Recently I was asked to become a beta reader for a friend on-line. I jumped at the opportunity, but at the same time was uncertain on what exactly a beta reader was. I soon discovered it was just a fancy way of saying ‘critique partner’!
I’ve critiqued before, but not enough to confidently voice my own opinions onto other people’s work (and thus I’m still quite hesitant on getting my own work critiqued). Pushing such thoughts aside, I threw myself into the task, and felt a bit like a teacher with the red pen. In the end, I believed I analysed the work the best I could within a tight schedule (this was between assignments) and throughout the process, I thought of my own works in progress.
Here’s how becoming a beta reader helped me analyse my own writing:
- Are my characters actions and reactions plausible? Are they more than just cardboard cutouts?
- Could the setting be somewhere else or does the setting actually fit into the story? Two of my novels are set in two different suburbs of western Sydney– is this evident within each of these novels?
- Plot development – does it flow easily from one chapter to the next? Is it plausible?
- Do I have enough description to help maintain an understanding of the characters surroundings? Do I have an even balance between description and plot, so that the reader isn’t bogged down with too much description?
- Is there an even balance between dialogue and narrative? Does each characters dialogue sound authentic?
I’m now becoming more confident in being a beta reader and plan to have my own work critiqued in the not-too-distant future. I’ve come to learn that becoming a beta reader can help make me become a better writer.
I have never really been one to embrace change. There are times when I am quite content to just sit back and let everything stay the same. On the down side, however, this can get rather boring and such circumstances will not allow me to grow as a human being.
During these school holidays there have been a number of changes in my life that have changed the way I look at things in my personal life as well as my writing. Here are some examples:-
- There is no point in worrying about what is out of your control.
- Only you get to decide what you plan to do in life.
- There will be times when people refuse to see anybody else’s point of view other than their own. They make their decisions and learn to live with it.
- No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everybody.
- Not everything is as it seems.
I have been busy looking inwards, thinking of who I am as a writer and where the journey will take me. I’m looking forward to the journey, knowing that change will do me good.
How willing are you to embrace change for the better?
2011 is shaping up to be a personal year for me. Events have taken place that I feel compelled to write about them and others throughout my childhood. Writing personal essays has now become a part of my writing agenda.
I have been reading books on essays, including Writing from Personal Experience by Nancy Davidoff Kelton and Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Homes. I have found them both helpful and motivating and I have since compiled a list of possibilities to write about. Reading these books have also helped with my novels.
My first novel begins with a hit and run accident. I was left wondering if my writing sounded convincing enough when revealing the emotions of my characters. It was not until I was going over my personal experiences that I discovered I must have had some kind of repressed memory. I was in primary school when my grandfather was hit by a truck. He died instantly. Images and emotions of the days that followed flashed through my mind. I did know about such an event; I know how that feels. I feel I can now do my re-writes with more confidence.
It’s also funny how timing comes into our lives. Through my husband’s work, he forwarded on a link to a Victorian Roads commercial. This video is both graphic and confronting, yet it brings the message home. It, too, has allowed me to focus on the emotions and the people who are left behind. Since watching this video, I have discovered that looking outside the box is a helpful tool.
As Nancy Davidoff Kelton writes in her book: ‘Writing isn’t about going far. It’s about going far within’.
How far are you willing to travel?
In a recent conversation with one of the mothers at my son’s new school, she looked at me and asked ‘You don’t work?’ I quickly replied that I do casual work. Straight away, I jumped into the safe, acceptable job, rather than tell her I’m a writer.
I have been down this road a number of times over the years. During my mother’s generation, one was frowned upon if women went to work, rather than stay at home and look after the kids. Now it’s the complete opposite; I may not get dirty looks, but I can certainly feel their scorn. They think I stay at home and do nothing all day. Very few know I write, and only a handful know that I study. It is those mothers who don’t know me that are always so quick to judge.
Yet, a tiny voice inside my head refuses to allow me to tell anyone that I write. That voice is the voice of self-confidence. Because I am just starting to get myself out there and have very little publishing credits, I believe I sound like a fraud in saying I’m a writer. I know how it would sound. People would ask me what I’ve written (meaning published) and I would reply very little. They would look dubious, and I would feel ashamed. Rather than let that happen, I continue to be in an acceptable role.
And so I continue to be a writer in progress; practicing my craft and trying to make it as perfect as I possibly can. Putting my work out there is the first step to self-confidence and letting people know who I am: a writer.
Image by Debbie Johansson.
Recently I received the news that someone I know was getting published. Now, normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this scenario. Being a writer myself, I know how tough it can be. This particular case was a bit more closer to home, which brought out the green-eyed monster.
From my own experience I have also taken years to write the rough drafts for three of my own novels, however, my novels are still not of a high enough standard to send out to publishers. I began wondering why my novels were taking so long and asked myself ‘when is enough editing and re-writing enough’? Clearly, I was being unreasonable and too hard upon myself. This is what I did to overcome it:-
- I began telling myself that everyone’s road to publication is different. For some authors, they may have been writing only a few short years before they become published; others can take a great many years.
- I listened to music and went for walks. Exercising gave me time to think clearly and rationally, while music helped to cheer me up and de-stress.
- I shared my feelings with fellow writers. My writer’s group meets casually once a month, so this is where social networks really do help.
- I tried to stay positive, recalling what others have said about my writing. For example, a writing teacher once wrote that I had ‘great potential’ – something she didn’t see in many of her students, a member from my writer’s group said that my ‘writing was good. You’ll get published one day; it’s only a matter of time’. Stop the negative and embrace the positive.
- I began writing. The only way around a problem, is to work your way through it. To get better at writing, one must keep writing. Being a perfectionist, I need to realise that my rough drafts are bound to ‘suck’, but I will be the only person to see it in that form. Rough drafts can always be fixed.
I think I have a pretty clear idea of where I’m headed; I know which genres I prefer to write in and in what form, yet, once in a while, I go off the track. I want to experiment with something different.
Experimenting with different styles of writing is not self-doubt; it is quite simply spreading your wings. How will you know if you are any good at freelance writing or personal essays, for example, if you don’t try? Recently I have taken writing poetry seriously, which was once something I put off as it never really interested me. Now, I’m quite happy to keep trying.
Getting off track occasionally is good for a writer; it can be refreshing and less rigid – even cure writer’s block. By using different forms of writing you begin to multi-task and therefore you’re not ‘putting all your eggs in the one basket’. You begin to work out what you like and don’t like, and where your strengths and weaknesses are. Above all, you become a better writer.
Unfortunately, I have overlooked one important fact when concentrating on my goal to publication. Writing should be fun!
Image by Debbie Johansson.
In my household we are each named after a particular character from the Mr. Men Show. I am lovingly referred to as ‘Mr. Stubborn’. Okay, yes, I admit I am stubborn (I can thank my Scottish father for that one). My mother told me once that I was very determined and very, very obstinate. I think she said it to me in an effort to change my ways. Instead, I wear it as a sort of badge. After all, aren’t these some of the traits an author needs in order to succeed?
A stubborn writer:-
- Decides that if they are going to be a writer, then they are one.
- Refuses to give up, despite the number of rejections.
- Continues to write, even though they may think their writing sucks.
- Refuses to see that their writing sucks (until they are politely advised not to read their work through rose tinted glasses).
- Persists in believing they will ‘make it’ as a writer one day.
How stubborn are you with your writing?
Image by Debbie Johansson.
Recently, I attended an author visit by John Flanagan, author of the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The series began as a collection of short stories for his young son, who was not interested in reading. Although the series was originally meant for young boys, the series has a large following amongst girls (John took his publishers advice on introducing a strong female). The books have since gone on to sell millions of copies throughout the world, been translated into various languages and has won many awards.
John was entertaining, informative and great with the children. A highlight was his ‘show and tell’ – being a longbow, which he got some of the children to demonstrate. Here is his advice to writers just starting out:-
- Plan your story – you wouldn’t get in your car without knowing exactly where you were going.
- Story ideas can be found anywhere – it could be as simple as just walking down the street.
- Character names can also be found anywhere – one character’s name was found upon a billboard in Tamworth advertising a local business (of course, some alterations had to be made).
- Although rejection letters can feel personal, your story may not suit the publishers’ requirements, or the publisher may recently have accepted something similar. John was rejected about nine times!
- Be persistent – John Flanagan almost gave up trying until one of his children reminded him of those short stories he had written some time ago (they later went on to become the Ranger’s Apprentice series).
Attending author talks can be very rewarding – not only do you learn about the author’s work, you also get a feel for their personality and see how they interact with their readers. I recommend it to anyone.
Image by Debbie Johansson.
Growing up I never had a problem watching scary movies or reading scary books. Roller coasters always made me scream and laugh so much I cried. So what’s stopping me from trying to move forward as a writer?
I guess the real fear I have is a lack of self-confidence. Now that was something I always lacked as a child and has continued into my adult life. It has prevented me from doing many things. It is the fear of the great unknown, the fear itself of actually trying and making a fool of oneself when unsuccessful. The trouble is I have a tendency of thinking too much, instead of just getting on with it and doing it. For many years, for example, I have put off freelance writing just through fear alone.
Writing is something I can do, and always wanted to do. I have been told that I can write – it’s just a matter of time when I’m going to get published. My husband believes in me and is very supportive, yet the fear continues. Sometimes it’s like riding an emotional roller coaster; I’ll beat myself up for being so stupid and get really confident, while other days the self doubt takes a strong grip and refuses to let go.
There have been times when I have refused to let the fear take hold and afterwards, been left wondering why I was so worried in the first place. As you get older, you don’t necessarily become wiser. I just don’t want to get older and look back on these opportunities with any regrets. Funny, how I have to resort to an advertising slogan to help me. ‘Don’t just dream about it – do it!’
These past few weeks I’ve been doing a bit of ‘soul searching’. Basically, after reading Get Known before the Book Deal, I’ve been concentrating on platform building. This involves taking some time to work out my interests as a writer.
Years ago, I experimented with writing different genres. One that I particularly remember was romance writing. I read ‘how to’ books, listened to tapes, even joined the RWA. I was foolish enough to believe that writing in this genre was easy, but I actually found it difficult. Why? I think it was because (pardon the pun) my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t interested in the ‘girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy’ scenario: in fact it bored me. Personally, I don’t mind reading romance in a story as part of the sub-plot, but the main story has to grab my attention and pure romance wasn’t doing it for me.
I grew up reading and watching suspense, mystery, crime and horror. History always fascinated me as well, so by combining all these elements I have now come full circle. I have come to understand who I really am as a writer. In order to be successful as a writer, one needs to write what they are passionate about. Anything else and you’re not being authentic and true to yourself.
So this Valentines’ Day, listen to your heart when it comes to your writing.
Are you following your passion as a writer?