift my fingers from the keyboard, I have finished my first draft. But I don’t think it’s crap, necessarily (depends on the day, haha), because I’ve already worked it to death by the time I finish. Technically, I suppose, it could be thought of as a second draft, or even third–but that feels weird to me, since it’s the first time I’ve finished. See how I talk it in circles? It’s kind of confusing, so let’s back up.

Google “writing advice.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. One of the first links you’ll get is a post called 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors. I linked it for you in case you didn’t Google it. The very first tip comes from Ernest Hemingway. It says basically the same thing my agent tweeted. If you keep going through the links, though, or talk to the majority of writers, or read writing blogs or websites, you’ll inevitably see these words over and over again: “Don’t self-edit. Just write the first draft, then go back and edit later. Keep that momentum going.” Pretty much everyone hands out this little piece of advice like Halloween candy.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Don’t close the page just yet, hear me out.

Ever read Query Shark? Janet Reid gives excellent advice for writing queries. One thing she constantly harps on is following the rules. No rhetorical questions, no gimmicks, no first person, start with the plot, etc, etc. However, she says once you have a good grasp of the rules, they can be broken. The famous example of this is the wonderful Josin McQuein’s query. It breaks all the rules, but is so darn captivating it doesn’t matter. (The book, by the way, is also excellent. Go pick up a copy. Get Arclight while you’re at it. You’ll thank me for the cover alone. All the pretty!). Man, I’m all about some links today!

Janet’s query advice should extend to all writing. When you’re just starting, yes, follow the rules. If you’re having trouble getting motivated to write, by all means just get words on the page. Get the first draft down, however crappy and messy and convoluted it may be, and fix it later. I started this way. I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

But it didn’t work for me. By the time I finished, I had SO MANY WORDS! Plots that started and dropped off. Threads that twisted into a tangled mass. Characters that weren’t consistent. Revising was such a headache. I would look at the draft and think “I can never do this. It’s too much.” You know what? I was right. I got overwhelmed by the amount of work the first draft would need. It was like finding some pretty necklaces at a yard sale, but they’re all in a box together and the chains are intertwined. You try to tease out the couple you like, but everything is so tightly knotted you just throw the whole mess down and say screw it.

Then I found my CP. We started working together by exchanging a few chapters at a time, initially of a finished draft, and then of a WIP. I’d write a few, then she’d email and ask how the writing was going. So I’d send her the pages, she’d send feedback, and I couldn’t not go through her comments when I got them. (How do you like that little double negative? Here’s another). Then I couldn’t not incorporate changes and fix problems she’d noticed. Next thing I knew, I had a finished first draft that read more like a second. I self-edited. And I didn’t die. (By the way, I totally have this scene from Mean Girls in my head. Except insert “self-edit” for “sex,” and “write terribly” for “pregnant.”) My writing didn’t suffer. In fact, I think it got better.

My most recent WIP went through lots of changes I as wrote. I ended up plotting more than I ever have, even though I didn’t marry my outline or anything.The initial words that went on the page: yeah, they were crap, but I fixed them as I went.  I rewrote the beginning and moved chapters around. It went slower than any other ms I’ve written, which frustrated me. I’ve always thought of myself as a quick writer. When I think about it, though, it really took the same amount of time. Before, I wrote the first draft in three months, and revised for three. This time around it took six to get through the “first draft,” but it wasn’t the sloppy, just-get-words-on-the-page kind of draft I used to turn out. It was polished, edited, neat. Reading back through and revising was a breeze.

So, self-edit, or don’t self-edit. Revise chapter by chapter, or revise all at once. Follow the rules, or break the rules. It doesn’t matter. Just write it. Everyone is different, and everyone works in their own way. There is no one size fits all writing advice. Find what works best for you and do it.

I’ve heard a few writers refer to their first drafts as “draft zero.” Personally, I’m not sure what to call mine. First draft? Second? Fred? Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter (although I’m partial to Fred). As long as the ms you finally query, or submit to your agent, or whatever, is polished, who cares what you call it? Forget rules and advice and labels and everything. Clear your mind of all but the story, and write.

Stuck in Writing Traffic

Why is it that when you’re stuck in traffic, your lane is always the slowest one? The cars beside you start moving, so you squeeze in, then everyone stops and the lane you just left starts moving. It never fails. At least for me. There must be some lucky few who always wind up in the lane that moves. (If you’re reading this, let me know you’re secrets! I promise I won’t tell). I’m not the lucky sort, though. I’m forever trapped in the slow lane.

That’s how I’ve felt with my WIP lately. I have been desperately trying to finish for a while now. It usually takes me three months to get through a draft. This one has taken six. Granted, I’ve had to do a lot of research for it, and that’s not something I’m accustomed to, so it bogged me down, but over the last few weeks it’s seemed that every time I get a chance to write, something stands in my way. I switch lanes, thinking I’ll definitely get going now, and boom! More traffic.

Let me tell you about roadblocks I’ve experienced, just in the past week.

Hubby had to travel for work last week. He left Sunday and was due back Wednesday. While I hate when he travels (I’m a huge scaredy cat. Every noise is an intruder, or rapist, or zombie. I feel like I’m nine again, turning off the bedroom light and leaping into bed so the monsters don’t get me. Yes, that seems old to still believe in mosters, but I’ve always had a very active imagination). This trip, though, equalled three days of uninterrupted writing time. I had a plan, a rough outline of what I needed to write. Two chapters a day would get me across the finish line.

I dropped Hubby off at the airport and spend the remainder of Sunday at Starbucks. I started off well-enough, got on a bit of a roll. As the afternoon wore on, more and more people packed in, loud people, and I don’t work so well when it’s loud. Unfortunately, I don’t work well at home either, between the dog barking for my attention, the cats walking across my laptop or jumping on my shoulders, the dog chasing the cats, FedEx/UPS delivering packages, you get the picture. At least at Starbucks I got caffeine.

I also got one chapter written. One.

Okay, so I was off to a slow start. I thought it was a good chapter, at least. That just meant I had to get three chapters in on one of the other days. No problem. I went to work Monday, full of plans for a quick dinner, then hours of writing at my favorite–and quiet–indie coffee shop.

Guess who got a stomach virus (the puking kind)? Oh yeah. Not a twenty-four hour deal either. That bad boy hung around for a week. All my writing time, literally, went down the toilet. (You’re welcome for the image).

I got better toward the end of the week, but then Hubby was home and we had Christmas shopping to do, and parties to attend, and one thing after another. I told Hubby that no matter what, Sunday was my day. Just me and my manuscript.

I spent the whole afternoon at Starbucks. This time, I got two chapters written, everything clicked all at once. The other chapters I’d planned–not needed. The story came together in a way I hadn’t expected. It was wonderful. I could’ve written for hours, hours!

Except I couldn’t. I had a Christmas party for the youth at church to attend that evening. So I stopped, a mere two short chapters from finishing the draft. “Monday,” I said. “I am finishing this Monday, and no one and nothing will stop me!”

Last night, I sped through dinner, rushed Hubby out the door, and took off for the indie coffee shop I love so much. Guess who forgot her laptop at home? Back to the house, raced in, grabbed my computer, darted back out, finally got to the coffee shop.

Like Starbucks the week before, the place was packed. More people than I’ve ever seen there. No matter, I was on a roll. Just had to send the first few chapters to a beta reader, a few tweaks to the last chapter, then dive into the new one, and holy crap it was 8:00! The coffee shop closes at 9:00 on Mondays.

Go, go, go! Write, write, write!

Almost through the chapter.

Then all those people stood up. They took out books. They started to sing.

Yes. Sing.

Carolers. In my quiet, little coffee shop. Emphasis on little. The place isn’t very big. It’s cozy. At least it was, until the full, professional level choir took up half the space. Then it went from cozy to cramped.

Normally, I love carolers. I love Christmas music. But in a coffee shop? Maybe it’s just me, but most people I see at a coffee shop are there to do something quiet. Read, write, do homework, study, a few low conversations, open mic nights on some nights–but those are usually posted ahead of time so you know what you’re walking into, and there has never been one at my coffee shop. In my experience, most people don’t go to coffee shops to hear caroling. Loud, intrusive caroling.

I felt like the Grinch. All the noise, noise, NOISE!

And then, they’ll do something I hate most of all. Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, will stand close together… with Christmas bells ringing. They’ll stand hand in hand… and those Whos… will start singing!

I couldn’t think. It bounced off the walls and rattled around in my brain, stirring up the words that had been right there all day, waiting to hit the page.

Why?!?! I had one more chapter to finish the ms. ONE MORE. I felt extremely rude as I shoved ear buds in my ears to block the cheerful singing, but I didn’t care. It helped. The words sorted themselves out. Started to flow, started to–

It was 9:00. Closing time. I was literally sentences from finishing. The words were on the tip of my tongue, soooo close to the page.

I threw my stuff in a bag, dragged Hubby out, and raced home again. It would have to be there. Hubby would have to keep the animals contained, regardless of how bad they wanted my attention. I spread out on the kitchen island, and wrote, and finished.

Finally, traffic thinned enough for me to skate through. I might’ve done it by the skin of my teeth, but I made it. I finished. I FINISHED! I reveled for about an hour, until it was time for bed. The draft is now with betas and I am on to the next step, editing.

There may be more roadblocks ahead, but I’m through the worst of it. I’m back on the highway and heading up to cruising speed, and nothing is going to stand in my way of polishing this ms.

What about you? Ever been stuck in writing traffic? How do you deal with it?

Beta Relationships

Beta Readers. They are such an important part of a writer’s toolbox. Another writer who reads your work, gives you an honest opinion, makes your writing better, and does it for free? Sign me up! I’ve talked about the importance of a good beta reader here, but what exactly does it look like when you have/are a beta reader? If you’ve never done it before, it can be intimidating and scary, so I want to give some of my experiences and some tips about beta reading.

As I mentioned in the post I linked, I’ve met pretty much all my betas through Absolute Write. I’ve formed relationships with other writers through the forums, writing contests, and Twitter. I know their writing and reading styles, and I trust their opinions. Some of these relationships have organically flowed into sharing work, and now they’re my initial go-to people when I need another set of eyes. These writers are more than just betas, though, they’re friends, and as wonderful as they are, sometimes I need untainted eyes on my manuscript. By that, I mean people who aren’t worried about hurting my feelings, which can happen with friends, as well as people who don’t know anything about my story–people who can look at it completely fresh.

That’s when I turn to the Beta Readers thread on AW. There are other great sites, like Agent Query Connect; AW is just the place I, personally, spend the most time. I post my query, what I’m looking for in a beta reader, that I’m willing to repay the favor and swap work, and the genres I like to read. (Here’s a hint: people are more willing to read your work if you’re willing to take the time on theirs). Willing readers respond either in-thread or through private message. They’ll describe their manuscript and if I think we’ll be a good fit, I’ll suggest we work together. If not, I’ll thank them for their interest, and move on.

There’s an important key here that I don’t want you to miss. I don’t beta with writers in genres I don’t typically read, and I don’t use betas who don’t typically read my genre. Don’t think I’m being mean, or snobbish or anything. It takes a lot of time, from both parties, to beta, so it’s super important to get a reader who is familiar with the genre you write. Different genres have different tropes and cliches, different types of plot and pacing, and readers expect different things. For example, I don’t read much epic fantasy, so I wouldn’t know the first thing about critiquing it. I wouldn’t know if a particular plot device is overused or cliche, or if the pace should move faster or slower. I wouldn’t benefit that writer by reading their manuscript, and I don’t want to waste my time or theirs, you dig?

Okay, so I’ve found a willing beta, we read each others’ genres, and we like each others’ story concepts, what now? We exchange email addresses and agree to swap the first two or three chapters–that’s enough to get a feel for the other person’s story and their critiquing style. Beta reading is a relationship, regardless of how brief it may be. You’re going to be with this person through thousands of words, the relationship will work better if your critique styles mesh. If you write sparse descriptions, you’re not going to benefit from a beta who constantly comments that descriptions should be more detailed. Personally, the type of critique I look for depends on where I am in my process. After my first draft, I’m usually looking for overall thoughts: Does the plot work? Are there any holes? Are the characters consistent? By the third, I want that baby to shine, so I need more nit-picky critiques: Are there glaring typos I’ve missed? Are there continuity issues that got messed up between drafts? When I’m reading for someone, I want to make sure I’m giving the level of critique they need, as well as receiving the sort of critique I need. If either of you aren’t getting what you need, you should find a different beta.

As I’m writing this I keep thinking, “man, this sounds kind of selfish.” Here’s the thing: it is selfish, but that’s okay. I have a really hard time putting myself first, so this has been a tough lesson to learn. My tendency when I first started beta reading was to dig in and stay there throughout the whole manuscript, regardless of writing caliber, trying to make it shine as much as possible. “We’re helping each other,” I would think. But then a couple things would happen. I’d either get my ms back from my reader, and it wouldn’t have near the level of critique I gave, or I’d send them their ms back and they’d be angry with how in-depth I went. The more serious I got about writing, and the more I beta read, the more I realized that I didn’t have time to spend weeks going line by line through someone else’s manuscript, and write my own stuff too. I was more invested in their writing than my own, and that’s not a place you want to be. It’s one thing for writers to help each other, but it has to be balanced. Like with any relationship, if one person is putting in an unbalanced amount of time and effort, it’s not good for either of you. (I also learned that not only can I not “fix”* everything, but I shouldn’t try, just like they shouldn’t try to “fix” mine. Instead of re-wording another writer’s work, it’s better to leave a comment of “hey, this sentence feels off, what if you tried something like ‘blah blah blah?'” and let them put it in their own words). You and your beta need to be on the same page when it comes to your critique style. If you’re not, sometimes the best thing you can do, for both of you, is to let them know the relationship isn’t working and move on.

If everything gels for those first few chapters, the beta and I will swap full manuscripts. How it goes from here depends on the reader. Some people I’ve worked with like to critique a few chapters, then email them and read a few more. Others prefer to read the entire thing at once and send it back when they’re done. Be sure to ask how they like to work. Sending your entire manuscript to a stranger is scary. Knowing when to expect it back in your inbox can make the process a bit easier. You also want to be sure and tell them how you like to critique; just because they like to send a few chapters at a time doesn’t mean you have to. Make sure they know that, though.

You read, you critique, and you send it back. You receive their comments back, and hopefully, their critique is helpful and you make your manuscript better. As I mentioned before, one beta reader and I worked so well together, we decided to keep it up and became critique partners. Most of my betas, though, have simply gone about their lives. We had a moment, we helped each other, we’ll be thrilled if the manuscript lands an agent or a publishing deal, and that’s the extent of it. But what happens if it’s not all rainbows and kittens? You liked those first couple chapters, you liked their critique of yours, but you get in and the plot falls apart, or there are so many grammar issues you get a headache. What happens if you realize you hate their story? Or, less dramatically, it’s just not ready to be beta’ed?

Well, that’s kind of tricky. I think it’s important to be honest here. I had a beta who got a few chapters in before emailing me that it wasn’t working for her. We discussed the problems a bit and I ended up cutting a major plot-line. That manuscript later landed me an amazing agent. If I hadn’t cut that plot, who knows what would’ve happened? On the other hand, I read for a writer once who just fell off the planet. This was one of those earlier manuscripts where I knew the writing needed a lot of work, but tried to stick in there. One day, I sent back a couple chapters and never heard from her again. I wish she’d talked to me about it, though, because I’m not sure what she didn’t like about my critique. Was she looking for something different? Was the relationship just not working for her? I guess I’ll never know. It can be really, really difficult to tell someone a relationship isn’t working, but it’s better to be honest and end it than to stretch it out and not give the manuscript your best. Again, that doesn’t benefit either of you.

If you think you’re ready to dive into the beta pool, here’s a couple things to keep in mind:

1. Make sure your manuscript is polished. If it’s riddled with glaring grammatical errors and typos, it’s going to be really hard to read, and you’re going to have difficulty finding a good beta who will stick in there.

2. If your manuscript is not polished and you’re just looking for feedback on your writing, or if you’re unsure if a single chapter works, the you’re not ready for a beta. There are several places on the writing forums to share your work and get feedback from other writers on a chapter or two. Use those to work through the snags and look for a beta when you’re done. (If you’re concerned about a plot point, writing the query is also a great way to see if the plot itself works. You can write the query at any time, before, during, or after you finish the manuscript, and post it in a forum for critique. I’ve cut entire plots based on query feedback).

CAVEAT: If you’re partially through a manuscript, and are afraid you’re going off the rails, or just feel like you need another pair of eyes before you get any deeper, it’s okay to enlist a beta, BUT make sure what you do have written is polished, and be up front about the manuscript’s status. Tell the beta it’s not finished, and I recommend that you still be willing to read their full manuscript.

3. Don’t be afraid of someone stealing your story. I had this concern when I started, and I still get asked by family and friends, “You’re giving your book to stranger? What if they steal it and get it published?” For starters, everything you write on your computer is time stamped, so it’s pretty easy to prove you wrote something and when. Second of all, if you found your beta in a forum, there is a history of the posts and proof that you sent them the manuscript. Third, they’re trusting you with their work too, so this is a two-way street. The vast majority of writers are honest people who don’t want to plagiarize. They want their own work published as badly as you want yours.

I’ve met a lot of great writers by beta reading. I’ve read so many amazing stories, and my writing has improved immensely both by enlisting a knowledgeable reader and by critiquing someone else’s work. Sending your hard work to a stranger to dissect can be frightening, and thick skin is a definite plus, but it’s so worth it.

What are your beta reading experiences? Where do you find your readers? For some more thoughts on beta reading, I recommend this great post at The Daily Dahlia on The Basics of Writing Relationships, Part II: Beta-ing. Dahlia has some other great posts on the subject too. In fact, go ahead and read this one while you’re at it.

*I’m in no way holding myself up as an expert writer or anything. What I mean by trying to “fix” the writing is that when I started beta’ing, I’d spend forever on a problem sentence, figuring out just the right way to reword it for the other writer, which is exactly the wrong approach. A few small wording changes are one thing, completely scratching what they’ve done and re-doing it is another. Looking back, I feel like this newbie mistake makes me sound arrogant, but really I was just misinterpreting the beta relationship–I thought that’s what “fresh eyes” meant, looking at the problem areas from a new perspective and taking care of it. Really, it means highlighting those areas and letting the writer figure out how to fix them. Make sense?

Characters Are Basically a Snoopy Balloon

A writer friend and I were discussing characters today. She asked me how I make my characters’ voices unique. I had to stop and think about it for a while. I’ve mentioned this before, but I usually just see a character in my head and write them down. It’s not so much that I create them, rather, they find me.

Of course, that’s not a helpful answer, so I thought harder. In the post I linked above, I said I see characters as real people, but the question is, how do you get to know those people? Well, I get to know them by writing them. That’s the most unsatisfying answer ever, isn’t it? It’s the best one I’ve got though. I get an idea and write a couple chapters. I get a feel for the character.

Then I make a list of each character and their traits. What are their flaws? Their strengths? Their quirks? Do they have any scars? How did they get them? Do they chew pen caps? Are they sarcastic? Quick tempered? Easy going? I make a big list, then I make sure I write them in a manner that is consistent with those traits. Sometimes the character changes and morphs over the course of the story, or over the course of the drafts and I have to go back and reevaluate who I thought the character was. The more I write, the more I get to know them and how they would react to different situations.

I imagine having conversations with the characters. What would they say? How would they sound? How would they move as they talk? I observe people and combine different mannerisms into a single character. Then I write some more. Each draft rounds the characters out and adds more dimension, breathes life into them. It’s almost like inflating a balloon. You start with a flat piece of rubber or Mylar. As you pump air into it, it starts to take shape, until you have the finished product. Then it can float around Times Square, or wherever, knocking into buildings and creating all sorts of drama in your story like a runaway Snoopy balloon on Thanksgiving.

I read a blog once (and blast it, I can’t remember where. Yes, I just said “blast it.” That’s how I roll) that compared writing to drawing. An artist starts with a basic shape, then goes back and adds detail, then color, then more detail, until they have a final drawing. It’s the same with writing, especially with characters. I start with a short, red-headed, teenage girl, then I add her quick temper and determination. Part of the way through the draft, I realize she wears glasses. In the second draft I notice she has trust issues. In the third, I give her a scar on her right knee from a bicycle accident as a kid. Each draft adds detail and dimension.

I’m not saying I’m the best at creating good, memorable characters or anything, or even that I’m great, but when I go back and look at the first manuscript I wrote, it’s pretty plain I’m getting better. The more I write, the better I get. So that’s my advice. Keep writing, keep tweaking, keep adding that detail and listening to your characters. Listen hard enough and you’ll hear their voices. Write long enough and they’ll jump off the page.

What about you? What’s your process for writing characters? How do you inflate them?

What’s Your Relationship Status?

Writing is kind of like a relationship. You meet a shiny new idea and are initially enamored. You take it on a date, write a chapter or two, flesh the idea out, see how things go. If it works, you go on another date, and another, and next thing you know, you’re 30,000 words in and realize you’re in a relationship.

Sure there are some kinks, but it’s cool. You gloss over them. That problem chapter can be addressed later. Those irritating little issues can be fixed down the road. You don’t want to rock the boat yet, you and your draft are just getting to know each other. When you finish the first draft it suddenly hits you: you’re in love.

You and your draft live in that love for a little while. Then you sit down to revise. The idea isn’t so shiny and new anymore. The longer you spend with the second draft, the more those little issues you initially glossed over become big issues. This time you can’t skip them. You have your first argument. Then your second. Sometimes you need to walk away and take a breather, but you eventually have to sit down and work out the problems. If you don’t, the relationship will be over and all the time you’ve spent will be for nothing. It’s okay. That happens. Every relationship isn’t meant to last. You believe this is “the one,” though, so you jump in and make it work.

But then you notice newer, shinier ideas. You’re tempted to stray, to see where they go. Some relationships fail here. The problems with the current manuscript are too great. So you leave and pursue a new relationship with a new idea. Sometimes you stay, though. You ignore the new ideas and force yourself to keep giving the old one a chance. Focus. Work. Plot. Write.

It can be grueling at times. Then you finish the second draft, and what do you know? It’s better than the first. Sure there are still some problems, things you need to address, but it’s all downhill from here. You and your manuscript know each other inside and out. You’ve overcome the odds and you’re confident nothing will tear you apart.

Until you sit down for the third draft…

It’s a cycle. Just like real life relationships. There are ups and downs and not all of them last, but that doesn’t mean you don’t give it your best shot. I’m close to finishing my second draft and my manuscript and I just had a big fight. I got distracted by other ideas. It didn’t want to fix its glaring issues. I was afraid this manuscript and I wouldn’t make it. I couldn’t get past that one point. We couldn’t move forward. The thing about the second draft is you can’t ignore the problems you overlooked in the first, not if you’re going to stay together. But we got through it. It’s not perfect, but its in a place where we can move forward, and that’s the crux of writing, I think…and in life. Moving forward. Don’t let yourself stagnate. Don’t dwell in the bad times.To stagnate is to die.

I’m pleased to report my relationship status with my manuscript is “Committed.” Have you examined your status recently?

 

Who’s Your Critic?

First off all, sorry I haven’t posted lately! When I’m working on a manuscript I tend to get absorbed by it, especially toward the end. So everything else fell to the side while I was finishing my first draft. Woo hoo!! *boogies* Of course, now I’m diving into my first round of edits so I can’t celebrate too much. When it’s ready for submission, that will be the real celebration.

Normally, I let my husband read a chapter or two as I write and then hand him the draft as soon as I’m done. This hasn’t worked so well in the past because by the time I finish the third and forth draft, he’s sick of reading it. This time I decided to do things differently. I’ve been writing for two months and haven’t let him see a single word. We’ve discussed the premise and how different technologies I created might work, but he hasn’t read any of it. My plan, noble indeed, was to only give him the ready to submit version.

Tuesday morning I finished draft one. Tuesday afternoon I printed that sucker out, because I edit better when I can hold the manuscript. I decided to give myself a break and start editing Wednesday. Which meant Tuesday evening the manuscript sat on the couch.

Taunting me.

I couldn’t take it. I had to know what Hubby thought.

“Whatcha doin’?” I asked, leaning over the arm of the couch to stare at him semi-creepily.

He glanced up from his computer. “Why?”

“Just wondering.”

He started typing again, working on whatever geeky project had his attention at the time…or Reddit.

“What are you about to do?”

This time he stopped. “What do you want me to do?”

I shifted my gaze to the manuscript, lying not so innocently on the couch.

“I thought you weren’t going to let me read it until it was finished,” he said.

“What about just the first chapter?…Okay, the first two chapters…unless you want to read more.”

So he read the first two while I watched tv. And by watched tv, I mean slyly watched him to see his reaction. He laughed a couple times and I couldn’t help but ask what he found funny. After what felt like forever, he finally straightened the pages and handed them back.

“What did you think?”

“It was good.”

That’s it. That’s all I got.

I pressed. “Anything in particular you liked…or didn’t like?”

“I enjoyed it.”

Grrr. “You can be honest. You won’t hurt my feelings. What did you really think? How as the characterization? Did you connect? What did you think about the main character?”

Yeah, I peppered him. And he remained stubbornly, irritatingly, incorrigibly vague.

“I don’t know! I know I liked it. It was different than other things you’ve written.”

“Good different, or bad different?”

“Just different!”

That’s when I gave up. I realized Hubby isn’t a writer. Not in the slightest. Sure, he reads a lot, but he keeps it on the surface. He’s also completely biased. I’m pretty sure I could type strings of random letters and numbers and he would think it was great, because he loves me.

Stupid love.

I kid. I’m grateful he loves me so much, but it doesn’t help my writing. (I have the same problem with friends and other family. They’re too invested to be objective).

That’s why I have a critique partner. Someone who is a writer, who can give me honest, objective feedback. It’s wonderful. We exchange a few chapters at a time and swap ideas and encourage each other and I don’t know what I would do without her.

I used to marvel at the mythical Critique Partner. I’d heard of other people having one, but I had no idea where they came from. It was like this great secret no one would let me in on. Or a magical well hidden in the jungle where you threw pennies and writers came out armed with brand new ink pens and blank notepads.

I’ve had beta readers, and they’ve all been fantastic, but there is something different about working with the same person. (I’ve got a critique group too that I’ve mentioned before that is also wonderful. There’s something special about getting together in a room full of other writers and ironing out the snags). I don’t know where others get betas, but my magic well is on Absolute Write. They have a beta reader forum that is great for connections. And that’s where I found my CP. We started as beta readers. But I enjoyed working with her so much that when we’d finished our original manuscripts, I asked if she wanted to keep working together.

And I’m so glad we did. Wednesday morning, after my frustrating night with my non-writer husband, I awoke to an email from my CP with my latest chapter. She loved it, but more importantly, she could tell me why, as well as the things she didn’t like so much. As much as I love Hubby’s support, tough love and brutal honesty is what I need. It’s what whips a manuscript into shape.

I’m sticking to my original plan and not letting Hubby read the whole thing until it’s done. Even though my CP is amazing, I’m still going to go through a couple rounds of betas, because I think you need a good balance of people who are close to you/the work, and who have no attachment whatsoever. Betas come and go, and even the ones who might not make it through the whole manuscript are amazing and wonderful and I’m so glad to have all of them. But when it comes to the long haul, CPs are priceless.

What is your process? Do you let friends/family read your drafts? Do you use betas? Critique partners? Or a combo of all the above? What works best for you?

Back in Black

And I’m back!  After the doctor fixed two meniscus tears and performed a lateral release of my knee cap, I’m finally off the couch and on the road to recovery!  Okay, so maybe I’m only off the couch long enough to sit with my leg propped up at work, only to return to the couch in the evenings, but at least it’s a change of scenery. I’ve got a leg brace for five weeks, which won’t be fun, but hopefully after it’s all said and done I’ll be better than ever!

Thanks for the book recommendations and the well wishes.  Unfortunately, my pain meds kept me too high to concentrate on reading over the week.  However, I did rediscover the joys of old school Super Mario (we downloaded it to the Wii) and I discovered there isn’t much on tv during the day except for marathons of House Hunters, et al on HGTV.   Coincidentally, I could tell you how much a house will run you in pretty much every part of the country now.

I’m super stoked to be coherent again and I’m ready to resume writing.  I’ve recently resumed edits on the first book I wrote.  By resumed edits, I mean I realized the whole thing was crap and I’m rewriting pretty much the whole thing.

I added a new feature to my blog.  Yes, I bit the bullet and got a twitter.  You can see recent tweets over there on the right.  See it…down…no up a little…there!  Follow me! (Yes, I cringed a little while writing every word of this paragraph).