Tag Archives: Editing

The priceless value of beta readers. 

Last October I finally nagged two beta readers for my fantasy novel. I’d had a couple of people on and off, but, as we all know, life tends to get in the way, and it is hard for people to read things for pleasure when they are going into nursing school or going back to school to get their masters degree, no matter trying to digest and critique something that isn’t scholarly, and work a full-time job. But, as luck would have it, one of my original beta readers graduated last year and I approached her again about reading. She jumped at it, being really excited the first time she started reading my novel. She ended up asking her cousin as well about reading, and after I made sure they not only had the will but the actual time to devote to this project, we started. 

I sent ten chapter increments. My friend’s cousin asked me about editing, and I told her to edit to whatever degree she felt comfortable, because a) I’m poor, & b) I wasn’t going to load more work onto someone that they didn’t want to do.

My first reader is one I’d kind of wanted for a while, which is someone to read just for the entertainment value. I’m pretty sure that my second reader is going to be my editor for the rest of my life, 😉 and I love having these two ladies in my corner.

For me, at least, having two types of personalities and two types of readers is hugely beneficial. Just as there are different types of authors and writing styles, so are there readers. Some people like to get into the mechanics of it all, and some people merely want a book to read on the beach, and don’t always care if point A leads to point B to point C, and I think that’s true no matter the genre.

The other immensely valuable thing about beta readers is the honesty. Placing your work in the hands of someone who has no emotional attachment to it is a big step for an author. Digesting everything they come back with is another BIG step. I admit that while I agreed my betas’ points on a lot of things, there were sections that I kinda bristled at the comments. I had to remember that this is what I was asking for.

What works, what doesn’t. Is there something out of character for someone ten or fifteen chapters in, after you’ve gotten a good sense of the character? Are they believable little creations, in a believable world? Does Point A go to Point C without skipping Point B, because in some novels, especially the ones more on the ‘epic’ scale, it can be hard to remember some minute detail that happened twelve chapters ago that comes back into play and having it work. And when you’ve read your own writing a hundred times, it’s easy for your author brain to fill in a mistake without it actually being on the page.

So if you’ve written something, anything, and you think one day in the future you might want five people or eight thousand people to read it, go find someone else to read it first. Preferably more than one. Give them a purpose in reading, and don’t be afraid to ask for the feedback you need, which is not the same as what you want. And, yes, I know that most professionals advise against using family or friends as ‘honest’ readers, because I’m sure that some people’s family would gush praise no matter what. Thankfully, I have a best friend who will always gush about what she loves and will absolutely not on everything else. In, like, all aspects of our now twenty-five year friendship. 

It’s been several months since my betas and I finished the first read through, and I got a bit sidetracked (stuck! Damn you Chapters 22 & 42!!!) in my editing/revising, but I’ve gotten back on track. I know it can take me longer to get some of this done than others, but I am accepting that fact more and more, and that’s allowing me to not beat myself up as much on my writing progress.  

As for those sections that weren’t not working for my in-depth editing beta—it will happen to you. It’s fine to be a bit taken aback, or to even resist changing something you think works. But take a few deep breaths, or a day or week even, and go back to those concerns. I now have some much-improved and truer chapters than I did, and in a couple of those, I really didn’t have to change as much as I thought. Sometimes, the smallest solutions have the biggest impact.


Quote Day #10

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”

–Virginia Wolfe, A Room of One’s Own.


“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.” –Eliezer ‘Elie’ Wiesel



The ah-ha moments are what get me. I like having them in my writing. I like good surprises. Admittedly, in most cases of my writing, I wish they would happen earlier, but I’ll be grateful when they happen.

Recently, I was editing a chapter on my first novel. I wasn’t setting out to do anything major. (I have comma issues.) I went over a chapter I knew well, which was a conversation between two men about a third. Let’s say Man A, B & C. So Man-A reveals something to Man-B about Man-C.  Both the first two men know the third and have for many years, and I did a little tinkering with the conversation, though not much. I went onto the next chapter, where I did have to fix a plot point to match a change I had made further down the line. But the conversation I left behind stayed in the back of my mind. Something has always bothered me about the scene. It’s a necessary scene, revealing a few things about Man-C that will be important, but one plot point always seemed wrong.

I have strange reactions to my ah-ha moments. I can remember some of them so well, it’s like I re-live them. This one happened as I got home from work last week. I parked the car, opened the door and wham! Like a literary realization walked up and smacked me. I absolutely knew why the scene bothered me, and how to fix it. It wasn’t that the information I was revealing was unimportant, but that it absolutely did not belong in said Chapter. The reason was that both men would know such an occurrence happened in their friend’s life. Some events change people, and this tidbit is one such event. Why wouldn’t Man-B know this already????? was pretty much what came screaming into my mind. So today I sat down and deleted a small chunk of the scene, added a few sentences here or there to tighten it up, and hit save, satisfied in my work.

What really excites me is that I get to hold onto this information for when it will make the biggest impact. Fingers crossed that if my books ever hit shelves, e- or real, then my readers will like surprises as much as me. 🙂

Down for the … Ooh, shinies! … count.

I’ve never been one for keeping track of my word count as I write, in spite of what the rest of the entire writing universe does. I suppose I should start. I usually focus on how many more pages I got down, or set my goal of finishing one chapter and starting another. Supposing aside, I’m fairly certain I’m not going to start counting up. Instead, I’ve been inspired to count down.

Ask someone how long a novel is *supposed* to be and you’ll get a variety of answers. The best one I found was: As many words as it takes. Sure, after the initial thing is finished, there is a lot of chopping to be done in rewrites and editing. Changing a few sentences to entire scenes or chapters can make a huge difference, not only in word count, but in what the story has to say. I know from where my book stood when I first reached The End, I have gotten rid of a lot of unnecessary crap. I still have more, but I’m slow at these things, if everyone hasn’t figured that out yet.

At this moment, I am breaking my plans to finish editing Chapter 25 of my first novel. It has been a morning of distractions. Laundry, a run for Krispy Kreme (a husband who voluntarily feeds his wife K.K. doughnut holes while she’s driving – that’s Love!) and said husband watching something on Netflix that interests me have all pulled me away from work. Not to mention I have actual paying-job work in a few hours. When I got up this morning, I even reset the time of the alarm to have quiet editing time before Tim got up. I might have fiddled around with my iPhone, and did some organizing of my photos on my laptop.

I suspect the real reason I am making zero progress on the last few pages of Chapter 25 is because I am editing an interaction between two characters who have not seen each other in years, and it’s not that pleasant. It shouldn’t be. I need to make it more unpleasant than its original state. Ugh, I say. I see paper and pen in my near future. And, yeah, one of those numbers up there is my first novel’s word count.

My last distraction for the day is thinking of holiday candy. If you are anything like my husband and I, you might notice the change in seasons by the arrival of holiday packaged treats. (It helps that I work in retail) Reese’s pumpkins, christmas trees, hearts or eggs anyone? I like the spring for those little foil-wrapped unhatched chickens. Oh, yeah, Cadbury Eggs. Last week, I noticed a new product in the stockroom at work, and gasp! Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, and will have to fight two other people for these bits of heavenly goodness.


Sometimes the old way is better.

If I’m stuck, really stuck, on an idea or scene, or the direction my character is going, I will abandon my laptop for pen and paper. There is something about writing by hand that allows me to work out the kinks. Maybe it’s because I am actually forming words, rather than just typing them. It’s easier to mark out crap I don’t like, not taking the time to highlight and delete, or hold down the Backspace key, or worry about misspellings because I’m typing too fast.  What is that phrase? My brain is working faster than my hands? Something like that. People that use a computer or laptop regularly for any sort of writing often spout those words. It’s true I guess. At times you know what you need to say and are concentrating so hard on the thought that you sort of abandon control of your fingers in order to get it all out. A couple of weeks ago at work, we were having a discussion about spelling, and my manager, an admitted bad speller, used that phrase. She also lamented the absence of a spell-check on the word process program we have on the office computer, but that is a whole different topic. 🙂

Writing by hand seems to slow down the thought process. You can’t think too far ahead because you must take the time to write. Using a pen or pencil connects you physically to your words. The brain must wait for the hand to finish before moving on to the next thought. Unless you don’t want to be able to read the writing for later use, like typing what you wrote.

I think Elmore Leonard sums it up best in his article The Lost Art of Writing by Hand:

“I write using longhand because writing is rewriting and if I’m to compose on a typewriter, I’d spend half my time x-ing out lines.  I write and cross out not wanting what I write to sound like writing; write a few more lines until the rhythm of the narrative or dialogue exchanges kicks in and I keep going, the lines getting closer together though rarely filling a page before I’m crossing out again.  Finally I stop and type on an IBM Wheelwriter 1000 and the handwritten pages go into a basket.  The typed pages – hoping to get four or five clean ones in an 8 hour shift – are revised the following day.

Well-meaning friends urge me to use a computer, but I don’t more for the dull sound of the keys or the idea of looking at my work on the screen rather than a sheet of yellow paper, and when you delete, I’m told, it’s gone forever.  The lines I cross out are still there and sometimes find their way back into the work.” –Esquire Magazine, Feb 2002 (excerpt)


That’s What I Call Progress

Sherri, my editor, sent her edits on my recently revised chapters 14 & 15 this week. Original chapter 14: 161 edits. Revised chapter 14: 129. Only 27 for ch. 13, and 66 for ch. 15, so maybe chapter 14 is my kryptonite. 🙂  I’m thankful that, oh, 85-90% of my issues now are all comma related.

I have a friend reading the novel for its entertainment value. She’s not a fantasy reader, or much into that genre elsewhere, but she’s enjoying it, which I take as a great sign. I’ve given her the first nine chapters, and this weekend she is getting chapters 10-15. I am not touching those chapters anymore. It’s a relief to get to a point in editing where one is satisfied. I also stopped driving myself insane, as when fixing something, I’d see something else, and another issue, and another, etc., and stop to fix it, thereby getting sidetracked from the original goal. Sure, there are some issues a simple search-and-replace will fix, but other than that, it’s a huge time waster. One chapter at a time, and if I change something that will need to be referenced later, I make a note of it, and continue with what I’m doing. (At least, I try super hard to do that)

This past week, I dug out a set of wind chimes for the porch. I did not pack it carefully when we moved, so the entire thing was one knotted mess. And this set not only had the chimes, but bonus strings with wooden accent pieces. Working out the kinks in the editing process is like unravelling that knot. All the elements are there, but jumbled. Once the whole thing is sorted out, it’s the same, but better.

My husband thought I’d never get the wind chimes untangled. I told him undoing huge knots is all about taking one string at a time. Pick one, follow it, get it straight, and then move to the next one. And it always makes me thing of algebra, in that if I had the beginning equation and the answer, I could work it backwards to fill in the middle bits. (My mind has always made strange associations) Thank goodness I like untangling knots.

No One Will Miss It.

Around Thanksgiving, Writer’s Digest had a free e-book download offer. I took advantage and got about 6 e-books on my iPhone. They are all books that relate to writing. Better yet, I’ve actually started reading one of them. 🙂

I’m reading Getting The Words Right by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.  The book is divided into three sections: Reduce, Rearrange and Reword.  I’m still in the first section, but one thing I read the other day struck a chord. It is in a section that concerns removing entire paragraphs, sections, or chapters.

‘Keep in mind always that readers do not usually know what you planned to include; they’ll never miss a deleted minor point, or even a section.’

First, that phrase immediately made me think back to when I used to play classical piano, and my father gave me sage advice before performances. He always said to keep going, no matter what. That if I messed up and hit a wrong note, or left something out, no one would notice. And he was right. To an untrained ear, a wrong note is missed. I’ve even gotten to a point in a piece where I could not remember what came next, no matter how many hours I spent practicing, and skipped a section entirely, without missing a beat.

Second, that brought to mind something I had suggested to my mother recently, in a critique of her writing. A section of one of her novels had become a little stale, even to her. I finally realized that she was headed in the complete wrong direction, and after we discussed it, figured out where the plot needed to go. This resulted in her having to delete multiple chapters. A daunting, and somewhat disappointing task to be sure, but an exciting opportunity for improvement.

So it’s true. Unless someone has read your work from the get-go, the finished product is never what it started out as, and most are never the wiser. So in this spirit, I am plunging ahead, accepting of the fact that even though I have spent countless hours ‘practicing’ and may miss a note here or there, though no one will ever know.




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