Routines

Part of my ability to get words down into a word processor comes from Routine.

I used to think that I could only write when the ideas came. That’s why I enjoyed reading books. It seemed to me that writers were magical people that had ideas all the time and had no problem getting them out onto a piece of paper. Maybe, I thought, they just mailed in their great ideas to a Book Maker who immediately realized how wonderful it all was and sent it to press.

My first writing-advice came from the Rivan Codex by David Eddings. In that book, he talks about being a writer in his prologue, speaks about how he developed his fantasy stories. He talks about Editing, something that I wasn’t familiar with in my teens. I remember realizing then as I read that book that there was so much more that went into creating a book than just writing.

In college I learned that you don’t just sit down and create a masterpiece. I mean, of course SOME people do. I know Dean Wesley Smith is a big proponent of not editing your story to death. However when you’re in that beginning phase of learning the craft, you have to throw a lot of pots before you get one that makes it though the kiln without shattering.

The key to that practice is routine. When I was learning Clarinet, I had to put in an hour of practice a day. When I was attempting to learn my multiplication tables, it was repetitive routine. When I am learning skating skills for Roller Derby, it’s focused skating to teach my muscles where they need to gain strength.

Writing is no difference.

My routine, at the moment is as follows:

Alarm goes off at 5:45am. Get up, put on robe and slippers, find glasses. Go to desktop and plop bottom in chair. Turn on music and put on headphones. Open up word processor. Type until 6:30. Get up and go get ready for day job. Come home from day job. Do an hour of making dinner, picking up or whatever small errands need to be attended. At 7, come back to chair and put butt in it. Open up word processor. Work until about 9:30. Go to bed. Rinse. Repeat.

There are days that are challenging. On Monday, I had some afterwork responsibilities. On Thursday I have an event I’m attending with a friend. Both of these things break into the evening word count. On those days, you make up where you can. Sometimes I’m able to get the words in at lunch at work. You just have to find those ‘dead times’ in your day where you wouldn’t normally be doing anything.

I dream that one day when I go full time (Not before 2019 the rate I’m going) I can just work for blocks of time and won’t need to snatch here and there, but even full time writers have to make the time to get things done. Rock those writing routines, y’all. It’s amazing what we can get done in 15-30 minute stretches.

The Importance of Being Beta’d

Recently I submitted a short story to the Writers of the Future contest. I poured over that bit of fiction for three months. I had my beta reader pour over it. I revised and edited then showed it to another beta reader. Then revised some more and then, I submitted it. Proud of myself for my submitting accomplishment, I then went and showed it to a friend who’d expressed interest in looking at it and her first comment was, “I really like it! Do you want me to point out the typos I found, or is someone else doing that for you?

Lesson: There is no such thing as too many beta readers.

I mean, sure, ok, maybe more than 10 people is a bit much, but less than? No. It can never hurt to have more eyes on your fiction.

Yes, you should have the ability to write something with complete sentences, and yes you should have a character in a setting with a conflict so that the reader has something to do, but before you can get to the point of HAVING a reader who spent money on your work, a writers needs someone to read their words and makes sure at A, they are good and B, that they didn’t leave in the entirety of your grocery list on accident or some other such nonsense.

I was first introduced to the concept of a beta reader when I got my start in writing by in fanfiction at the tender age of 11. I used to post my work to Fanfiction.net. (I believe that account has been deactivated and all my work taken down…but with the internet, one can never tell.) There used to be a column on the site that would give writers advice for improving their fictions. I didn’t recognize writing advice the first time I saw it, but the lesson of showing your work to someone before you put it up for the world to see has always resonated with me.

When I joined my first writing class, I was introduced to the very vital rule that Writing is Re-Writing. Before that class, I’d always felt a lot of frustration that nothing I put on paper came out the way I saw it in my head. I felt like I couldn’t show anyone my writing without being horribly embarrassed. There were exceptions of course. In high school I co-wrote a few stories with some friends via a swap-journal. We’d get a book and start writing out bits and pieces of a story and then hand it off when you were done with your part. Yet even that wasn’t true re-writing because we never edited or criticized what the other one was putting down.

That, dear fellows, is what a Beta-Reader is for.

First, you don’t want just anyone you meet to be a beta reader. If you are writing about sci-fi, perhaps your friend who hates sci-fi isn’t the best person to ask. Make sure that your reader is someone who is familiar with the subject that you are writing about and would be a good audience for the story you’re trying to tell. Find someone who is good at picking out errors and pointing them out. As someone to close read for unexpected scene shifts, head hopping and pacing problems. A beta reader can point out that you wrote that last passage as if your character had three arms and whether or not she remembered to actually use the same name for the type of mythical time keeping method you have in place for your fantasy world. Or if your murder suspect’s alibi changes between location moves.

A good beta reader will be blunt but kind. They will take your baby into their arms, lay it out on their exam table and using a steady hand, draw the dotted lines around where the incisions need to be made for a better version of your work. A beta reader does not tell you what to do. A beta reader does not re-write your words and change your novel without talking to you. They don’t share your work around to other people and they, above all things, do not tell you that it’s fine as is on the first pass.

These qualities can take a while to cultivate and find. For me, the best way to get a good beta was to become a beta. When I found out that one of my close friends was working on her writing, I immediately volunteered to look at her work. As I began to go through it and give her that needed extra opinion, we began to feel each other out, to realize where each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. Personally, I’ve been told that I’m a decent story-doctor when it comes to recognizing pacing issues. She is amazing at grammar. It all evens out to create a better product.

Finally, recognize that your beta reader probably should not be your life partner or parent. There needs to be some boundaries that exist and both those people are unlikely to give you the completely honest feedback you need to improve.

Good places to find Beta Readers:
-Online Writing forums

-Writers circles – Most writing circles offer critique. I know that I was in one for a few years where we emailed out what we were going to critique and you came and discussed it together.

-Social media – Follow people who read the types of books you do and make some friends. See if they will look over your work

-Online forums – There are several communities that spring up around areas of interest and here is a good area to hunt down readers who would be interested in what you’re working on.

-Writer’s blogs – A lot of writers (including myself) are usually interested in some sort of swap. I like to swap the first 500 words of a work in progress with people when I’m trying to nail an opening or hook.

Writing is Re-writing, friends. Don’t be afraid to change.

 

 

Drafting Versus Editing

I made a tumblr post forever ago that stated simply, “I’d be a much better writer if I wrote as much as I talked about writing.”

After all.
Writers Write.
They don’t talk about what they are writing.
They don’t sit in one place and dream about what they could be writing.
They turn off the Candy Crush. They turn on the word processor. They start pecking away.

This universal and oft-repeated truth is one of the hardest things to do. Writing, in short, is hard. People who don’t write think it’s easy. They expect that their writer friend or co-worker can just spit out amazing things because hey, they are a writer and that’s what they do.

Another repeated and true thing is that writing is re-writing. I never, in my life, have been able to pull exactly what I want in a story out from my brain the first time around. In fact, that first stage when our intrepid author-wanna-be is throwing words onto the document sheet and piling them up is my most hated and reviled part of the process. Nothing I say in a rough draft ever fits what I picture in my mind. Its only in the re-writing and fixing process that I start to find that beautiful idea that I had months ago.

In Editing, I look at the lump of clay that I have clawed out of myself and I begin to cut away the imperfections. I accentuate what I wanted to focus on, strengthen the weaknesses, and slowly bring out the concept that had me typing away in the first place.

Finally, everyone’s process is different. I am a sprinter. I will write thousands of words for  months at a time…and inevitably life will interrupt me as I attempt to keep my writing habit fed…and I will fall disastrously off the daily writing habit. I once was dormant for years. Then, as the need became greater, months and most recently, weeks.

I look forward to the day when I have beaten that cycle and can keep to a daily writing schedule, but since I am a flawed individual, I expect that it will happen again. I’ve also learned to be okay with that. It’s not the end of the world if you miss a few days at the keyboard. It’s when you never get back into the groove that you have problems.