Apparently “Beta Readers” Are a Thing

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When I first ventured into this new phase of my life I never knew there was such a thing as a “beta reader.” As I looked more into it the more I realized that maybe I should find a few of my own. But then that “fear” crept up again. You know…the fear

Of course in Rachel’s case it’s fear of quitting her job and making something of her life, but I think the same concept applies here. I’ve been afraid of showing others not only what I’ve written so far but how little of it I’ve actually produced.

But then I realized that that is what I have been craving. I needed input. Someone to tell me whether they like it or hate it. Whether it’s a storyline they’ve read before or not. Whether it’s something they think is marketable, relevant, or fresh. I think it’s something every writer has to face some day – the criticism. I think that that is what’s been causing the mental block in my head from continuing with what I have already. Now thankfully I think I’ve found someone with whom I can share these fears, a fellow writer who is also working on her first novel as well.

There’s still that trepidation though, of whether or not you’ve chosen the right person, but beta readers are a necessary part of the writing process, and there’s only doing, not just trying. (Though I’m sure I’m butchering that phrase just now!)


Why You Should Research Your Historical Novel

Stardate 94766.96: #writetip

Every writer has to start somewhere. Every potential author needs to know that they don’t know everything. That, quite honestly, is one of the cold hard truths of the fast-paced publishing world. When I started this book last September, all I had was one tiny idea. One tiny element that would eventually grow to be this beast of a project where I am consistently learning new things.

If you’re going to write about a certain time period, KNOW that time period. You can’t write on the mid 1800s if all you’ve seen on the subject is a single film version of Jane Eyre. You have to immerse yourself in it. Be analytical of the content you find and be extremely picky of what you choose to include in your own nonfiction.

For first-time writers the task can be daunting at first. It was for me when I realized how little I knew. Some authors can pick up their pen and crank out half a novel in a night. Don’t let yourself become discouraged if you find yourself getting stuck. That’s what the research there is for! If you’re not sure what type of hat your character could have worn, or why they believe what they believe, or if the town you chose for your backdrop is the proper setting for your climax, research it.

Another truth: readers will know, and want to know, why you chose the details you put in. Your readers will also be able to pick up on false facts, especially if you’re writing something historical. Granted, it will be your take on events that actually happened, but be prepared to be able to explain the why.

Is research daunting? Yes. But you will not only find connections in the process but gain a wealth of knowledge on your subjects that you may otherwise have never known.


Don’t Worry. Just Write.

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If beginning the writing process has taught me anything it is that writing takes time. This has been a hard lesson to learn because I know that I never figured that out when I was a kid. I always wanted the story to magically finish itself or I would play it out in my head and never put it to paper. I am positive that I have written hundreds of stories but was never confident enough to actually write them down.

My uncle often brought books back from his travels. He tours the world as an author, gave workshops and attended them. When he came back he would say, “Now this [book] is really popular in England.” I don’t think that I even have to tell you what one of them was. You could probably figure out that it was the first two books from the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. One time he brought back A Wrinkle in Time introducing me to Madeline L’Engle. When I was in high school he brought back Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. But when I read the most was in my childhood. That was when I realized that words can be powerful.

One thing I always appreciated about my parents is that they let me read them. (At one point I also owned almost the entire Star Trek Voyager book series. I wish sometimes that I still did!) I grew up in a Christian household so I often heard of the debates on the series from other parents in church, at school and on the radio. While Harry Potter does, of course, have the “mystical” elements to it so did the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. We viewed Harry Potter that also taught lessons as well being a well-written story. If you focused all your energy on one negative aspect, your mind can become closed to the other elements also in a story. That “negative aspect” was that some parents felt that the Harry Potter series greatly encourage kids to believe that they too were witches and wizards, poltergeists and goblins.

But is that not what good writing is supposed to do? A good show or film is supposed to do? Not discourage imagination but encourage it, as long as we know it is not real?

But is that not what good writing is supposed to do? A good show or film is supposed to do? Not discourage imagination but encourage it, as long as we know it is not real? That is why it is more than okay to take your time writing your first novel. You want your work to inspire, encourage and entertain. Every writer aims to have that ripple effect – the one where your breakout story will be latched onto by every reader the instant it is picked up. The one where your publisher cannot keep the bookstores’ shelving stocked because it is in such high demand. For most writers it is amongst their first thoughts with the initial keystrokes, ink on paper and pinned post it to a corkboard. The dream is in each word that is misspelled, scratched out and rewritten. The dream is in each scene or action sequence rephrased, completely deleted or moved to another chapter. The dream is in each step of the writing process and with each one of those the worry is there.

That brings me to the other point of my title – Don’t Worry. If you believe in your dream others will see it reflect in you. They will see the hours of hard work you put into it and books of research read. Writing is an art but it also takes time to hone and shape that art into something you know you can be proud of. Don’t doubt yourself because sometimes that is harder to pull yourself out of and you know you will never finish. Don’t worry about all that extra stuff and just WRITE. While networking, finding a publisher and putting yourself out there are all important things, don’t let all that extra stuff get in the way of what you initially started to do: WRITE. Write as though you are not aiming for publication but to begin and end a story. That’s the first step. The other steps will come later but for now work on your craft and don’t let others discourage you. You are your own greatest enemy.

You can do anything you set your mind to, regardless of if you are a seasoned writer or novice prose enthusiast.


Pros and Cons of Writing

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I threw that wish in the well, and you know for sure I will tell cuz I am ready for this and nothing’s in my way…

Did I really just rewrite the first two lines of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe song to begin this blog post? I believe I did, but the writer in my was happy to do it. This writer is also happy that the top row of the QWERTY keyboard has all the letters to spell the word “writer.” I am too easily amused…

But onward to the topic of today’s blog post, the Pros and Cons for First Time Writers. I don’t think that there is a writer who, at one time or another, thought that they weren’t good enough. I never knew them personally, but I am sure that JRR Tolkein, Stephen King, CS Lewis, JK Rowling and James Patterson all probably wrote something the were not proud of and never published. So for the first time writers out there, let’s look at some. I have grouped the following four points into a “Pro, Con and Resolution” pattern. They’re things I have discovered about my own writing style that I hope you will find useful.

Pro: You ADORE a well-written historical novel and want to write one yourself.

Con: If you love history and want to write a gorgeous piece set in Victorian England, you are writing a historical novel. And if you are writing this type of fiction you better do your research. Why? Because readers are going to analyze it. They’ll know if you don’t know the grammar of that time period, the clothing or locations. That’s part of the challenge, and the fun, for this form of fiction.

Resolution: Do your research. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention you’ll most likely discover something you never knew before, so you’ll write and learn all at the same time. During the process you may also network with historians, library staff and other knowledgeable folks you may never have met otherwise. If you can afford to, travel to the area your novel is set to get immersed into those elements. Of course not everyone can afford the luxury of a plane ticket to France or Germany, but sometimes seeing is believing in your story and can bring new plots to light.

Pro: You LOVE writing but:

Con: You wrote a lot mostly in high school but now you want to write again. Can you really do this?

Resolution: Of COURSE you can! I taking the plunge myself. Don’t let those self-doubts get in the way of progress. Think of it this way: if one of the most hated men in world history can write an autobiography called Mein Kampf, you can most certainly fill the pages of your own. But give yourself time. Don’t dive right in without testing the waters first. I went back to my roots by beginning a short story. It’s no longer short…it’s basically a novella now…but once you start something, FINISH it. I believe that is the toughest thing for any type of artist to do – FINISHing their projects.

Pro: Resources are available in abundance.

Con: Maybe one too many?

Resolution: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, which is easy to do in this digital age. You want to network, yes, but make sure you network worth like-minded and trustworthy people. Don’t let the idea of social media and marketing yourself scare you off because you are going to want to sell yourself and your writing to potential readers, authors, publishers, and other online resources. Don’t burn any bridges unless the relationship becomes detrimental to your goals.

Pro: You know your vocab. You took high school English or majored in a librarian or journalistic career

Con: Yet novel writing isn’t exactly your forte.

Resolution: In today’s digital age ANYbody can be a writer, whether it’s a blog post, a journalist position, a news prompt writer, or if you’re like me, you’re shooting to have an actual book published with pages people can turn. If you feel like you need a confidence booster, it’s okay to go back to school. Many colleges and universities offer writing courses and some can even be donne by correspondence. My point here is: we are constantly learning. Even if you think you know how to write there is not one person who can know everything, so don’t take yourself too seriously if you reach those dreaded writer’s blocks. Learn something new, get outside, switch up your work space, and let your mind relax.

From one non-expert to another I hope that this blog has been somewhat useful. I am a new author myself, and this post was also a way to get out of my head the lessons I have learned from the past few weeks. Remember that you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to staying on task. And unless you are already contracted with a publisher, you can set your own pace. What are your pros and cons? Don’t be afraid to critique yourself.

Find what kind of prose makes you happy and run with it. If you dream it, you can do it.

Keep calm and write on!


The Dream that Star Trek Gave Me

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I began this journey when I was ten years old. At least, I believe I was around ten. It seems that most of my memories from childhood come from between the ages of seven and ten, and I probably blocked most of my middle school years from memory because that was not the greatest time for me. I hated school. I hated that I couldn’t just read all the time. Yes, I was that kid. The wallflower who would rather read than play during recess. The introvert who preferred to write but not show anyone what she had written. Back then the teachers were “concerned” because I never socialized. And when I did it was with a few people in a one-on-one situation. I was always “that kid” who believed everyone else around her was, well, childish. But apparently now being a writer is cool. I believe everyone can agree that Reading Rainbow and Levar Burton greatly encouraged my generation to read and write and dream. I may not have been the most social kid, but you really can have a balance between the two. As a preteen I never saw that as a possibility, but being in my 30s looking back on childhood, I almost wish that were the case.

I have a confession. I used to write fanfiction. Little did I know that what I would write actually had a name, but my life revolved around science fiction. I adored Star Trek. We would also watch X-Files with Robert Patrick, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. I distinctly remember hiding behind my dad’s armchair at some of the scenes, deeming them too obscure and gross for my eyes. Let’s face it, I did the same with The Dark Crystal and some Star Trek episodes. I distinctly remember greatly disliking “The Thaw” episode where takes place inside their minds. A program that was supposed to just entertain the crew placed in stasis became sentient, and I did not want them to kill off my favorite character played by Garrett Wang. It was only season 2! All that aside, I saw something in Star Trek that made me want to write. So I wrote. I wrote short stories, when I got older I joined communities that discussed and debated tech and trek, and made a few friends I still talk with to this day.

There are many themes presented in Star Trek, but I will leave just a few with you today. One: hope. Star Trek encompasses the very ideals that, as a human race, we need to constantly have hope. One of the greatest debates between those who like Star Wars and those who like Trek is that Trek is too “intellectual” to be good viewing. On the flip side there are those who say that Star Wars is just the dumbed down version of Star Trek. Now before I cause a rumble, there are good points to both. With the resurgence of JJ Abrams’ and Simon Pegg’s Trek in the 2000s, I am given hope that a new generation of kids are being inspired by the hope that this genre brings.

In second place comes the theme of dreaming. When Star Trek: The Original Series aired in 1969 the United States was in the midst of a space race with the rest of the world. Even our landing on the moon is a highly debated topic, but space travel was fresh in the minds of everyone, creating the perfect time for a show of Trek’s nature to air. While Lost in Space can be credited with being one of the first to hit airwaves along with Great Britain’s Doctor Who series, Star Trek rocketed (pun somewhat intended!) to popularity.

Fun fact: William Shatner was not the original Captain Kirk. They had aired one pilot episode with Jeffrey Hunter playing the role, so they re-aired the pilot with Shatner as the new Kirk. I wonder if Hunter regrets giving up that role… Just one of the many things a Trekkie such as myself contemplates!

Finally, Star Trek brings to mind the theme of equality. It was common sense when a show about alien races and exploring the stars was dreamt of. Why would they also not include the theme of everyone being on the same playing field. Just look at the original cast – DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan – the cast that was put together by Gene Roddenberry reflected his dream of an equality. The first interracial on-screen kiss took place on Star Trek, and to this day every crew from The Next Generation to the 2009 Star Trek reboot has carried this them.

Hope. Dreams. Equality. All this, along with my own faith, helped shape the person I am today. You can’t have one without the other. As a quiet kid it encouraged my imagination and showed me that if they can do it, anyone can. For a while I gave up on my dream of being a published author, and even though I will be 31 next month it is never too late to pick right back up and conquer it. It may take a while with two jobs to accomplish now, but I hope you will join me on this journey as I work on my historical novel, The Girl Made of Coal. It is in its infancy stages, but as it grows I will have more to share! So for now I will leave you with this:

Keep Calm and Star Trek On!