Every writer has their toolkit of stuff they use for a host of things that never occur to you starting out. Books, webpages, resources that help with everything from finding the name of a bar, to working out how to rephrase letting go of a breath you didn’t know you were holding.
We’re all guilty of this one, don’t even pretend you’re not.
People will occasionally talk about their resources or what worked for them, so before I launch into what worked for me, this comes with a warning for all the advice I give. Find out what works for you. Not every tip/trick/harebrained font change is going to work out well for you or your writing. Trust your gut, and go with that, and you’ll make the right decision.
IDEAS & INSPIRATION – Springhole
So you want to write/you’ve written a book, and now its time for the next big thing. Except… wow what an effort. Where do you even start? I mean the age brackets of children, middle grade, young adult, new adult, adult is just the tip of the iceberg. Then you’ve got genre, word count, lots of figuring out and you haven’t even got to the good bits!! (names and mood boards – we all know they’re the good bits).
When I’m feeling too much pressure to write a particular thing, or have a couple of different projects on, I’ll go to the genre blender and use it to either push me towards one project, or try something new. It might last half an hour, or I might come away with a brilliant idea. There are a lot of different generators on this list so have a play, it could be fun!
PLOT vs PANSTER – Save the Cat Writes a Novel
There are two ways (no there aren’t, there are many ways, these are typical), to write a book. You can plot it all out, in great detail, until everything is certain, or you can just start writing and not stop until you type the end. Both are valid. Both are not defined by those traits alone, it is the stereotypical joke of writers.
Plotting is good because you can end up saving yourself from things like predictability, pacing issues, and plot holes. I’ve adopted the Save the Cat Novel Writing methodology, which was useful to me after finding some soggy middle stuff in recent scripts.
That’s not to say I don’t pants, I do, most of my ideas are sparked by just pantsing. But once I’m sure I love the story, and kinda know where it’s heading, I use the beat sheets to help navigate. Like the writer, Jessica Brody, demonstrates in the book, you don’t have to stick to a plot. You may find it goes slightly off beat and that may be a good thing.
WHATS IN A NAME? – Behind the Name
Ok, super secret time. When I come up with a main characters name, its always what they represent to me. Ayla, from my Queen of Spades series, came about as a variation of a name that means Tree of Life. A kind of secret I kept to myself throughout the books (which I can now talk about because book two is out, and what do you mean you haven’t read it? Don’t shout spoilers at me, you can buy book two here.).
I have a few different generators I like to do this, but my favourite will always be Behind the Name.
They have a huge variety, can do different countries of origin, full names, different mythology. There is a lot to take away from their name generators.
HASHTAG MOOD – Pintrest & Collage
A key thing a lot of authors are doing, and even some agents are asking for these days are mood boards. They help build and set tone, add a few key lines to create interest on social media, and can keep you goals focused. I created mine for Raven Lady, a scifi opera about hacking and virtual reality, as per the bellow.
Most have fewer elements than this, they have usually 9 pictures all evenly spaced in three lines of three images. These allow for a great social media post, very attention grabbing and creates an interest in the story, which might indicate which fellow writers might like to beta read the script once its done!
WRITING IS HARD THO…
Yes, dear reader, it is. But it gets easier with time, daily habits, preparation and writing springs.
Carry a notebook around with you/use notes on your phone, so that if you are somewhere awkward you can’t get to your story, and you think of a cool fix for that plot hole, you can write it down.
Make a plan to write a set amount per day/week/month. Nobody gets to dictate these to you but you, but once you work out something that suits, you’re the one that has to commit to making those goals.
Speaking of – don’t start out stating you’ll Stephen King this and write 2k a day when you aren’t used to writing ten words. 2k is hard. Start soft and grow your goals as you would any other new learning curve. Start small, and adjust as you go.
Writing sprints are a fun way to commit to the time, by telling yourself a simple rule; I will only write for this time period. Every time you alt tab you smack your own damn hand, and go back to writing. At first this can be hard, so like with writing goals, you make the time period smaller. I started out at 100 words in 15 minutes, and can now write nearly 3k in an hour. Some of them are garbage, but I’ve got some gold nuggets out of those sprints.
With all these things to get yourself started, it wouldn’t be fair not to talk about the end. There is a long road of work ahead of you, no matter your goals. Remember that whatever you intend, trad, self, indie published, or just to hang onto it, there are ups and downs there too.
But nothing will ever change that you did it. You wrote a book. These are just spring boards to help you along the way though, the rest, is up to you.
You ask any older autistic person, and they’ll have THE line.
The line everyone says when told that the autistic person is autistic;
“I didn’t know/you don’t look/is that’s whats odd about you?”
Do you know why that might be? And why what you’re saying is the most harmful and degrading thing you can possibly offer, that actually makes that person feel a hundred times worse?
Because they’re not just masking their inner selves from you, they’ve done it for decades. They’ve spent their whole lives, many undiagnosed, in a confusing world that chafed their sides and left parts of them raw, scarred, and hard. It left them vulnerable afraid, but able and adaptable to do whatever it takes to fit in, not be judged, and to try to find their place in a conflictive and chaotic world.
Let me use a completely different story/analogy for this to make sense which coincides with my writerly audience.
There is a story that’s gone around about how a guy went to his therapist, to complain he wasn’t good at writing. When the therapist asks how long he’s been a writer, the guys says three years. The therapist then asks him; do you expect a three-year-old to be an artist? The answer is of course not, they’re just a child. Then why lay the same expectations at the feet of himself when he’s only been trying three years?
Its meant to be encouraging for younger writers, no matter their age, that you are only just starting to learn how to do something.
A child’s autism can be seen as much more obvious because we are more aware of the signs and are better clued into the mental health of younger generations, than those who were born earlier.
Do you know what people with aspergers and autism have done their whole lives before such awareness was more commonplace, or those that still do it because they dont have access to a health system that recognizes why they are struggling?
From the time we are children and join schools and start social interaction something is… wrong.
There is an undefinable sense beyond childhood embarrassing awkwardness that tells us we aren’t like everyone else. From needing down time struggles to stimming being taken as fidgeting, we aren’t okay. But we’re made to play in a loud group of noisy unaware children who aren’t like us. We’re told we’re drama queens, unnecessarily sensitive and emotional yet in a handspan of heartbeats are chastised for lacking empathy and compassion.
So we do what we’re told; because many of us, especially women, should only do as they are told.
Don’t make waves. Make friends. Be interested in other people. Nobody is interested in you. Remember all that information. Don’t talk about those fascinating things. Find a hobby. Don’t become obsessed. Fix yourself to fit in with everyone else.
Many of us went undiagnosed, and many still do. Why? Because we did what we were told.
We’re good at it. We’re so good, women aren’t usually diagnosed until late twenties, early thirties, and many not until years later, if at all. And those are the ones who are seeking therapy, trying to find answers beyond; you’re stressed out/depressed, take these tablets and get out of my office.
We’re very good at covering up who we are. We’ve had years of practice listening to people tell us we are wrong. We build on it, learn to hold our tongues, take a step back, so by the time we’re old enough, confident enough to say; this is more than just the way I am, we’re shattered to find out the world lied to us. All those years, all that time, all that chaffing, and scratchiness, and WRONGNESS was not our fault.
We made mistakes, but we are also not at fault.
The comfort in my diagnoses didn’t give me the strength to come forward. Other people with Aspergers gave me the strength to say to people, at a time I was comfortable, my diagnosis.
And when I did, people hurt me by disregarding or pointing out my flawed nature. My wrongness.
You dont look autistic.
It’s because you taught me not to be myself in front of you. Every one of you. That if my mental health problems were invisible to you then it suited you better. And it insulted every single person on the spectrum, visible or not. It teaches everyone who can hide what they are to do so, and its still happening.
The next person I tell that I have aspergers and they say that to me, I’m going to tell them what they’re saying is harmful. If you’re strong enough, tell them its hurtful. Because there are so many people out there who aren’t confident in their diagnosis/suspected diagnosis to come forward about being autistic, let alone asking for the space they need to survive.
Every writer I know keeps a space for the things to put on the wall. Or at least an e-corkboard of some description. Notes, images, inspiration, and accomplishments. Of failures too.
I have a wall. In 2020, it held a secret, one I didn’t see coming.
It’s a blue wall, it’s the only coloured wall in the room. It’s a dusky sea blue.
In the middle I hung a white board, and on it is the poem I wrote that started this writing journey. The Last Prophecy. It has the books that match the parts of the poem written beside it. It isn’t a guilt trip because I’m not currently working on that series (but I will be in 2021). Its encouragement and purpose for why I began in the first place.
Above, below, and to either side is pages upon pages of A4 paper. All covered in black texter.
Above is a single A4 piece of paper. It has my two contracts signed to Literary Wanderlust.
Underneath is a list of all my projects, and I put a tick next to the complete ones.
On the left, directly above my desk, as a reminder to keep doubt away, I put the year’s accomplishments. Not goals, just stuff I did. Like publishing Queen of Spades I & II. That a dev editor loved Echo of the Evercry, and Meg will never know how much her words still make me shake.
On the right is a single line of four quotes.
Never give up on a dream you aren’t willing to let die. ~ E. J. Dawson
Value yourself, so the world will value you. ~ Unknown
No one but you is allowed to dictate what you are worth. ~Anne with an E
There are no heroes in history. Only villains who told their story first. ~ E. J. Dawson
Above it is the goals. But they aren’t things I necessarily intend to succeed at. Just marking the attempt. I put books I query up there, competitions I enter, people in the industry I approach. Above those quotes I put building blocks of my progress. An ever increasing tower of possible success.
But towers crumble. Not every one is built to last.
Under the quotes are all my failures. When I think enough time is passed, two lines strike through, with a short note about what happened or what I think happened.
There are more A4 pages beneath the quotes than anywhere else on the wall.
Why, Ejay, why would you keep all those failures? Why remind yourself of all the times you didn’t succeed?
Because success is not made of what you think you accomplish or fail, its made of trying and not giving up.
THAT is what the A4 notes represent to me. So when I put the good things on the left side I feel accomplished. That when I look back at it I can say to myself I tried. I did my best, I followed my dreams.
And at the end of every year, I take them all down. The successes that aren’t beyond that year get filed away to pull out when I’m miserable, a reminder of the good things. Unfinished goals get retired to the failure or success pile depending on how far I got with them. The failures get moved down to make room for more failures. But they stay up there. They represent years of trying. There are… a lot of them.
When I pulled down the wall to prepare for 2021, one of them wasn’t a failure. It was an entry to a short story competition for a story previously rejected by a few magazines and competitions. But when I read the attempt, saw the two slashes to mark a failure, and noted the comment “no response” I realized with a delightful surge of giddiness I was wrong.
It took months to find out, and it wasn’t quite important to anyone, but I was a finalist in that competition. I got invited to submit other stories. They liked my voice and wanted more of it.
That failure was a success I hadn’t know at the time.
Imagine… for a moment, you feel like a failure. Imagine… for a moment, you were wrong.
That crumbling brick was forged anew. Solid, sturdy, something to stand on while I kept this inevitable climb. I reason to keep trying in 2021. This is why I keep the failures. This is why I don’t give up on people who say no to me. This is why I have a wall of my failures so when I look back I can see EVERY SINGLE TIME ANYONE SAID NO TO ME AND ALL I EVER OVERCAME.
Keep writing. You never know when that failure might be a success.
The words on everyone’s lips right now is that 2020 was hard. For many people they weren’t sure they could endure.
I had my own problems, my NYE celebration was under a red sky of an alien planet as we waited for evacuation orders due to Australian bushfires. We were the last car to be allowed passage from the greater area, the police closing the road behind us as the way forward became dangerous. We got home, and after just a week back at work I realized my life needed to change, and started looking for another job. But the replacement fell through just as I’d terminated my existing employment, because of covid. For a brief period I nervously called myself a full time writer while we relied on one income and savings. I spent four months not getting as much work done as I wanted, before a new job came around. Our shower broke… it seems so inconsequential, but I haven’t had a shower in 9 months because of covid and lockdown and not wishing to put anyone in a difficult position. The daily mental strain of not having that small convenience was so hard. But everyone’s 2020 was hard. There were personal emotional struggles at home, and with my books, but the one thing that I got out of the year was boundaries.
I know what I can and cannot do anymore and I’ve amended my website to reflect that. I’m not offering author interviews or book features as separate pages, I’m going to make it a part of my blog. I’m not going to review here, I’m going to confine my searching to Netgalley, recommendations, and ARC requests to review on Netgalley, Amazon and Goodreads.
One of the most important things to me that I am stepping away from is beta reading. I got so many requests this year I overpromised on many of them and shouldn’t have. You are still more than welcome to submit to me, I will still look at 5k samples and may take on more work, but it will depend upon demands of 2021 and there promise to be quite a few.
Most of all, I am not walking into 2021 with any expectations. There is always the NYE promise, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s 2020 was blown out of the proverbial water. I am moving forward with hope, or at least a positive outlook that I’ll do the best that I can.
With the promise of helping the many writers journeying with me. With the joy of seeing my work into paperback form. With more stories, and one that has ripped me to shreds over the last few months, but I’m proudly announcing my ND self to the greater world.
2020 wasn’t a fire we walked through, not an inferno we buckled under. 2020 was a time where climate change caused disasters, centuries of inequality broke forth in riots against long held traditions of racism, and the changes in our behaviour and attitude to health were thoroughly re-examined under the wave of a plague. It forced us all to re-examine our lives, and purpose in the world. How every day mattered even as they all bled into one another as we stared at the same four walls for months on end.
I’m sorry if your year was rough, not a blanket statement to everyone, just to you, because I don’t know what you went through, but that you’re here, reading this, matters. That you didn’t quit, or even if you did, that you still went on, matters. If you kept writing, hobbies, dreams, lives, afloat this year I’m proud of you.
I want the best of 2020 for you, hope its brighter and full of laughter, and if not I’ll still be here for you.
I get it. The pressure, the time, 2020, its not like you need to give me your excuse.
Because you don’t need one. Even typing that word, “excuse”, makes me cringe.
Looking at 2020 and everything that I’ve managed to do, there is a very simple reason Nano didn’t get done; I didn’t have time.
But I sure watched a lot of Trublood, played games for more than a few hours, took a week off work for writing projects.
I’ve done Nano for the last 7 years but this 8th year I was too busy finishing off the edits for the last book in the Queen of Spades, and do you know what? I was sorry. I’m not anymore.
I didn’t fail Nano, I chose to do other things with my time.
That streak proves to me that I know where my priorities lie. That I know where in my writing career I need to knuckle down and focus and if that means starting a new project I have zero emotional investment in needs to be dropped then so be it.
Joining Nano is about creating daily healthy writing habits. Its about sitting down and finally committing the time to the story that you love and have always wanted to write. Its about getting a whole novel down and actually finishing the fucking thing.
Maybe you didn’t do any of those things and there wasn’t a real reason, it just didn’t happen. You know what? It’s a personal commitment. You aren’t competing against anyone else but yourself.
If you think you were just lazy and you need to do better, you can commit to yourself to right 50k words any month you damn well please.
Nano is a chance for us to do it all together. You can do this anytime you like.
Go on, finish your novel, you’ve got 26 days until this year is over. 2020 has rattled your cage, put you down, beat you up, and ripped away so much happiness. Write about hate, revenge, rage, despair… turn it into kindness, protection, love. Wrap the words around your heart and pour them onto the page.
The only person stopping you, is you.
Yesterday at the dentist I had a breakdown.
A full on public display of my autism.
He was putting a needle in the roof of my mouth for root canal work, and I was breathing slowly and painfully through it. He told me to keep breathing, to breath with him, and I did but he went too fast.
I lost it.
The mask slipped through my fingers, my tenacious grip failing as I slowed down my breath again to let him finish. When he was done I sat up, and began flapping my hands, rocking, and crying. Apologizing that I had Asperger’s and I just needed a minute.
And after a couple of minutes I lay back down, and let him finish his work for another hour. I walked home, put on the kettle, checked my dogs hadn’t destroyed our back yard, got a glass of water because tea felt it might be too hot, and cried.
I cried my heart out.
I’m a thirty seven year old woman and I’d just openly broke down in my dentist’s office.
But that wasn’t what I was crying about.
It hit me like a brick, a car, a freight train of thought clear and sudden as a shaft of sunlight in a storm.
I wasn’t ashamed.
I was crying because I’d had my melt down in front of strangers and it was okay.
For the last ten months I’d been alone. I spent four months unemployed due to the covid crisis and a new job falling through, writing while applying for jobs before I found one where I could work from home.
I live in Victoria Australia and our premier put us in harsh lock down restrictions to stop covid. I’ve rarely seen other faces that weren’t over the web, twice I’ve seen my husband’s family, and once two friends visited us. No co-workers, no family, nobody else.
But I did spend the last year coming to terms with my Aspergers in a better way than I had in the seven years since I first found out about it. I remember the big click for me was reading Asper Girls after my therapists’ diagnosis and thinking; yes. This is me.
Not everyone took the news well or with much understanding. Many refused to think that it mattered because I was mostly normal, or normal enough as long as I kept my mouth shut. What happened after my diagnosis was a few years of spiraling into a depression that nearly cost me my life. Nobody but my husband and family saw it as a real issue.
Because I was an adult you see; I had a job and could function normally.
No one saw me stim because I’d do it in private or in acceptable manners; clicking pens was a favourite, swinging an office chair from side to side rather than rocking. Any meltdowns were in the car driving home from work screaming until my throat was raw. Staying up too late, listening to the same song over and over at 2am and crying in the dark. I’d get up the next morning and go to work like none of it ever happened. Things I’d done to mask who I was all my life because they were habits already and provided I acted like an ‘adult’.
I wasn’t very good at it. At work in one place they called me “Wikipedia” for all my useless knowledge. I struggled to make friends and still only have a handful from university. I hate social situations and often drank through them just to stop feeling so fucking out of place all the time. It’s taken years to unlearn how to do this, how to undo so much of the behavior that was self-destructive and hurtful.
Then 2020 hit and I was alone.
And I’ve honestly never been happier.
I openly stim at home, have had more meltdowns this year, asked for compression hugs and become so familiar with my own boundaries in the safety of my home I can go outside without a mask (and for the Aspie inside I’ll clarify that the only mask I’m wearing now is the one on the outside of my face because covid).
I tell people new people I know that I have Aspergers, including for the first time my employer.
But having a minor meltdown at the dentist was the first time in public with strangers I didn’t know. Everyone was cool about it, the dentist left for a minute to let me breath, the nurse stuck around and got me water and tissues (she was so lovely about it), and they just accommodated me.
That won’t always happen. People will probably get unsettled, distance themselves, or refuse to take me serious or think I warrant the space. I’ll find myself leaving situations where I don’t feel safe; I know all this.
I’m holding onto my mask, but I’m choosing now when to put it on. It’s not sitting under my skin as the default lie I’ve lived my whole life. I’m not hiding who I am or what I think or how it affects the world around me.
That’s why I cried; because for the first time in my life I could be 100% me and not be ashamed of my behavior.
I can’t promise I’ll always feel like this, but if you do please know that you are not alone.
There are things we do to fit our amorphous shapes into the proverbial square holes, and much of it makes us extraordinarily unhappy.
This isn’t perfect, and it may not last, but its freeing in his own way. For the first time I feel like the person inside is okay I can work on the person outside, and my health and fitness, without being made to feel ashamed for being clumsy or unathletic. I don’t fit into boxes and wasn’t picked for teams but I know who I am and what I can and can’t do and for once, just this once, its OK.
I wanted to finish this blog post by saying; I get it if you can’t.
It’d be easy to gloss this over with some positive bullshit about “you be you” but it doesn’t always work like that and I know. I’ve been there, I’ll probably be there again one day. But I can tell you that coming to terms with it, to accept myself for who I am, was freeing.
If you can try, if you can’t… one day I hope you can let go, to have the space to be yourself. I’m wishing that so hard for you right now.
I wasn’t easy, or without trauma, but I do feel like a part of me for once has unclenched. I can just sit here, without a mask, and be me.
Madness! How can you do it? How are you even CONSIDERING jumping into the world of Nanowrimo? In this economy? With 2020 in flames around us? All the stress and pressure? The desperate, urgent need to pour a story out in a matter of days in a caffeinated slew of tropes mashed together from secret perverse fanfiction! The desire to grab the characters by their shirt fronts and fall into the abyss of words with a wine glass in one hand and a random name generator in the other! Madness! Madness, I say!!
… yeah, sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
GIF: Alice falling down the rabbit hole, waving goodbye
Nano is something I’ve done every year since about 2014, and I find that I win, and often its because I used the first few times to train myself to write, some of the tips of course being somewhat hairbrained (which is straight on brand). But amongst this fiasco month of friends, writing sprints, advice and dread, you can actually come out the other side with something salvageable. Often tear marked, but still!
GIF: Alice, girl in a blue dress, sitting in a jar, floating in water, saying “Oh I wish I hadn’t cried so much!”
STEP ONE: PLAN TO CONQUER WORLDS
With one week left to go until Nanowrimo starts, even a panster is going to be jerking their collar from their neck, fanning away the precursor sweat, and at least have a starting point for the project. A dream, a poem, an image, a line in a book, a limerick, something!
GIF: Shrek, orgre from the movie of the same name, shrugging
Whatever you’ve got, run with it. Head for the hills like a vagabond wanted by the law. Escape convention with clichés, like a cat burglar in the night. Steal it like a forbidden kiss and take it somewhere secluded to ravish.
Chances are that it may need a bit of help, and at this point cheating is totally acceptable. Generators can be your friend but don’t be afraid to stick something simple to remember, and later on use the Control+F find and replace on most word friendly docs. This is a life saver, and you can come back to stuff later.
STEP TWO: DESPAIR @ WORD TOTALS
You did it! You wrote for like a day! It’s a whole five pages, that’s what I call progress for one day, that’s a lot of words, that’s-
WHAT DO YOU MEAN ITS ONLY 1847 WORDS?!?
GIF: man pushing computer off table
Okay, so that’s probably your first mistake. Don’t look at the word total. Yes, I know its important to update Nanowrimo’s website but if its putting too much pressure on you, don’t! Leave it for a couple of days, you don’t have to update it every day. I’d get to the latter part of Nano and just save updating for when I was done. By then I was usually so invested in the story the word count simply didn’t matter. I’d storm through it between writing sprints and just having a lark.
Also don’t put pressure to reach the 50k – just aim to write a little every day! Stephen King writes 2k a day, but with nano you only have to write just over 1666. Such an evil number. Coincidence? I think not!
STEP THREE: FORGOT THE PLOT
Checklist and counting, we have a strong genre, nice settings, characters and their shenanigans; ha ha, what cute little devils! Now… where was it we were going with this? You don’t know? What do you mean you don’t know?! Well don’t look at me, I don’t know either, why didn’t you stop and ask for directions!?!! … that’s why you’re here, yep, my bad, I’m on it.
I’m a pantser, I’ve confessed to this before and I’ve written various blogs about doing it, dodging writer’s block to run away with the story. But sometimes you just can’t. The story is a trash fire and you have no idea what the characters are doing; two are making inappropriate lovey dovey eyes, one’s straight up a sarcastic shit (you know which one), and then there are some other wallflowers who were supposed to be robust characters but just fell… flat.
GIF: Eeyore, a stuffed toy donkey, bouncing through the air with a disappointed expression
For all the genuine tips of where you think the story is going, sometimes you need to step back, and let the characters show you. This creation is just a spark, it’s the hand held fizz stick that’s creeping down to your fingertips. You know you’re running out of time, its burning away just like the sparkles. Stop looking at how much is left, start looking at the light. That’s when it becomes a firework.
GIF: Katy Perry, woman in pale dress, with fireworks coming out of her chest, and going off in the background.
STEP FOUR: SUDDEN DESPERATE SCRAMBLE
Write. Write like your life depends on it, write like the wind, write like the gobblegook of your 2am keyboard smashing is the prose of the celestials and all you need to do is write another goddamn word. JUST. ONE. MORE. Do it, do it, do it!!!
There is a sudden rush, once all the obstacles have passed, once we can’t kid ourselves any longer, and the twentieth day of the month has passed, and that’s really only a week left, and lets do the math that’s-
…wait, that’s nearly two weeks this year, that’s HEAPS of time!
GIF: Woman stating that everything is fine, whilst acting very anxiously.
Don’t do this to yourself. You’re only going to end up feeling like you need to do it in a huge rush in the final few days, stress yourself the fuck out, or feel like a huge failure when you can’t make your goal.
I mean, you can if you WANT to, you little masochist you…
STEP FIVE: ADMIT IT’S TRASH & STILL LOVE IT
There’s a reason agents dread December. It’s a tidal wave of caffeinated zombies holding sheafs of paper to their bodies, as close as a beloved child, weaving between the poles of Query tracker, muttering under their breaths that no one understands the great burden they carry, the gold they could give…
There is only so much glitter you can put on a turd.
GIF: Man, Jeff Goldblum, standing before a large pile of dung.
ITS NOT ENOUGH.
Go away. Decaffeinate. Lie down. Get more than four hours sleep. Have a nutritious meal with no sugar. Take a long hot shower. Read two books on the TBR pile. Have a valium- I mean a tic tac. No, really. Take two. Here’s a glass of water, you need to stay hydrated too!
You’ve got a script, and that’s good, and maybe it needs a bit of work… or to be completely rewritten.
There is a lot that goes into polishing a script to make it ready to submit or publish. There are critic partners and beta readers. They offer very helpful advice on where you might have completely missed in the story how much of a mess you’ve got left over in the post traumatic wake of Nanowrimo.
But that’s OK.
Because if they are a beta reader/critic partner worth their salt, they’ll help you down this rocky road towards publishing. Take some time off, leave the script until the next year, and then begin the processing of polishing it for those friends who will help you get there.
This is not a short journey. Take a deep breath, but above all take your time.
There is no one putting pressure on you but you. There is no one who cares more, which is why the only dictator on your timeline is you. Forget what you want to be, just start with what you need to do, one word, one day at a time. You can do it, I believe in you.
Sometimes it takes another person to tell you that your story… is simply wonderful.
Sometimes it takes another person to tell you that your story… is bloody awful.
But what is it that a Beta Reader does, how do they do it, and what really is the difference between them and the host of other people who can read your script?
After you’ve written a book, the first thing to do is for someone else to go over it – these are normally critic partners. They’re sometimes called alpha readers, as a reader before beta readers. They will go over the script in minute detail for you, to help with specific character goals and arcs, the plot to assist with any holes. They can break down the stories elements as far as developmental editors in order to assist getting it right.
A beta readers duties can be similar, can come later or earlier, but generally its later, after the majority of the work on the story itself has been done. They are there to immerse themselves as readers, and point out where they may fall out of the story to help eliminate any small errors.
The best value I’ve both given and received as a beta reader is to let my instincts guide me. I’ve worked on developing my skills as a beta reader in order to become a good critique partner. But if you haven’t tried it before then you can start with the following, and know that this is a learning process, it takes time, and can be instrumental in helping with your own writing.
- Use Comments
First impressions matter and its not just the opening sentence of the novel. Its how you tackle what is wrong. The best way to do that is to use the comments section in word as a preferred method. Or the same function in Google docs. Whatever program your text file is in, adding comments is the best way to put in feedback.
Picture: Snapshot of Word Ribbon Menu with a red box around “Review” & “New Comment”
Go to the review section of Word, and find the comments function. You can also find track changes here, but I don’t generally make changes to the text, I’m not there to edit. Some people will edit it for you, just be sure they know to track the changes so you can agree to them or not.
You may not know how to fix what is tripping up that particular problem in the script but you can present what the problem is using this function with the most amount of ease. It also gives the opportunity for the original writer to look objectively at your note alongside the exact sentence you’ve highlighted with the comment section. Form there you’re better able to display why the section might not be quite right.
2. What to Say
Most people don’t want to hear the BAD stuff. Learning to phrase the comments so they can add to the writer’s experience is important. You’re helping them fix it, not just pointing out where their script may be flawed.
But how to do that?
I take what triggered me to stop being emersed in the story and remember that I’m here to help the writer reach out to the reader.
Asking these questions both of yourself and the writer is integral to helping in fixing these errors.
Should the character have this reaction? When previously they’ve acted like X. Perhaps have them say something more in the vein of Y, to better suit their previous persona. For example, they can pull this face, or say instead this sentence…
I thought before that the plot was doing Z? If we add this here then it needs to be amended before to make sure to include the new facets of Z’s information. Or maybe you could Y, because Y ties in nicely with the other part of character’s development.
Have you thought about the consequences of A’s actions to B’s character? A was pretty awful to them, I don’t know if I was B if I’d let A say something like that, or get away with it. If B just accepts what A’s done then they’re pretty much a doormat and I didn’t get that from their personality before.
A way to present the critique isn’t just about being harsh or complimentary, its about phrasing it I such a way that gives the write a chance to build from there. To find the answer that suits their goals for the story.
3. How to get Beta Readers
I’ve found quite a few people willing to read my work through Twitter, but its by no means the only source. You can go to writing forums, facebook groups, writing groups, discord channels. It’s a scary thing to reach out to someone, but being willing to reciprocate by offering up your work for critique is a good way to start.
Most people will start by talking about what genre they are writing, what age group, and the general themes of their story. They will move on to maybe a one line pitch, or short blurb about what the story is about to gauge both your interest in their work, and then you’ll need to reciprocate to ensure they want to read yours.
After that you can look at swapping one or two chapters, and its important at this point that a friendly dialogue has been built upon to be sure that you aren’t giving away your ideas or thoughts to someone who may try to steal your work.
Please be aware that some people will want disclaimers or have precursors to sharing. Swapping just the first chapter demonstrates what they will offer your script, and the chance to show them how you can help them too. But above all you need to be sure you trust the person you are giving your work to, which is why its good to become friends with them first.
4. When it’s too much
Giving detailed feedback is hard, especially when books are so long.
A good way in order to lessen the expectation on someone to read your work is to offer to read the first few chapters. Both of you make comments, and then give them back. This can become difficult based on where you are working at different stages of your learning how to be a good beta reader. If you’re with a veteran writer you can learn a lot. If you are a beginner yourself, you can try and emulate them.
But as new writers, regardless of where you are at in your journey, sometimes it may not be a great use of your time. I often found if I was adding more than ten comments a page that I couldn’t do it to the whole script, what they needed was closer to a developmental edit, or critic partner. I’d just offer my feedback on the first 5k words or so and show them some of the tones they could apply to the whole script to help them. Some writers can learn a lot from just that and apply it.
It’s when you are presented or expected to read a whole book when the writer is not only new to the craft, but either thinks their work doesn’t need any improving, or is unwilling to do the work you need to ask yourself if moving forward with the beta reading relationship will be worth your investment. It can be unpleasant when this happens, both to you and by you, and the best thing to do is be kind, polite, but above all professional.
Don’t forget, you are probably spending time you could use on your own work, and if the relationship isn’t mutual and working well together you may want to reconsider whether you keep moving forward.
5. The MOST important thing
Find where a writer does well and POINT IT OUT.
We all live with such soul crushing doubt of our abilities, its never more critical to add genuine reactions in the comments section. To squeal with excitement at first kisses, to cuss in the sidelines when the nemesis comes along. To swoon over beautiful settings and turns of phrases.
There is something incredible about walking through a beta readers feedback and finding these comments. I like to think of them as cookies, and explain that to people I am beta reading for.
This also helps them take on the more negative or critical aspects of your commentary, allowing you both to move forward with the story and to see it to its end. I remember the first time I started working with a developmental editor, counting how many developmental comments he made in total. It was a complete bummer when it was hundreds of things that needed improving.
Once I started tackling it, finding times he was completely wrapt up in the text and loving it was the motivation I needed to move forward.
Remember that you are reviewing someone’s love. A piece of themselves they have fought to have time to spend on, only to get stuck, retry, come back, delete, rewrite, and antagonize over. They have poured parts of themselves into these pages and they are trusting you to take care of them.
Be gentle, be kind, be helpful, but know that the most important thing you can do is be honest. No one develops or grows from feedback that is nothing but compliments. As hard as it may be that’s the trust they are giving you, that you will be honest, and help them make their story the bet it can be.
I don’t like promoting myself.
Let’s not kid ourselves.
We’re asking someone, probably a stranger, to buy our stuff. Like us cause of this shiny thing here.
I have this SWEET new book trailer for Queen of Spades!
Darkening comes out next week, and soon, VERY SOON, I will have hard copies!!!
Why is it so hard to promote ourselves then when there is so much to be proud of?
I want the results of promoting; people to buy my book. But its a very different step between putting your book out there and putting yourself out there. Crossing those hurdles is hard and I keep lying to myself about why I don’t do it. Why is that? When we are so proud is it so hard to say; hey, buy my book, its kind of awesome.
If you needed a taste of it, here it is on Netgalley as well. There are already a few very nice five star reviews. Cool right?
Even people on Goodreads think its pretty good!
Why is it so freaking difficult to be pleased with myself at this point in time? To say to you, a stranger, that you might like this book I wrote and right now its super cheap.
Because we care too much about the results and the fear of failure isn’t just about having accomplished all of this, but that it goes nowhere. We all want books finished, with agents, published, mass buying, film deals, someone to call me darling and peel my grapes.
But what we mostly want to be told is we did good. We are filled with so much self doubt as we wade the murky waters of what success looks like, and how we value both ourselves and our work. Most of us who’ve been in this industry a while realize that the best thing you can get out of a book is that someone enjoyed it. We know not everyone will like it, maybe for very good reasons or very dumb reasons but its the inherent fear of why try asking for someone to buy it when we could fail.
How that defines us as people and what we place of self value, not on good or bad reviews but on… nothing. It’d be better to hear the faults than have no response at all. That’s what we fear. That it’s not just a potentially bad review – but that it just dies a slow death of indifference.
When the concept of a sliver of our souls might be ignored, its hard to say to someone these simple words;
I wrote this book. It’s a part of me. Could you read the first bit – tell me if you like it if you have the time too, but its cool if you don’t. I just hope you can check it out, and if you do that you enjoy your time.
That was really hard. But if you have the time, I’d appreciate it if you got my book.
There I said it.
So… have you read it yet?
Image Alt Text:
This image depicts a purple sun on a white background and overlaid with the words “Exploring the need for / Sensitivity Readers / a blog series / by E.J. Dawson, Tara Jazdzewski, Alex Woodroe, Ashley Dawn, Fay Lane and Alexa Rose”. To the right of this image are a series of words arranged beside a black triangle, and from the top, the words read “disability / race / orientation / culture / sex / gender / age / beliefs”.
This banner is part of an ongoing blog series about sensitivity readers. Graphic created by Alexa Rose, August 7, 2020.
A group of friends and I decided that one of the things we can do to help people understand why sensitivity readers are important. We came together to do this tour interviewing sensitivity readers of varying areas to talk to them about who they are and what they do.
This weekend Alex Woodroe talks to Sophie about her experiences with sensitivity reading and the difficult topics and struggle it can sometimes be to create a balance between the writer’s goals and the readers experience. The hard work involved in ensuring a helpful and unharmful narrative is used when addressing difficult topics.