Beta Reader Appreciations

ThankYouforWeb1

 

Today’s post is about gratitude. More specifically, it’s about the endless appreciation I have for my readers. Composing a novel is a rewarding yet maddening process. The journey from to a jumbled clot of half-formed ideas to a coherent parcel of neatly synced details is a long one. It’s like creating an incredibly elaborate patchwork quilt. Every detail is it’s own patch and not only does each patch have to compliment the ones directly next to it, it has to tie into the ones above and diagonal to it. It has to fit with the border. There have to be patterns and themes. And too top it all off, everything has to be neatly stitched together–so well stitched that you can’t see the stitches.

The more time you spend on a novel the harder it is to look at it objectively, to see if each patch is in place or if you’ve missed a stitch. Everything gets muddled inside your head. It’s for this reason that I’ve come to appreciate the immense importance of having people read your work as you go–of having beta readers.

Over the last year and a half I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible people volunteer to read and edit my novel. My parents were the first. They’ve been more supportive and helpful than I could ever ask for and I wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for them. Others who have taken many hours out of their days to read and give me feedback include my brother, grandma, my two beautiful aunts, Cameron Daniel, Becca Farmer, Lars Nordgreen, Ren Luckenbaugh, Max Pollock, Aaron Juchau, Andrew Punsoni, Kimberly Sabatini, Mark Holaday, Tanner Connolly, Danielle Renino, and anyone else who I might have missed. I’ve thanked all of these wonderful people individually but today I wanted to take a moment to revisit the support they’ve shown me. Whether you read the first few pages or all 270, my novel would be nowhere near it’s current state if it weren’t for you. Thank you for backing me in this journey.

 

 

Much love & keep writing.

 

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The Aspiring Author’s “To Do” List


Hi All,

Long time no blog.

This post goes out to those of you that are in the drafting stages of your first book. Right now you’re probably experiencing some Frankensteinesque tunnel vision along the lines of “Must finish book, must finish book…” It’s an involuntary mantra that never seems to turn off, even in sleep. I used to dream of finishing my manuscript only to wake up and find that I was still at a meager 20,000 words.

The point of this post is to drive home a very important message: The work doesn’t end once you’ve written your last word. Once you’ve decided your manuscript is ready to be seen by the eyes of agents and publishers you’re opening an entirely new can of worms and those worms need tending to.

So to give you an idea of the work involved in pushing a completed manuscript through publishing, I decided to share the things on my current writing “To Do” list:

  1. Research agents that are interested in my genre
  2. Send query letters to said agents (this can be pretty involved as most agents want query letters, synopses, and partial manuscript requests in varying formats)
  3. Attend writing functions/network (SCBWI is a great organization to be a part of if you want to get involved in your local writing community)
  4. Read books within my genre to see what’s currently hot on the market
  5. Find other writers (beta readers) to read my manuscript and provide feedback
  6. Beta read for other writers.
  7. Work on a second/third book (agents will be more interested in you if you have multiple books to publish)
  8. Make business cards
  9. BLOG (the more followers you have, the more marketable you look to agents and publishers)

Those are just the things I could think of off the top of my head. It’s safe to say that I’ve got quite enough to keep me busy for a while.

For those of you that are in the same stage, what’s on your writing “To Do” list? Is it the same as mine? Shorter? Longer? Did I miss anything?

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Much love, and keep writing. 

 

Jumping Write In: Skipping the Outline

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Laini Taylor gets me.

I decided before drafting the second novel in my series that I would first create a thorough outline of the plot. I embarked on my first book with nothing more than half a page of very disjointed notes scribbled on a napkin scrounged from a paper bag lunch. I decided that this time around I was going to do it “right.”

So instead of just jumping into the opening scene I began outlining…and outlining…and outlining. For three days I sat in front of a single page word document pulling my hair out as I attempted to claw ideas out of my head. What did I come up with you ask? Interestingly enough, mostly questions. Littered here and there in the white sea of a mostly empty document lay questions such as “What’s happening in her world when the book starts?” and “What is the conflict?”

Helpful? Not so much.

On the fourth day I said screw it, exited out of the document and opened a new one. I didn’t think. I didn’t wonder how what I was writing now would effect the end of the book. I just wrote. And a wonderful thing started to happen. The more I wrote the more the plot began to take form in my mind. As I filled the page with words the questions started to answer themselves. It’s a bizarre experience, really. Sometimes it feels as though the story is already in me and I just have to give myself the time to organize all the bits and pieces into a coherent whole.

That’s just how it works for some of us I guess. Some people spend weeks, even months planning out every little detail before they begin to write. But for some of us planning isn’t what breathes life into our books. Writing is.

Laini Taylor, author of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is an excellent example of someone who can write an incredibly compelling book with no plan at all. She’s also a goddess. If you haven’t read her trilogy, check it out.

Philosophy Versus Fiction: Writing for Change

Last week I met up with an old friend over drinks. This particular human happens to be a graduate student of philosophy at a world renowned university. While catching up she mentioned that she has been struggling with a literature class in which she is currently enrolled. I inquired as to why and she proclaimed that she does not see the benefit of fictional literature. “I mean, what’s the point of it,” she asked with a smile, knowing full well that my passion is fictional writing.

Now, to how many people this wonderful human has divulged her lack of respect for fiction I don’t know, but I’ve got to give her some credit for having the guts to say it to my face.

This was my response:

“I thought that we were friends but I think maybe I should leave now…” *Pretends to get up to walk out of the bar, ultimately sits back down and rambles somewhat incoherently about the importance of fiction as a mode for communicating philosophical thought.*

Thankfully, the conversation eventually turned to other topics once we politely agreed to disagree on the matter. Friendship salvaged.

About a week has gone by but I haven’t been able to shake this conversation. I haven’t quite managed to stop mentally replaying my response. Now that I’m in a slightly more lucid state, I’d like to address some of the thoughts I’ve since had about philosophy in fictional literature. As it turns out, there have been many.

Let’s start with a question: What is the point of writing?

There are a number of answers to this question depending on who you ask. Some will say they write to tell a story. Others say it’s to cleanse their mind of nagging thoughts.

I would say that it’s to impact the people that read what you write–to write for change. I’d even go out on a limb and say that most philosophers would agree with my answer.

So let’s get real for a minute here. If we’re talking philosophy versus fiction under the lens of impact, what is the general population more likely to read, a prominent philosophical paper or an acclaimed novel? If I write a stellar, ground breaking philosophical essay who’s going to read it? Probably a bunch of old mostly white dudes sitting around smoking wooden pipes. Maybe some PHD and graduate students will check it out too. It might even trickle its way down to a couple undergrad. lectures or to the computer screens of precocious high schoolers. But by the time it makes its way around the somewhat small philosophical world, how many people will have actually read it? How many people will be affected or change their approach to life because of this essay?

Chances are, not that many.

Now, how many people do you think have read The Giver by Lois Lowry? I’d wager most of the educated American youth who attended middle school in the last two decades. The entire premise of the novel hinges on a single question: What is the best way to live? *cough cough* Ethics. Is it worth sacrificing love and passion in order to live without pain and suffering? No one wants to deal with pain and suffering, especially when they’re in middle school, but this book has opened the eyes of many a preteen to the idea that without hardship it becomes nearly impossible to appreciate the joy of life.

Next take The Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman. This trilogy is a meditation on the suppressive nature of religion. Not to go all analytical essayist on you but I’ll support my claim with a quote from Ruta Skadi, one of the secondary characters of the work: “For all of [the Church’s] history…it’s tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out.” When I was eleven I hadn’t read any philosophical texts or essays. Come to think of it, now that I’m twenty-two I haven’t read all that many either. But these books sparked my own meditative journey on the philosophy of religion that lasted well into my high school years. Hell, my mind still gravitates back to this series when thinking about religious themes or issues.

I could sit here and break down the philosophical merit of novel after novel but I think you guys get the point. Now, I’m definitely not trying to make the claim that all fiction has deep philosophical value. But personally I tend to enjoy and appreciate fictional works that push the reader to consider and question the current state of the world around them. In my opinion those are the books that people, especially young adults, should be reading. So those are the books that I intend to write.

What books have impacted your personal philosophy?

Do you write to tell a story or do you write for change?

To-Write-is-to-Change-the-World Disclaimer:

No friendships were destroyed in the occurrence of this conversation or (hopefully) in the writing of this blog post.

Creating from Something: Taking Time for Creative Input

So it’s been a while since I was last at the begining stage of the writing process. About a year and a half has passed since that fateful day when I first started building the worlds and developing the characters within The Maker’s Table. I had forgotten how much energy goes into the initial planning of a novel. The truth is that a potter cannot throw a pot without first centering the clay on the wheel. You have to lay the foundation before you can jump into the story. It’s in this foundation that I’m finding myself a bit stuck. Right now I face the task of dreaming up an entirely new world while also continuing to develop the world in which Misha, my protagonist, lives. Creating from nothing. That’s the way I’ve been looking at it over the past few days at least. But this morning, as I woke up with a frustration hangover from my lack of productivity the day before, my bookshelf caught my eye.

I traced the spines of the books I have read over the past few years. Their characters, sentence structures, tones, and settings played through my head. I thought about how little pieces of each of them had found their way into the themes, and philosophies, and dialogues of my first book. And I reminded myself that any art form, writing included, is never a process of creating from nothing. All of our lives we absorb the sights, and smells, and sounds around us. We take in inspiration from the places we see, the music we listen to, the books we read. And in turn those experiences influence our own creative output. There is no avoiding it.

I thought about all the times in the last year and a half that I had justified spending my time writing rather than reading. After all, writing is far more productive an act. But is that so true? Is it productive to focus solely on output without creating the time to absorb input? How many inspirational ideas or quotes or plot lines have I passed up since leaving my “To Read” list to gather dust?

So, as I find myself going mad from attempting to claw new ideas for my novel out of my brain, I’ve decided to search for inspiration in the initial source of my love for writing: reading.

 

 

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Current undertaking: Dune by Frank Herbert

Drafting Procrastination: Beginning the Writing Process

World,

As you’ve been informed, book number one is complete. I’ve probably read the damn thing through a hundred times. My family has read it. My friends have read it. Other writers have read it. I’ve edited/revised it after each person sent it back to me with comments. And then I edited it again just for the hell of it.

 

What I’m getting at here is: It’s time to write another book.

Let me rephrase that: It’s been time to write another book.

 

I’ve actually been meaning to start it for the last week. It’s funny what can come up when you mean to start drafting a book. Suddenly, you notice how dirty your floor is. You’d better sweep and mop it. Maybe it needs a vacuum too? You definitely don’t have enough groceries for the next two weeks so you might as well stock up your fridge like you’re preparing for the apocolypse. Now is HANDS DOWN the perfect time to clean out the toaster and reorganize your underwear drawer. Your roller blades need new wheels? Better make the hour-long journey to the best skate shop on Yelp to get them replaced. Oh, and while you’re at it, maybe you should write a blog post about how difficult it is to start writing a book.

What I’m trying to say here, people, is that starting a book is a daunting task and I’ve been doing everything possible to distract myself from it. Time to get it together. Writers all over the world are frantically pounding out the beginning of their 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and I’m cleaning out my toaster?

Since starting my book a few of my friends who also wish to be novelists have asked me for advice. I always find myself saying the same thing: JUST DO IT. Just sit down and do it. It’s scary, I know, sitting down with a computer or notebook and embarking on a journey whose end is so very far from sight. I sat on the concept behind my first book for four years before putting anything on paper. But once the first draft is done all that hemming and hawing just seems like a waste of what could have been time spent typing or brainstorming or outlining character arcs.

The point is, I need to take my own advice.

Novel number two, here I come.

Wish me luck.

Synopsis Hell: Writing a Synopsis for Query Letters

I’ve been querying like mad over the past couple weeks.

For those that don’t know what querying is, it’s basically sending a letter/other materials to an agent to inquire as to whether they’re interested in reading your manuscript.

Through time spent researching various literary agent preferences I’ve found that no two queries look exactly alike. Some agents only want a query letter. Some want a query letter and the first ten pages. Some only want the first ten pages. Some want the first ten pages in the body of the email. Some want it as an attachment. Some want it mailed. And, unfortunately, some want a synopsis.

These synopsis-seeking agents are the bane of my existence.

Believe it or not, I think I may have had a harder time summarizing the plot of my book in two Word doc. pages than I had writing the entire two hundred sixty book pages. What do you mean you want me to condense my elaborate story into a few meager paragraphs? What do you mean I have to fit in the main character arc including their major character traits and motivations? The impact character’s part? The major relationship and themes? You want the plot line but you don’t want me to give it away? Talk about a tall order, people.

Anyway, I worked on the damn thing for a few days, got it to an acceptable state with the help of many deep breathing exercises, and now I’m never going to look at it again.

Agents should start getting back to me over the next couple weeks. In the meantime I plan to keep pumping my manuscript out into the world. Wish me luck.

 

Keep writing.