On Beta Readers

This time around, I am adding a step into the editing process that I probably should’ve considered last time. When I finish a book and edit it, I usually only pass it around to a few close friends for opinions. I don’t want to take chances on this manuscript, and I want opinions from people who aren’t afraid to hurt my feelings. I’m a member of a few different writing forums and I’ve noticed people seeking out beta readers in the past. I decided to give it a try. I beta read a story for someone, just to get my feet wet, and so far I’ve primarily done swaps since then.

Beta readers are AMAZING.

I’m usually blind to the flaws in my story (unless they’re structural because I’m actually pretty good at completely restructuring a manuscript). Even if I give it some time to air it out, I’m too close to the prose to genuinely find a lot of nit-picky errors. My beta readers asked questions that I haven’t even considered, and beta reading for other people has been genuinely enjoyable. It’s a great eye-opener to see how many incredible writers there are out there.

I would suggest emailing back and forth a couple of times, especially if you’re trying to build a partnership with the other writer. It might also be helpful to exchange a couple of chapters first to ensure that you’re interested in the material and will be able to finish the manuscript in a timely manner.

If you’re thinking about getting more involved in the writing community, I would recommend joining a forum like AbsoluteWrite. NaNoWriMo is also a great option, and the forums there are fun to look through if you’re bored or seeking inspiration.

On Reading

Hi yes hello. If you’ve been following along with my ramblings over the last few weeks, then you have probably discovered that I am stressed out by the querying process. No surprise there. In the midst of all of this anxiety with the production side, I feel like I’ve lost sight of the reason I’m doing this in the first place – I really really really love books. A lot. I grew up in a family of readers. According to my parents, I learned to read before I was two. Some of my earliest memories involve books. Since I’ve been spending so much time reading and stressing, I have completely abandoned reading.

It’s time to change that.

I have the feeling that every issue I’m having with my writing can be solved by reading more books and learning from those who have already been published. “Learning from those who have been published” is a bit of a shitty way to put it. I want to learn from the people who tell the best stories, the people who take words and turn them into beautiful worlds and glimmering landscapes, the people who have made my heart flutter and imagination explode over the last twenty-one years.

I’m going back to my roots, so to speak. I have created a challenge for myself. I love books and I have this habit of buying a lot of them at once, and not reading them for a long time. Classes end on April 21st for me. Starting on April 22nd and going until the first day of next semester, I am going to read 100 books. I’ll call it my 100 Book Summer. I just went through my room at college – not even my room at home, where a lot more books live – and I have 55 unread that I’ve collected over the last year or so. ¬†They are books of poetry and fiction and non-fiction, classic and contemporary. I feel like this will be a good way to restore my shattered sanity. I’ll still be writing and editing too, of course,¬†because I don’t know how to function when I’m not actively creating.

I’ll try to post a weekly update or so on how I’m doing but we all know that I’m bad at consistency. Comment if you have any recommendations!

On New Projects

Once you’ve been working on something for as long as I have (8 years, anyone?) it gets to the point that it feels like the only thing you’ll ever be able to write. I’ve started a few other projects over the years and abandoned them, always coming back to that one thing. It got to the point where I was pretty sure that that was the only story I had in me, which is a shitty conundrum for someone who wants to be a writer.

My sister is graduating in April. For a gift, I wanted to write something for her. Not something that’s non-fiction or tells everything that is to tell about our relationship or anything, just something that echoes how much she means to me but also tells a cool story (spoiler alert: it’s about mermaids). It didn’t start out as a novel but it took on a mind of its own.

I’ve been working on it for about a month and I have a rough draft completed that I’m editing. It has been such a refreshing experience to just sit down and write without any previous drafts or notions of how the plot should go. With my other book, I got myself into this spot where I wasn’t even sure if I liked writing anymore because I was so tired of the technical, business side of things. Now, it’s just like words are flowing and things are happening and it’s getting me back to the root of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. It’s definitely been a learning experience.

For one, it’s restored my confidence in myself. I’m not a one-trick-pony, believe it or not. I do have the ability to come up with a new story and watch it blossom across a page. So if there are any other writers out there who are completely and utterly demoralized and stuck: try something new. It doesn’t have to be a novel. Write a short story or a poem. Experiment with voice. But write something, just to remind yourself that there’s more than this.

On the End of All Things

Well, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind semester. I’ve had a pretty okay time with school, even though I’m extremely distracted by the fact that I’m also working towards getting a book published. One thing that I’ve noticed about the end of my college career is that it feels a bit like classes are getting in the way of me trying to do my real job (reading, editing, etc.). I was looking forward to finally being able to graduate. So I’m finishing up a semester early, in December, which gives me a good chunk of time to focus on writing before I go to grad school. I thought that I’d come to terms with all of this and moving on with my life. Yesterday, I applied for graduation.

I wasn’t expecting it to be as bittersweet as it was. I’m beyond excited to get a degree – I mean, I put all the work in, and now I’ll be getting the proof of how much I’ve done here. At the same time, it’s a huge step. I want to go to grad school in the U.K. so this begins the countdown for my time in the U.S. as it stands.

I’m at this point in my life where I have this cluttered jumble of everything that I’ve done and everything I want to do and I’m trying to put it all together to move on with the rest of my life. Like I have part of a degree, an unpublished book, less than a handful of published work, a couple of internships, and some editing experience. How do I put that together into a career? Don’t worry, I’m figuring it out. This is just a realistic check in everything else that’s happening outside of the querying process.

Thanks for reading. I hope this isn’t horribly depressing – I do have plans! Finals are coming up and I’m stressed. Nice little down to earth reminder that I’m a college student.

On Querying

So. I did the thing. I wrote the book. I edited the book. The book has taken roughly a million hours of my life away. But it’s okay.

I value honesty and I try to be as honest as possible here. Here goes nothing: querying sucks. Boy oh boy, does it suck. I am one of the least patient people in this universe and it’s just this huge waiting game.

For everyone that doesn’t know, querying is the part that comes after you write the book and tear it to shreds. You write a letter that represents your book as elegantly and eloquently as possible and then you send it out to a bunch of agents (after carefully researching every aspect of their lives and what they look for in a book) and then you wait. And wait.

And wait.

Sometimes, they get back to you requesting partial or full manuscripts. Sometimes they reject you. And sometimes there is no response at all. While I understand the need for this, it’s still a bit disheartening. But I digress.

So this is the phase that we’re in now. There’s been some great commentary so far, which is good, and I may or may not read portions of the book every night so I’m sending out the best product possible. Is anyone else in the querying stage? Let me know so we can commiserate together!

On Dunkin’ Donuts

I love Dunkin’ Donuts for a few reasons. First, the iced coffee is 10/10 (and cheap). Second, I can sit there for seven hours and they don’t kick me out. You may think I’m joking. I’m not. My friends have started referring to Dunkin’ as my office just because of the amount of time that I spend there.

I’m not an ‘aesthetic writer’ – as in I don’t sit in elegant coffee shops with notebooks and contemplate the universe. Yes, that’s a stereotype. But really, I think a lot of people actually believe that stereotype. I like to think I’m a nitty-gritty writer. I write anywhere, whenever I can get time. And a lot of time, that just happens to be Dunkin’. It’s nice to have one specific place carved out where I can go for a few hours and force myself to be productive. It’s like keeping a sacred place. When I go there, I know I’m going for a long time, and I’m not going to mess around. I’m going to write. It helps that there isn’t good wifi.

I understand that this is a bit of a contradictory post. My main piece of advice here is to find somewhere that you’re very comfortable spending a few hours, but not somewhere where you feel pressured to conform to some sort of idea in order to write. Don’t force yourself to be a perfect writer. I find that my best writing happens when I’m comfortable. Find a place where you won’t get distracted and it doesn’t feel to stiff. Once you find that happy writing comfort zone in a physical space, it will be easier to replicate that mindset in other places.

On Editing

As usual, I’m procrastinating what I should be doing (hint: it’s part of the title). I just wanted to take some time and talk about my editing process and how it works. When I first started writing, editing terrified me. To be honest, it still kind of does. Once I figured out my process, it became a lot easier to tear my work apart and build it back up. Editing is daunting. Here is some advice to get you started.

  1. Read through in a format where you can’t actively change things. I prefer to print off my document to do this (don’t worry, I recycle) and go over it with a red pen. I don’t physically change anything in the actual text during this step. I comment and circle and correct as much as possible, but the removal from the computer helps me to focus more on the big picture and less on nit-picky tiny things. Those come after I’m done rearranging the plot. I personally like red pen because it’s easier to see against the paper and I feel like I’m accomplishing something.
  2. Keep a copy of every version of the draft/document. This makes changing things easier if you get easily attached, like I do. For example, in the draft that I’m editing now, I reconstructed the entire plot of the beginning. I still have a copy of the original just in case there’s something that I need to change back that isn’t working or if I want to see how far the draft has come since its first iteration.
  3. Open up to your friends. I’m not telling you to push drafts at people but if you have one friend who is a dedicated reader, it can be invaluable. I had a hard time opening up to people about my writing. First, I thought I was a horrible writer, and second, I thought they wouldn’t be interested. My friends have found some very bad grammatical or structural errors and found plot holes that I never thought of. Having a second pair of eyes is insanely helpful when you’re too close to the project.
  4. Kill your darlings. This is my biggest piece of advice – and the hardest to do. If something is not working, cut it. Don’t look back. That is when having a clean, original document comes in handy. Those characters that don’t matter can live on in your memory or whatever, but if they’re not adding to the story, they don’t deserve to be there. Do some exercises in reshaping plots while cutting characters or scenes out. Ask yourself what the scene adds to the plot. If you don’t have an answer or if the purpose can be achieved in some other way, the scene should be cut.
  5. Remember that you are the editor of your own story (until you have a real editor, of course). If you desperately think that something belongs in the story, it probably does. Read things out loud. See how they feel. See how the story feels without them, and revert back if you need to.

That is a not-at-all comprehensive list of how I edit. I hope this helps! Good luck!