Monday, June 28, 2010

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Originally posted on 8/2/09 for the Charge of the Write Brigade.

Anyone who takes writing seriously knows it has a learning curve. Some of our friends, family and coworkers think that all you need to do is finish a novel and it’s practically published. They have the wrong assumption that the major task is the completion of the manuscript.

Back in ’04, when Annabelle hit me on the head and demanded I write her story, I chased after various resources to learn how to begin such a task. Several people told me the hard part comes after you finish the book. I smiled and said “Of course, of course”. From my perspective, a finished manuscript loomed in the far distance. I didn’t want to consider anything else but conquering that monolith.

For all of you newbies out there who are still trying to reach the top of your first literary mountain, stay the course, stop reading this article, open your document and finish the dang thing!

OK, are they gone? I don’t want to scare them into stopping their future creative accomplishment too soon.

Now, the rest of you who have reached the end of your first book might understand what I meant by “hard part”. Let me continue with my own story. Fast forward two years. It was now ’06 and a finished manuscript sat in my particular folder. I had a raw beginning, rough middle and uncertain end. I was ready for the next phase in my plan.

I selected ten people to beta read it. Some were online and local friends and two were teachers of the grade level that my YA book fit into. I sent out my baby and moved onto repairing the mess I made of book two. I whistled happily, knowing the flowers bloomed and the sun shone over my amazing work.

After a short period, my head snapped upward to see dark storm clouds. Thunder deafened me while lighting bolts atomized the flowers. Yes, my chosen ten did exactly what they should. They told the truth. They got out red pens and drew my blood all over the pages of my bruised baby.

I couldn’t be more grateful. Sure, at first it mortified me, but this novel means a lot. Either I think on what they said, or give up all hope. I couldn’t do the later so I pondered their words and what they truly meant. Changes were made. I drew the line in the sand on some topics while others I gladly sacrificed.

As time progressed I found myself trying more beta readers. Some were published authors while others had experience and knowledge in the subjects covered in my book. I found out later that a few still follow me on the web, checking up to see if I’m still striving.

I remember Adam’s comments and the fear they caused. Then Chris in England made some humorous points that stuck me hard. Aprilynne rocked me to my core. The list goes on and on. In ’07 I joined a critique group. Two of my fellow Brigade members were part of that group. With the combined abilities of two critique groups I learned a great deal.

Each review scared and later, after some serious pondering, excited me. The manuscript changed quite a bit and will continue to improve. I’ve taken something special from each review and learned a great deal. I appreciate everyone who has ever looked it over.

As writers we have the ability to loose ourselves in our work. We get so excited in our story and how it fits together that we want to rush out and tell the world. Some of us fear rejection; others get steamed when faced with opposing concepts that dare go against our vision.

The truth is, we’re far from perfect and need other’s frank honesty to improve.

1. Choose peers whom like what you like.

2. Choose those who don’t.

3. There is nothing wrong with family and friends but remember they might not want to hurt your feelings.

4. Seek after English majors and teachers.

5. Try people who have been published and/or learned the pratfalls of writing.

6. Join or start critique groups. An assortment of voices can agree or disagree on where you need to change.

You are the final voice. What you say will always matter the most. Are you qualified to stand alone in your vision? Wouldn’t it be better to check first with others to be sure you know what you’re talking about?

I believe it was Steven King who said “You’ve got to kill your babies”. You have to give sometimes, but if you let others help, you’ll find greater possibilities than you ever imagined.

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