Thursday, 30 July 2015

Beta Readers: Value Added in the Editing Process

When I finished a decent draft of my novel, "In Angel's Wake", I hired a professional to provide editing feedback.  This service was invaluable, and my editor pointed out gaps in my plot, weaknesses in my writing that included repetition of some of my favourite descriptions and generally provided ideas to strengthen my work.  It was an excellent experience.

After I made several revisions inspired by the editor's feedback, I had a handful of copies of my book printed and bound.  I handed them out to a select few folks who were willing to read my work and offer some opinion: my very first batch of Beta Readers!

As suggested at one of the workshops I attended at Ontario Writer's Conference, I offered a set of highlighters with each copy.  Green for "Good work", yellow for "I'm not sure I understand/I'm not sure this fits" and Pink for "No. Not this." All of my beta readers, except the one I met at that conference, were surprised by the highlighters. Some tried to embrace the markers but found them cumbersome, choosing pencil instead to mark up their copy.

My very favourite response to the highlighters was one beta reader's comment "I'm sorry, I didn't use the markers much.  I was so involved with the story I forgot about them."

My first group of beta readers have taught me a lot.  One, who was very keen to offer, didn't finish my book.  One, who I know likes me very much as a friend, didn't even start. One, who laughed at the markers, sent me a lovely note and let me know that my manuscript is being enjoyed so much it has been passed to a few other people to enjoy before it will make its way back to me with written feedback. One was the young woman who printed and bound the copies and requested a copy for herself, though she didn't get to read it until her mother was done.

The feedback I've received from my beta readers so far has been quite different from that of my professional editor. It has been just as useful as I consider further revisions to this story.  In fact, some readers suggested they would like more, sparking the idea of a trilogy to tell more of the tale of Angel and the people in her small Newfoundland community.  It also helps very much to pass the time while I wait to hear whether the publisher I have queried might like to read the whole story or whether I must knock on another door.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What's Your Writing Habit?

Common advice for writers includes the recommendation to write every day.  Establishing a daily writing habit, a work schedule for your craft, is encouraged to increase both quantity and quality of writing.  Making time daily means more opportunity to write, edit and revise.

I am not an every day writer. Even during NaNoWriMo I have been unable to write every day. With two part-time jobs, two volunteer gigs, four school-aged children and a live-in in-law, my days are hectic and my schedule is erratic.  I don't really have any kind of daily routine established, and haven't for years.

In the past three years, I have won NaNoWriMo twice, finished and submitted a novel for publishing, finished a second novel that is in the first round of revisions and begun a third novel.  How can this be if I am not writing daily?

I write whenever I can, wherever I can.  Parts of my first draft of my first novel were written in the parents waiting room during horseback riding lessons, in the bleachers during football practice, in the waiting area of the dance studio and at the local library.  Revisions were done when I blocked off days to spend alone with my laptop in our trailer.

Life is often unpredictable.  Trying and failing to write daily might have left me too disheartened to continue.  I loved my stories too much to give up on them, and it turns out that my writing habits work well for me.  I've managed a pretty good word count since I returned to creative writing.  My stories are making their way into the world.

So, what is your writing habit?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Struggle for Consistency

I knew it was past time for another blog post, but I was a little bit surprised to see that it has been 32 days since my last effort.

Sometimes, life just carries us away and our to-do list can suffer.  In my house, June is chaotic, a feverish dance of special events and endings that bring ritual and celebration. This year it included two out-of-town conferences (one for each parent), various field trips, Brownie camp, a grade 8 graduation, a child rehearsing for the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Toronto and another writing grade 11 exams. Added to this special stress elixir was the unexpected ingredient of a gastrointestinal bug that made the rounds through our house.

In the blink of time's eye, here I am on July 8.  Sitting and waiting for my child again.  Finally, with moments to write and all my other obligations met.

I keep an old fashioned date book handy. Each week, I block off time for specific important activities. Exercise. Writing. Unfortunately, I only mark my schedule in pencil, as I have learned that life will unfold in its own way whether I have written my plans in ink or not.

So, I will continue to struggle for consistency - aiming for two blog posts a month and several writing sessions, no matter how short a session may be.  Imperfect, but about right for this time of life.