Writer’s ego – taking advice (again)


Anybody know how to engage beta readers without sounding like an asshole?

Here’s the problem. I know my book needs work. It’s my first completed novel. What I don’t know is what needs to be modified from the perspective of the reader (ie: What doesn’t work, what sort of things to the readers do not like, and so on.) I also know that the reader is not always right, but the reader is always the reader and any complaint should be heard out. A decision to modify the work according to the feedback should be something that is deliberative. I genuinely want the readers to come back to me and give me honest feedback as to what stinks. Of course, those people are friends and family, they want to be supportive right? They don’t want to make critical feedback that’s going to make me feel bad.*

So today I had an exchange that ran: “So, tell me how much you loved my book so far.”**
“I only read the first two pages.”
Both of us laugh, “Sucked that bad did it?” I asked.
“No, no, I didn’t say that.”
The joking starts to cool, but I try to keep it going.
“Really, did you not like it? What sucked – I can’t fix it if you don’t say.”
“Oh, well, it was fine really.”

… This went on for a while before coffee break ended and I went back to work.

I did finally get some advice from this, and I feel like it was good and addressed some things I have been worrying about. It essentially confirmed my worry. The problem was that it was pulling teeth to get that feedback out, and I’m pretty sure I sounded like an ass in asking for it. As near as I can tell, the reluctance is that the work is a little rough, and in pointing out issues there is concern that I’ll take it badly or argue about the advice. All I really want to do is to improve, and even if I think the advice is crap, I do appreciate it. Of course, I also recognize that I’m asking people to read 95,000 words of something they may not like, and not because the writing stinks.


*I’m going to feel bad about comments describing any significant revisions.
** This was done jokingly, and appropriate in context.

Time out!



Today I got a break – from pretty much everything. I didn’t work, I didn’t try to build an aluminum shed, write, or mow anyone’s lawn. I should have been doing all of these things in some measure. Instead, I buzzed between home, the hospital, and downtown Wasilla in an effort to take care of home and family.

My eldest son had to have his appendix removed today. It was stressful. He was terrified, and quite contrary to his usual nature, handled without drama. At the moment he’s in the hospital recovering and seems to have come out fine. I brought my laptop and spent a few minutes poking around on my first full rewrite, but really there were other things to worry about. Once he was out of the O.R. I sent my wife home to get a shower, see her animals, and gather essentials for the overnight.* While we watched cartoon network and waited for mom’s return, I looked at my computer bag and didn’t pick it up. The situation reminded me that I work entirely too much.

Working too much is something of a problem in my family. There was a time I was working two jobs and building our house – and that was with a new baby in the house. At the moment, it’s not quite so bad, I’ve only got the one job and I write a lot, then there’s all of those other hobbies, and commitments. I don’t often take a time out for family, at least not often enough.

That said. This weekend it’s my daughter’s dance recital**. I usually take a bit of writing time out for that, but I think I’m going to go a little farther this year. It’ll be game time with the boys too. For the rest of the summer – I’ll get my fishing license and take them fishing, perhaps a night of camping, and maybe even a baseball game. The book will wait, but the kids won’t be kids forever.

Good advice for any full-time working parent & writer: don’t forget to make time for your family.

* In case you’re wondering about what sort of sexist pig I might be at this point. I just want to defend myself with a little vignette: My wife took him to the urgent care this morning, because I was working and she wasn’t yet, and she expected to get some antibiotics or a very stern lecture about fluids and rest. Before the operation we asked our son who he wanted to stay with him overnight. He told us to play rock-paper-scissors to determine – he wasn’t about to take favorites. I told him it would be in everyone’s best interest if mom stayed because she wouldn’t sleep unless was certain he was okay. The only way to ensure that would be to have her there, which is true. For my part, I took the other two, made sure everyone was fed and any farming chores were taken care of.
** This is a BIG deal. It’s held at the Anchorage center for the performing arts and amounts to professional dance experience. It’s such a big deal that even with Influenza B, she insisted on getting all dolled up to go in for her pictures.

photo credit: Time via photopin (license)

Writer’s improvement hell – Is my book any good?

writers improvement

I had a barbecue yesterday. It was a good time, too much food, too much beer and there may have been whiskey near the end. I’m not exactly sure because the bottle’s empty. In any case, there was good conversation, some of which was related to my WIP. One of my friends, not on social media, was not aware of my writing or the progress of my WIP. It’s not surprising, I try hard to not talk too much about writing at get-togethers. Mostly because lots of people like to talk about writing, but never get anywhere with it, and that’s annoying. Plus, when I get going, I can’t stop – and that’s also annoying. Not only that, I only just started talking openly about my writing over the past year.

The friend congratulated me on the achievement of finishing a first draft, and asked a few polite questions. One of which stopped me. I made the comment that the book was pretty good, and if I can’t get it picked up by a traditional publisher, I was going to self publish*. His response was, how do you know it’s good? His tone wasn’t critical. The question wasn’t meant to be antagonistic or snarky. It was a constructive inquiry. For a minute or two I stumbled over saying how some folks have read it and say it’s pretty good, and I’ve put a lot of effort into it.

His question though went straight to the heart of my writer’s ego. I don’t think any damage was done, but I’ve been having a rather introspective go of things today. How DO I know my WIP is any good? – I don’t. It may be that I believe it to be true, but I don’t KNOW it to be true. Just because I think it’s going to be my break-out novel, doesn’t mean that it will be, or anyone will even like it for that matter.

All that being said, why do I believe it’s a good book? I’ve got a bunch of reasons, and it’s not just because I wrote it. Here are my reasons:

1.) The flow of the prose is pretty good. No, it’s not totally polished, and in spite of a few rough chapters near the end, it’s a readable work already.
2.) Each of the characters are unique, having individual goals and traits.
3.) The setting is rich and complicated, a highly desirable feature of fantasy.
4.) Each chapter will be driven by some specific goal of the MC for that chapter, which is relevant to that character’s overall goals as well as the plot of the book and the series. This ensures that the stakes, character responses, events, and action are consistent and readers never stop to wonder ‘what just happened?’
5.) I’ve spent a lot of time layering the plot so that as twists occur, they are believable and, in retrospect, inevitable. Every event has a cause and that cause must make sense in the context of the story. Again, there is still work to be done here, but I think I can identify where weaknesses exist.
6.) I’ve put thought into character arcs, plot arcs, themes, and back-story.
7.) I have spent a lot of time carefully evaluating dialogue to make sure it reads naturally and follows a believable conversation arc. I try to minimize the verbosity and keep the characters moving as much as possible during scenes of extended dialogue so that the action doesn’t hang up.
8.) The first half of the book has been read by more than 1 person, and I’ve gotten some good feedback – and I’m talking about stuff larger than canned things like: “show don’t tell”.
9.) Pacing – I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that the style of the prose agrees with the action.
10.) I’ve listened and responded to all of the feedback I’ve gotten. It’s not necessarily the case that a suggestion on your work should be adopted, but should be considered and the issue addressed by the suggestion resolved.

In short, I believe the book is good, well will be good – still needs work, because I’ve put in the effort to make it so. The story I’m telling may not appeal to many folks, hell might not appeal to anyone, but it will posses all of the elements necessary to tell an entertaining story with compelling characters, plot, have depth, and will not be predictable. Writing, like any craft, is improved with time, patience and a willingness to learn better technique. I’m doing all of these things, and not allowing myself to become too hung up on what I want to say in my book vs. what I need to say to tell a good story.

* I have this whole plan about shopping around book one while working on book two. Once book two is more or less drafted and ready for review and final revisions, and I haven’t sold book one, I’ll put book two on the shelf and self-publish the first one. This way, they’ll be about a year apart or so.

photo credit: Writer’s Digest Book Shipment via photopin (license)