September. Leaves are changing color, Fall fever is in the air, and students are returning to school. That means raking yards (yuck), pumpkin spiced everything a bit too early, and an influx of new school and office supplies to make every writer’s heart skip a beat.
If you’re a frequent visitor of my blog you know that I am a writer. An published one, mind you (not yet anyway), but I love finding a good notebook or new favorite pen just as much as anyone else. Here’s a crazy question: what did people use before the almighty pen? As my one character’s profession deals with using this type of tool, I absolutely had to research it.
What? Research a basic tool? You bet!
Now I know what you must be thinking; It’s 2018. We use computers. You know, electronics? Cell phones. Touch screen tablets and styluses. Why would we need to know that? If you’re writing a modern day novel or non-fiction then sure, use all the modern tech and emoji references you want. What if your book, like mine, takes place in 1864? 1743? 1902? 44 B.C..? You really can’t use tech in those centuries unless you’re dealing with time travelers, portals, and space ships.
I find history fascinating. I’m not a classically historian and I haven’t been certified with signed and sealed stamps of approval hanging on my walls. But writing a historical novel series requires you to know things, everything really, about your chosen time period. So, in this first Research It post, I’ll be discussing and a very important tool that was used even before the invention of the typewriter itself. I doubt it’ll be brief (TL;DR status maybe?), and I’ll give credit to my sources of course. Without further adieu, let’s jump right into this madness, shall we?
Item 1: The Pen. I said PENS. #allthepens
Get your mind out of the gutter, dang it!
nor am I referencing the Pittsburgh Penguins
Which came first? The chicken or the egg? That can be amended to this version: Which came first? The graphite pencil or the pen? Now there is an entire website dedicated to the history of the pencil. I’m not kidding – it’s called pencils.com. I guess everyone has their own specialty, right? But that’s not what this particular section is about. Oh no. This is just as specialized as pencils.com. Enough with the thin sarcasm. Moving on with life!
Fun fact: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling recently posted this on her Twitter. My own confession: When I was in China in 2008 I wanted to buy all the adorable pens and pencils they had over there. But I guess I’m more practical…?
Typically, when I think of old style pens, my mind always jumps to the fountain pen. Those fancy, gold tipped things that every highly paid executive has sticking out of their lapel. I may be romanticizing that a bit. But what came before the fountain pen? And what came before that? Now I could just link the Wikipedia page here and just be done with it, but what fun would that be? Who wants to click out to a million little pages when it can all be here in one spot? So here’s the general order of things with some overlap of what was used depending on the development level of geographical regions:
For further details not touched upon here, please visit this Wiki page for all the juicy details. Still gotta give credit, even to a Wikipage!
The rest is, well, history! I figured I would take it nice and easy for this first entry since it’s where I am in the first draft of my novella. How do you like this new series? Was it at least a little bit informative? Light with a dash of humor, or just plain stupid? Let me know in the comments below what you think!
Also, let me know what you’d like to learn about next:
Forward we write!
I think that most of those who write, including myself, have dreamed of having their name included among the greatest authors of their time, from time to time anyway. So I’ve listed, down below, several things I tried and learned they’re things I just cannot do. Or. rather, need more time accomplishing. The next points emphasize the facts that not everything is free, whether its your time or your money.
Don’t set yourself up for failure. If you’re a new writer, set reasonable goals to start off. If you have a full or part time job on the side, work around that schedule. If you’re worried about word count, and you’re not even contracted for it, there’s no need to think twice about deadlines. You don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity.
Don’t set yourself up for failure. […] You don’t want to sacrifice quality for quantity.
#WriteTip: if you haven’t already, start your own stockpile of journals. Big ones, little ones, fancy ones, or simple ones. Find your own niche; the way you prefer to write. Even if you’re one of those strictly-electronic people, you’re not always going to have your laptop or computer by your bed. So get that notepad and start writing!
If you think of it, write it down. If you dream it, write it down.
“But I just want to get published!” Trust me, I get it. I really do. But if going the traditional route is the way you’ve chosen, then you need to have the patience of a saint and the drive to do your research into the publishing houses you want to try for. Here’s a tip I recently learned from my uncle – don’t use that publisher’s book that has lists of agents, publishing houses, editors, etc. for at least the publishers side of it. His reasoning: from the time that book is published to the time you potentially buy it, information could already be outdated. A publishing house could go under. An agent may decide to not represent authors anymore. Go to your genre’s section in an actual book store. It can be at a place like Half Price Books, that unique mom and pop shop you love so much or even Barnes N Noble (if they’re still around in your area). Open the covers of the books in that section and take note of their publication pages. That way you can go online and you’ll know for sure that they’re actually still around.
Publishing this way takes a lot of hard work, patience (as already mentioned), and tenacity. Make sure you’re choosing houses (no, I don’t mean being sorted into Gryffindor) that might suit you. Or, if you do have an agent, make sure it’s a genre they’ll be just as passionate about representing as you are. Either way, patience, patience patience!
Publishing this way take a lot of hard work, patience and tenacity.
Along the same lines, cover designing is also up in the non-freebie realm. Even though there’s the old adage of “never judging a book by its cover,” we all still do it, right? Admit it. If the cover doesn’t pique your interest as a reader first, you’re likely to pass it up without even reading the back cover or inside flap. If you have artists in your family or you’re incredibly talented yourself, go for doing it yourself. However, I wouldn’t suggest putting one of those “can anyone just help me out?” tweets up and expect folks to come running. To many it can seem like your begging for attention and you wouldn’t want that either.
Even though there’s the old adage of “never judging a book by its cover,” we all still do it, right? Admit it. If the cover doesn’t pique your interest as a reader first, you’re likely to pass it up without even reading the back cover or inside flap.
Publishing is still big business. Don’t let those who want to move everything to the tech world fool you into thinking that it’s a dead line of work. Do you know how many other authors and writers I’ve connected with through Twitter and Instagram? Many have been in the biz for years but a good many of them are babies just like me. We’re still finding our way and trusting the experienced to not lead us astray. Sometimes the writer’s community can be a toxic one, but if you surround yourself with the right folks who encourage you and you them, then you have found some gems.
Sometimes the writer’s community can be a toxic one, but if you surround yourself with the right folks who encourage you and you them, then you have found some gems.
Keep an eye out for the scams. If something looks too good to be true then it probably is. If someone is asking you to “give us x amount and we’ll do ALL THIS for YOU,” run hard. Run fast. I came across a website like that recently and their graphics kept emphasizing that they accepted all forms of payment even though they looked quite professional. If you get the feeling that something is off, check their location, their social media presence (ie follower count to the number of active users on their posts – they could have purchased followers to seem like they have a good presence online), and so on.
If you’ve found a mentor you can trust throughout your journey, ask them.
Rely on your instincts and write.
Rely on your instincts and write.
I’ve touched upon this topic a little bit already in an earlier post, how there’s a fine line between going back over a chapter you’ve already written ten times over without letting yourself just write the story. But now I feel like I’ve gotten far enough along to where I actually need to start paying further attention to lengths of scenes and what’s actually considered “fluff” over what’s actually “necessary.”
A writer has a certain degree of artistic license. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And when it comes time for those edits it can be painful to cut any of it out. Especially if it’s a scene you’ve come to love. Advise is a tricky thing, because you want to learn from someone who’s more experienced than you and that’s why you asked them to beta read in the first place. At the same time you don’t want to just dismiss what they have to say because you don’t like it.
Don’t feel that you need to explain all your decisions to your beta readers either. If they’ve only read a couple of chapters and something they suggest (for or against) will make sense later on, don’t reveal all your secrets just yet!
In the early 2000s it was seen almost “weird” meeting strangers on the Internet. But over the past fifteen years with the rise of multiple social media platforms it’s much more socially acceptable. There’s still the fear of someone stealing your work or “catfishing” you, but there are still trustworthy folks out there whose aim isn’t to take advantage of you. Find a small group of people you trust, using whatever method of communication you trust, and let them know that they can trust you as well. That way, whether you beta read for them or they for you, you know their opinions will hold more weight and the advise pill will be easier to swallow.
There’s still the fear of someone stealing your work or “catfishing” you, but there are still trustworthy folks out there whose aim isn’t to take advantage of you.
So I guess the only question that remains is this: Have you found someone you can trust? I’d like to think I have, and I’d like to think that they can trust me. We all have a singular goal – to be a published author. If we hold each other up and support one another in our journeys rather than be cutthroat about it, then we can celebrate each others achievements and be genuinely happy for each other.
#WQOTD for all you more grammatically-minded folks: Should I have used “advice” or “advise” in this post? I just picked one form and stuck with it!
If we hold each other up and support one another in our journeys rather than be cutthroat about it, then we can celebrate each other’s achievements and be genuinely happy for each other.
For now, don’t worry about the edits, unless you’re already at that stage of course! Just remember that you asked for their help. They’re giving up time in their day to sit down to analyze and enjoy and believe in your story. So don’t be too harsh on your return. They’ll appreciate that you’re just willing to listen!
I’ve decided to start a new blog series called “Facing It.” I don’t know how original it is or if I’m even qualified to write it, but I’ve recently felt like I need to do just what the title implies. To face it. To call out whatever it is and face it rather than avoid or downplay it. I’m sure there are also countless other blog posts that talk about writer’s block, how to overcome it or let it run its course, so this post will just highlight what I’ve learned and what I’m doing to press on.
Was that just advise? Whoops!
The moral of the story is this: find what works for you.
If having the latest writing program to help you organize your thoughts is what you need, use it.
If working on an amazing old, well-maintained typewriter is what inspires you, use it.
If you have a favorite author’s blog you follow for tips and tricks of the trade, use it.
If you doubt yourself and your abilities and your story, face it and seek people out who you can trust to help you along your way.
Without facing whatever it is that’s holding you back from getting it done, giving up may look more appealing than actually becoming published. It’s a long and hard process. To paraphrase my uncle’s own advise, write the story. That’s really all you’re doing with the first draft. Telling yourself the story. To emphasize what other writers before me have said: the first draft is always crap.
Everything else can come later.
My heart has been racing this weekend. I haven’t run a mile or biked or anything like that (which I probably should…). I’ve decided that it is time to face the daunting task of looking for a partner in crime. Also known as a publisher. I was asked on an Instagram post one afternoon if I was going the traditional way of publishing and I said yes, I am.
But, why? When this digital age has so many tools out there to do it on your own, why not just do it on your own? It’s not because I lack the discipline. It’s not that I have time constraints or anyone to set my schedule other than myself. Today I will be discussing at least two of the reasons why I am choosing to go the traditional route when there are so many ways of going about that from publisher to publisher.
Personally, I want the feedback. Whether it’s through straight up rejection or an agent’s perspective, I want to know if I have a good story from folks in the biz who have “seen it all.” I am so thankful to have found a small group of beta readers who are interested in seeing where The Firedamp Chronicles are headed. Even though they’re mostly a critique group, they are also preparing me (whether they realize it or not) to be able to receive news whether it’s good, the bad or the ugly. Sometimes the bad and the ugly can be the most valuable contributions.
I’m not going to lie – traditional publishing is just as intimidating and just as much work as self-publishing. You have to market yourself in both methods and you have to be confident enough in your work to sell it. I appreciate authors who have published via both methods. The traditional route may take a bit longer, but it’s just as rewarding as self-publishing. Of course, this is coming from someone who has nothing out there at all but her blog and Twitter/IG accounts and a dream, but I’ve met authors, using either method, who have been successful. They know how tough it is in the publishing world as a whole.
Now, time to plan a meet up with my uncle to discuss said publishing!
There are many things within the authoring world that confuse me, but there’s even more that just makes sense. What might be a necessity for one writer might not even be on the radar for another and vice versa.
I didn’t even know about outlining until a year into my research process. I don’t remember whose Twitter account it was that eventually led me to KM Weiland’s but I came to appreciate her tips and guides and blogs. THEN I discovered that she was a published writer herself with several self-help books on the process – she isn’t just fiction. She’s non-fiction as well.
The more I went through her blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, the more I realized that I really was lacking direction. All I had was the idea, but no idea on how to get from point a to b to c and so on without just abandoning my story all together. From past experience I knew that was my biggest downfall and this time around I want to be published more than ever.
Some, more experienced writers are able to function without the outline structure. They’re the more free-spirited type of writer. The more artsy who has notes and post-its and every inch of their wall or notebook covered from top to bottom with random ideas. Then there’s me. I can’t do that. I need to have a clean work space, I need to be organized, and I need to know exactly where I’m going.
That’s why the outline concept appealed to me from the very beginning, so down below I will be pointing out more pros than cons on the method. I’m sure it’s been discussed on countless other blogs before, but these are just based on my own observations as I’m slowly working through my series.
Whether you outline or not, whether you fully read this blog post or not, I suspect that we’re all heading towards the same goal of becoming a published author for the first time or you already are and you’re just preparing for your next release. Regardless of your methodology, you need to find what works best for your pacing. Having an outline has helped give me a sense of direction and some sense completion. If you are a new writer I strongly suggest having a read of KM Weiland’s helpful series available on Amazon. (She has no idea I’m plugging this so I swear this isn’t an #ad or anything like that. I just think they’re incredibly useful!)
So don’t worry if you have a day of complete distraction and procrastination. Even seasoned authors have them! Just keep pressing on!
I have a problem. I have more than one problem but that’s not what we’re here to focus on today! That will take far too long (ha!).
I remember reading a quote somewhere, and I have to dig it up again, which states that when you’re writing your first draft that you are writing the story for you and no one else. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t need beta readers or critiques or write groups right off the bat. The first draft is a chance for you to get the story out of your head and onto paper. Or in the form of pixels.
Edit: I’ve found the quote. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” -Terry Pratchett
So why do I keep going back and constantly edit the first few pages of the first story I’m ever considering submitting for publication?
That’s the motivation. Perfection.
The first draft isn’t meant to be perfect and yet I can’t let certain sentences go until I stare at them for an hour each to try and figure out how to best word it. I’m no editor and still I try to be. Do I use a semicolon here instead of a comma? Is this sentence an individual thought or is it part of the next or previous paragraph? Is that the right word I need or do I pull out my thesaurus again?
I think that some tuning is naturally part of the writing process but I know I start running into trouble when I start over analyzing things that really should be left alone for the editing stage.
Perfection can come at a later time, if it ever comes at all. For now, the story just needs to come out.
With racism still present in modern society, there will always be that one person who will use a slur without a second thought. They think that it’s right because it’s what they’ve been brought up using. But when it comes to literature, there is a distinct choice between using something derogatory and using nothing at all.
This is where my current dilemma comes into play. One of my main characters is Irish, another set of characters is German. America saw a huge influx of immigration from both these groups during the 1800s as more workers were needed to bring about the American Industrial Revolution and they were willing to do the jobs that many American citizens were not.
Racism over from the Old World – Europe, the Middle East, etc. That racism didn’t disappear overnight just by being in a new country. In fact, if anything, it got worse as they vied for jobs and land. While they were a freer people than those on plantations in the South they were still discriminated against just as they were in the British Isles. In the late 1800s there was a movement in the States against the Irish Catholic population.
Jobs for the Irish were just as hard to come by, if not harder, in the New World as in their native land. But still in numbers they came. The Great Famine pushed them out of their own country until the American Great Depression in the 1920s. Whenever they tried to get a job in places other than hard labor they were met with the “Irish Need Not Apply” sign at the door, in the ad or were flat out told no by the employer in person. It also would be historically accurate that they would constantly hear racial slurs directed towards them just for their nationality.
Which brings me to this question: How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line? I have Irish blood in me and I have German blood. I’m a mutt; your typical European mix inheriting the identities of multiple nationalities. I think that’s why I wanted to write something from this time period – we all come from somewhere. We all should learn history. But how much history is to much history?
How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line?
Do I conduct a poll? Do I try to figure out which name is “less bad” and only use that? Do I write several versions of the same scene to figure out the best route? Do I not use it at all? As someone who has experienced zero discrimination, all opportunities have been what I created for myself. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.
I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.
The word is only one small part of the overall story but the themes are still there. The character grows immensely as an individual and that one incident is one of the catalysts for that change. They overcome it and eventually find love. Still, my nerves are coming into play with that one particular scene; while I do use light language throughout the stories I’m not as worried about that as I am with this. I would rather question it now than get my novel black listed before it gets any further and I have to scrap it.
So I’m open to suggestions. If you want to know the scenario a bit more to be able to further advise or give more input, message me. I’m an open book. I’m legitimately both curious and cautious…
To self publish or not to self publish. That is the question. I may be borrowing and mixing up a line from literary history, but that’s how this week’s thought process has been going. Although The Firedamp Chronicles series is still in its infancy stages, I am starting to think on the later steps as well. Do I self-edit, self-design and self-publish? Or do I go the more traditional route by paying others to do those steps for me. Self publishing sounds instantly gratifying, but how can you really do a book tour on a zero dollar budget? And what if there are too many uncaught mistakes in the final product?
Although The Firedamp Chronicles series is still in its infancy stages, I am starting to think on the later steps as well.
For most of my life I’ve been a traditionalist. [I may lose a few readers here but…] I am a libertarian in terms of my political views. I believe in minimal government involvement in our daily lives and letting the American people thrive on their own choices rather than having so many regulations, taxes, HOAs, etc. to tell us what to do. I still believe in the American dream – paving a way for ones self and encouraging others along the way. I still believe in the sanctity of marriage, the logical order of things, of a harmony between science and religion. All that might be a bit much for a post about how to publish, right?
Not really, because it all leads up to the point of this blog post. Throughout my childhood I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author, like my uncle. But I always felt like I had to please everyone else around me and I never thought I was good enough of a writer to begin with. Folks I know still don’t believe that writing is a legitimate job, but it’s still hard work. It’s just slower work. It’s disciplined work. It’s organized work. It’s work that has been around as long as any other profession – maybe not a social media analyst or IT director; those jobs weren’t really around until the late ’90s or early 2000s. You get what I mean.
It’s disciplined work. It’s organized work. It’s work that has been around as long as any other profession – maybe not a social media analyst or IT director; those jobs weren’t really around until the late ’90s or early 2000s. You get what I mean.
I am a traditionalist when it comes to publishing. While I do own a Kindle and I have several books on my app on my phone, I still prefer physical books. Their smell. Their feel. The occasional paper cuts when you turn a page too quickly. Boy, do I sound like a lunatic. But if you are a book lover like I am, you understand.
I’ve seen some pretty bad self-published works out there. There was a story I bought on-the-cheap last year and I found several spelling errors every few pages, awkward sentences, and abrupt scene changes. You could just tell the individual was a new author working on a minimal budget. They didn’t have the resources – or, if they did, just wanted to scrape by in order to get the work published – and I get that. I don’t have several hundred dollars to spend on an editor or publicist or cover designer.
The fear of falling into the bad side of self-publishing is terrifying to me.
The fear of falling into the bad side of self-publishing is terrifying to me. If I am going to put a story out there that took me several years to research and write, it’s a representation of my abilities. Sure, there are some who are able to do all that and are successful at self-publishing. but that’s where my traditionalism comes into play.
It’s been said that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter received rejection after rejection before it was finally published. With all that rejection through the traditional route she still pressed on. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone just had its 20th birthday (I was 12 years old when it came out. Dang…). But now she also has that editor, that publicist, that assistant, that help. That team of people who believe in her abilities and the characters she created.
I’m not sure if being that well known of an author is a route every person who writes aims for; at least some recognition would be nice. But I think that there are many writers out there, like myself, who have to do it on their own. Maybe self publish one small work, like a novella first, to get their foot in the door. So, at the end of this blog post, I’m still undecided on which direction to go. There are pros and cons to both methods, that’s for sure, but you’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you at least try.
Writing is a process. No writer can go into a story without knowing that there is a general logical order of things every step of the way. There’s a process with the writing. There’s a process with the editing. There’s a process with the publishing. And there’s a process with marketing. I don’t claim to be an expert, being as new to this as sprouts are on the first official day of spring. But I thought I’d take a break from my own writing to share what I’ve learned so far. I hesitate to use the word journey because I feel as though I’ve beaten that word to death with overuse on this website already. Expedition? No, that’s too scientific. Campaign? No, that’s too political. Ehhhhh, I’ll think of something!
Processes. Decisions. When you choose to write first you have to choose your niche. Are you a fantasy writer? A historian? Is your history going to be straight up history or history with a twist? Are you going fiction or non-fiction? What kind of characters do you hope to develop? Do you choose simple story arcs or more complicated ones? Are fairy tales your passion or do you prefer hard-hitting journalism?
Is your head spinning yet?
Those are the first questions I found myself asking the day after the idea for my work in progress pushed its way into my life. For some, the beginnings come naturally. They’re able to just write, without thinking about outlining or grammar terminologies or Venn diagrams. For others, like myself, they need that structure to help them along. However you choose to write, stick with that method.
I found myself becoming overwhelmed with all the options and I realized, as I went back through my earlier documents, that that uncertainty was most certainly reflected in the early stages of my thought processes. Occasionally I have to regroup and spend several hours whittling down, rewriting, and condensing information back into a format that made sense.
After two years I feel like I’ve finally found my niche – the things that encourage me to keep going and not to just give up with my writing. That’s what this blog post is all about. Maybe it’ll make some kind of sense, maybe not. But maybe you’ll find something in this post you can relate to in your writing life.
For some the beginnings come naturally. They are able to just write, without thinking about outlining or grammar terminologies or Venn diagrams.
Social media is an evil necessity. There are days where I think about completely erasing my footprint from the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and so on in exchange for a simpler life. The life, you know, that existed in 1995. In 1995 Bill Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States, Star Trek: Voyager made its debut into the Trekverse (my dork side is showing here), the domestic terrorist attack in Oklahoma City took place, Syria was in peace talks with Israel, a 7.3 earthquake rocked Japan and the Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched. Oh, and everyone was enraptured by Tom Hanks’ Apollo 13 film.
I was ten years old in 1995 and blissfully unaware of how the Internet, used only through a modem and dial-up back then, would become such an entwined part of daily life. Now, for better or for worse, everyone from actors to publicists to news anchors to the Presidents of the United States uses it. If you’re looking to sell your book digitally, you almost have to have a media footprint. Almost.
It’s something I’ve come to accept as a 32 year old. I have Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I don’t have a YouTube channel because I hate being on camera and I don’t have thousands of followers. But I’ve found that I enjoy creating blurbs to spark interest in writing. I used to create graphics for my church’s social media, preferring to avoid any potential copyright issues, and I’ve carried that over to my own website and other platforms. This, however, leads me into my next point.
What can I say about social media and staying true to yourself that hasn’t already been said? While social media is, indeed, useful in marketing your work, yourself, your image, it’s easy to lose yourself into the streamlined persona that everyone has come to expect. You know what I mean – those ultra filtered perfect looking photos that makes you either A: want their life or B: makes you wonder what they’re hiding behind that facade. It’s also why mental health has become such an issue.
The problem with social media is that *some* folks who follow you can have not only those unrealistic exceptions I’ve already touched upon, but they want you to always be online and respond instantly. Know yourself first, have your priorities straight second. If you don’t you can easily find yourself getting sucked into the “fast fame” mindset. Find a balance.
Social media is a double edged sword. It can be used to gain fast fame or to defame. It can be an incredibly useful tool to expand your readership or it can be an incredible distraction. However you choose to utilize this tool in the 21st century, think twice before Tweeting, Posting, or Snapping. Ask yourself if you’re lifting someone up or tearing them down with the post. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t express opinions or have strong views. I’m only advocating being smart with it. There is a difference between social justice and spitefulness. There’s already enough of that in society.
I end this post with a hilarious bit from Britain’s great Mr. Bean. In this skit, he goes to library and, as usual, chaos ensues!
I knew this day would eventually come – I would have to start getting opinions from readers and using that feedback to better enhance my writing. Awaiting the results of those opinions, in my opinion anyway, is worse than waiting for a prognosis from a doctor about a medical condition.
Because when people read your work they’re reading a bit of your soul, your time, your effort. A doctor assess what is wrong with your physical body. Readers can maybe, sometimes see what is wrong with your mental…body?
Knowing I was going to have my family (of all people) read just the first page of my novella I’d spent all day at work nervously staring at the clock for the hand to hit 6:00 pm. When it finally did I scooped up the two copies I’d printed out, crossed out the last line because I already knew I hated it and joined the rush hour traffic as we all made our way home.
Family dinner nights have been a tradition since my parents started watching my niece as a baby over five years ago, when my sister went back to work after her maternity leave. And again after my nephew was born. My Dad’s a baby-man. Kids love him and he knows how to handle them. Watching him with my niece and nephew has given me a peek into how he was when my sister and I were that age. But I digress.
Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day. Breezes flew around the Pittsburgh valley, across the waters of the Three Rivers and into our neighborhood. We had a light dinner of sandwiches and salad and decided the conditions outside were fantastic for a quick ramble around the neighborhood. Of course, for that entire three-hour time frame, my eyes kept searching for one of them to pick up a copy of the first page. I wanted them to read it yet not at the same time. Quite the conundrum, right? Finally they did and I realized that I had to learn not to be so defensive about my work.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President
Mom: “You used too many adjectives.”
Sister: “I thought they were brothers. What do you mean they’re not?”
Dad: “Do you want my notes now or later?”
Brother-in-law: “I’ll read it later.” (In his defense he’s on council for a local government and a lot was happening last night. I let him slide!)
While I knew that the first page had already undergone several edits – I started out by just taking down the original ideas, recognized that I started too many sentences the same way and changed them, etc – there was no way my family could have known that so I had to expect that they wouldn’t sugar coat their opinions.
I think that’s what many folks of modern American expect – sugar-coated opinions and nothing but praise. If all you receive is praise and approval with everything you do how can you expect to grow or change something about yourself without the critique of others?
It’s not completely back to the drawing board with my novella. I’m rather glad twelve hours later that I decided to ask for someone to read it this early in the writing process than much much further in without seeing my faults.
Write some, edit some.
Write some, edit some.
Study sentence structure.
Make it better.
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”
Tonight I will be undertaking the most anxiety-ridden task of my life – reintroducing my writing to my family. Yes, my family. They say your family members are your worst critics because they actually know you and how you tick. It’s hard to break through that barrier to show them something you’re working towards accomplishing. Ahhhh writer’s anxiety.
I think every writer has their own levels of anxiety. As a child I thoroughly enjoyed reading because I knew it was something I hadn’t written myself. As high school Creative Writing class came into play that changed. I had only ever written for myself – mostly Star Trek fanfictions I wouldn’t let anyone else read – and now I was expected to write for a grade. So why would anyone want to write for strangers and then to have those strangers critique the innermost being of your soul?
So why would anyone want to write for strangers and then to have those strangers critique the innermost being of your soul?
There’s another saying out there that says you put a bit of yourself into each story you write. That, of course, is just a paraphrase but you get the gist of it. So tonight during my family’s weekly dinner night I’ll be bearing that bit of myself as I share the first page of my novella. I feel like it’s finally ready for its first mini beta test and who else but my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law to share it with? I also chose them because I have this nagging fear in the back of my mind that some internet stranger would attempt to steal my ideas and make it their own. Plagiarism is real and I’m trying to avoid not only having it done to me but inadvertently doing it myself.
I just need to take that leap of faith. The critics are going to come out of the woodwork whether they’re you’re family or not so why not get used to those opinions now if you know they’re going to potentially make you a better writer?
How else can I expect to grow if I can’t expect or accept constructive criticism?