For those who don’t know beta readers are the people who read your ‘nearly finished’ book as a favour in order to tell you if it really is nearly finished. They’re also the people who tell you if your structure is horribly broken and if your plot makes sense and if they can tell who’s alive and who’s dead at the end of a fight scene and point out when you’ve made cardinal errors like head hopping or accidentally changing a character’s name half way through.
Beta readers are important to the process of turning a manuscript into a novel. I suspect that once upon a time most beta reading was done professionally by ranks of editors and printers. I doubt that Austen, Dickens or Conan Doyle were sending out hand copied manuscripts to their writer buddies and waiting for the notes to arrive by post. But we live in a better educated world where many more books are published by much slimmer profit margins.
I’ve been lucky to have some excellent beta readers. I know at least one of them finds the process immensely enjoyable and actively tries to make me laugh with every errant apostrophe she finds. That makes the process much less painful for the writer. I’ve been honored to be asked to beta read for another writer and I hope my feedback was useful to her because I loved her book and I want to see it get published.
Actually now that I think about it I realise that there have always been beta readers. Most of the great writers left behind massive piles of correspondence. Often they correspond with other writers. And when they weren’t corresponding they were down the pub with each other. JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) and CS Lewis (author of the Narnia books) were members of the same writing group, the Inklings, that met in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. H.P. Lovecraft (creator of the Cthulhu mythos), R.E Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and Clark Ashton Smith (artist, poet and author) regularly corresponded with each other and borrowed elements of each others fiction.
So when you’re reading your favourite books maybe you should take a moment to be thankful to the people who listened as the author drunkenly thrashed out the idea, to the people who read it when it was raw, to the people who pointed out that there were two characters with the same name, and the villain had no motivation, and that’s not how you punctuate a quote within speech. It’s not just that beta readers make a book better. By believing in the book they make it more likely to be finished.
For the last week I have been struggling with plot holes. As I wrote before they’re not the novel derailing kind of holes but more like narrative potholes that need to be seamlessly filled so that my readers will not even notice that plot is going on. It’s not the cool or impressive side of writing but it is important.
Fortunately an idea suggested by one of my readers allowed me to make something of the conversation I was writing. I think it’s a funny scene. I think it reveals more about my characters. I hope it hasn’t unbalanced the story because a story isn’t just a sequence of events it’s also a balancing act.
Of course the problem with fixing that one problem is that it reveals the existence of the next thing that needs fixing. It’s like I’m hiking up hill and I’ve reached the summit of the hill only to reveal the next hill that I have to climb and I know that one isn’t the final summit I’m aiming for eather and only God knows how many damn hills are between me and the end of the track.
Having resolved the issue of the conversation that needed to happen I now need to rewrite a sex scene to take into account a change of cast. I think I know what I’m doing with that. Though it’s taken me two days to work it out.
However, on the other side of the sex scene is a scene that marks a major change of direction. My protagonist’s suspicions crystallize, two characters who’ve been passive up to this point begin their own active arcs and it marks the first appearance of the overtly magical/supernatural. This is one of those scenes which will make or break the whole novel. If I cock this up it’ll be the point at which people stop reading. If i get it right people might not even notice it.
Isn’t writing fun?
If you have enjoyed this post you can ensure I remain properly caffeinated by buying me a coffee with Ko-fi.
Ok, technically I am writing because I’m writing this blog post but I should be working on my novel and I’m not because…
In this case I have a very specific plot hole that needs filling. It’s not a plot hole in the ‘oh my God my plot doesn’t work’ sense. It’s the plot equivalent of a pothole in a road. It still needs fixing if I want my readers to have a smooth ride but it’s not major building work.
You’d think that would make it easier to fix, wouldn’t you? Just patch over it with the narrative equivalent of bitchumen and go onto the next scene. But the problem with this sort of fix is that it needs to be seamless. I have to slot a little scene-ette into an already existing scene without breaking the scene or losing the mood.
Specifically I need one character to call another character so that they can have the brief conversation that will signal to the audience that they are moving beyond a disagreement. I can’t skip the scene because it needs to be resolved. I can’t cut out the disagreement because other stuff relies on it. And I can’t work out why that one character would pick up the phone rather than fuming silently about it. She tends to be a self sufficient silent fumer. She needs a reason to call.
My mind is a blank. There are literally millions of things that could precipitate that call but instead of coming up with one my brain is doing the brain equivalent of turning circles on the spot while singing snatches of every song I’ve heard in the last month.
ME: Ok so could she have found something in the files?
MY BRAIN: the last, the last, the last…
ME: But seriously there’s bound to be stuff in there that she’d need to talk about
MY BRAIN: How big, how blue, how beautiful…
ME: That way I could set up the later revelations…
MY BRAIN: Somebody once told me…
ME: Oh for fucks sake
So… Chocolate? I’m thinking chocolate. And possibly booze. And maybe a brain transplant.
If you have enjoyed this pointless rant maybe you’d like to support this blog by buying me a coffee with Ko-Fi. Or alternatively today is the last day that you can buy stuff in the Shop of Doom.
So in my last post my laptop had died and I discovered that I’d wasted 3 months preparing for a nonexistent competition. How can things get worse?
The good news is that my laptop is fixable and for a reasonable fee. The bad news is that after paying for that and buying Scrivener for the iPad my spouse and I went to the optician to get our eyes tested. I need new glasses and my other half needs two pairs (distance and reading glasses) and my eyesight is so bad that my one pair costs more than both of theirs.
I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. I dread to think what that’s going to reveal.
In addition to being impossibly broke yet again I also have to work out what my writing plan is. Until the debacle with the nonexistent pitch competition my plan was to prepare my current work in progress for the competition then when it failed to garner any interest I was going to query it while trying to fix whatever is wrong with the first one then pitch a third novel at Bloody Scotland in September.
I suppose I could still do the parts that don’t involve the nonexistent pitch but it’s feeling pointless. I can’t work out if it’s my usual terrible self esteem talking or if there’s something wrong with this plan that I’m not letting myself see. There’s this voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that this can’t possibly work because that’s not how my life works. And it’s not wrong about my life so far. It is kind of insane to expect anyone to value anything I do enough to pay me for it. They never have so far.
I hope I’ll be back with a new blog post about Infinity War soon but it probably wont be until I get my repaired computer back. In the meantime if you want to donate to the fix the computer fund or the actually be able to see fund then you can do it via Ko-Fi. Yes it says that you’re buying me a coffee but I’m allowed to spend the money on something other than coffee. Also coffee is a vital part of the creative process.
There’s also the Shop Of Doom. It’s still closing on May 8th because nobody is buying anything. Which is a pity, I have a couple of the t-shirts and they’re lovely, but I get that they’re pretty expensive and not to everyone’s taste. At least I tried. Having tried is not as much consolation as you’d think. It really doesn’t ease the sting of failure much at all.
Let me tell you how my weekend went. On Saturday I took my son to see Infinity War. I was traumatised, I tell you. I’ll talk more about it in another post.
Then I got home to work on my pitch submission and found that my Laptop would no longer charge, probably because the internal socket for the power cable is damaged. So I tried to use the remaining battery life to put in a hurried submission. I did my best and I got something that wasn’t as good as what I would have had if I’d had more time but might have been good enough and I tried to send it in. I filled in the form on the website and it sent me an email with a link to a service to upload my files to XPONorth’s dropbox account.
And that link led to a discontinued service. A service which, according to the copyright date on the page, was discontinued last year. So I emailed XPONorth. And posted on their Facebook page and sent them a message using Facebook Messenger and tweeted about it and mentioned them in the tweet. I’ve heard nothing from them. But I know they’ve seen at least one of the tweets because the official Twitter account liked it.
It would seem that the Writers Pitch to Publishers and Agents event at this year’s XPONorth has been cancelled. But they didn’t do anything sensible like taking down the webpage, disabling the online form or changing the automated email. I have wasted three fucking months preparing for a non existent competition.
And of course my laptop is dead. I hope to get it repaired but that means spending money I shouldn’t be spending. I’m typing this on my iPad which means I’ve had to delete a bunch of apps I was using so I could fit the WordPress app and the Scrivener app onto it. Oh and I had to buy the Scrivener app so I could try to continue work on my novel only the app version doesn’t have the split screen feature that I use to re-write with.
On Sunday I went to Dundee to meet my mother for lunch and chat and a bit of shopping. Well, she shopped. I watched her shop because I need my money for repairing my laptop and buying expensive writing apps.
For some reason my Mother had her laptop with her. I don’t know why she had it. She never mentioned to me that she had it even when I told her about my laptop having died. I only know she had it because that evening, when I was at home, she called me to ask if I remembered at what point she lost it. Well obviously not. If I’d have known that I would have told her at the time.
I’m cursed I tell you, cursed.
If you’re feeling like donating to the ‘repair the computer assuming it can be repaired’ fund then you should use the Ko-fi link. I can’t add it while I’m using the iPad but there should be one on the sidebar or below this post or you could go back a couple of posts to get it. You could also find the link to the Shop o’ Doom in an earlier post. It’s still closing on the 8th of May. Assuming I can close it using the Shopify app.
I’ve reached the stage of editing where it feels like I’m trying to wade through treacle. My brain keeps rejecting the very idea of looking at the work in progress. I am not having any fun.
I’m a little surprised that I’ve been able to keep going. I think it’s because it feels like I owe it to the book. Which is weird. The book comes from me and I don’t feel like a owe myself anything. The book feels external somehow, almost like a child. It’s as if now that I’ve brought the book forth I owe it a continued existence.
Anyway here’s a thing inspired by one of my favourite bits.
If you have enjoyed this brief post and are feeling generous you might like to buy me a coffee with Ko-fi. Alternatively visit the Shop of Doom (closing May 8th) and buy yourself something nice.
That’s where I am right now. Constantly vacillating between, “This line is brilliant, people will be wearing it on T-shirts,” and “This is trash, I am a hack, why did I ever believe otherwise?”
Once again I find myself wondering why I pick such hard stories to tell. Why would I choose to open a story on a scene where a bunch of people who don’t have names (for reasons of plot) are all talking to each other? Also why can’t I just write a normal book? Lots of people write regular mysteries. Or what about a nice historical drama? Or a romance? Why am I writing a spy thriller featuring Celtic Gods?
And why am I trying to get it ready for this pitch event? I’m pretty sure no-one there is going to want it no matter how well I write it. It could be perfect and still be the wrong book for any of the publishers and agents there because it’s just too weird.
At this point I’m fairly sure that I’m only working on it out of stubbornness and a need for purpose.
Everything is feeling a bit pointless at the moment. I spent a year updating this blog three times a week and it doesn’t seem to have resulted in any change in the reader numbers. I spent six months trying to work myself into starting a t-shirt shop and when I finally did, well, I’ve got no idea how to build it as a business and I’ll be closing it at the beginning of next month because I can’t afford to keep it open.
I’m trying to work out how to continue to move forward in a life where everything seems doomed to failure. If you know you’re never going to get anywhere than it should be possible to plan around that. There has to be a way to just do the things that I find satisfying and not care that nobody outside my circle of friends is ever going to see my work.
If you have enjoyed this whine why not buy me a coffee with Ko-fi. Or pop into the Shop of Doom before I have to close it.
Impostor Syndrome is something that most creative people experience at some point. It’s that feeling of not being good enough, of not being a ‘real’ creative, or that you are somehow performing your creative endeavors in the wrong way.. For successful creative people it might also come with a fear of being ‘found out’.
I don’t have a ‘hot take’ on Impostor Syndrome. But I either have a bad case of it or I’m a genuine impostor. And it’s so hard to know which.
In the last week I’ve found out that I’ve been formatting my manuscripts wrong and that I’ve either been using commas wrong since forever or the rules have changed since I was at school. That might seem like a small thing. Surely a slight difference in formatting and a few stray commas won’t drive an agent away? Well… Maybe.
Agents are looking for excuses to stop reading. Of course they are. They get hundreds of queries. It makes no sense to read all the way through something if they can’t sell it, or don’t want to work with the writer. The formatting and the commas alone wont stop them but that’s already two strikes. It makes the agent less likely to overlook any other little weakness they might find. It makes me look less professional. It also makes me question whether I have any business attempting to write as a profession. What kind of an author doesn’t know how to format a manuscript or use a comma.
And while worrying about all this I discovered that part of the opening of the current novel in progress isn’t nearly clear enough. I had a beta reader read right through the death of a character and part of their wake and then ask me why they were reading about all these other characters and not the dead one. And this is an intelligent person. That means that 1 in 4 readers didn’t get a pretty major plot point. I can’t just decide that this person is an idiot. I have to make the scene clearer somehow. And I don’t know how.
So in the last week I’ve found out that I’m failing at punctuation, formatting and clarity. How’s your week been.
If you have enjoyed this post why not buy me a coffee with Ko-fi or visit the Shop Of Doom to purchase objects.
This week marked the 5th anniversary of the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett. I still miss him. Which is a weird thing to say about someone that I met exactly once and then only in the context of a book signing. I really mean that I miss his work,I miss his unique viewpoint, I miss his insight.
The week he died I wrote two blog posts about it, one about my feelings and one in tribute to him. Those posts are some of the best writing I’ve done. I went back and reread them this week because two of my Facebook friends re-shared the second one. See the end of this post for links.
Reading what I wrote then makes me pause and look back at my path as a writer. Five years later I am still trying, still writing, still improving and that’s good. But I also haven’t gone anywhere and that’s bad. That hurts.
I want to do for other people at least a little of what Sir Terry Pratchett did for me. I want to create worlds and I want to populate those worlds with characters that aren’t’ characters but people. I want readers to be able to take comfort, or at least welcome distraction, away from my worlds of story.
That still seems a long way off. If anything it seems less possible now than it did then. Then I thought I only needed to finish something. I assumed that I wouldn’t call it finished unless it was good and that as long as it was finished and good someone would want it. I didn’t realise that I’d never be 100% sure it was good. I didn’t realise that something can be good and still be the wrong kind of thing.
Here’s hoping that five years from now I’ll have taken at least one more step down the road.
Links to the original posts: Terry Pratchett is dead and that is not ok. A tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett.
Notebooks, and journals, and organisers.
There’s something so hopeful about ordering a new planner or diary. Particularly if it comes with some sort of promise to sort out your life and help you to ‘get things done’. When the thing arrives there’s all that lovely busy work involved in filling in details and making plans and committing to goals. It all feels so very productive.
And none of it fucking works.
At least none of it works reliably for me personally. Your mileage may vary. Possibly you, dear reader, are not disorganised trash like me.
Putting all my appointments in a Google calendar that is synced to my phone calendar mostly works. It’s at least 90% successful as long as I remember to put the thing on the calendar and set an alarm for a couple of days before. But it only works for appointments.
As a person with ADHD, depression and fibromyalgia I need to be organised. I need to plan ahead. As a person with terrible executive function problems I am shitty at planning ahead. It’s not unusual for me to get up at the crack of 2pm and spend half an hour setting goals and making lists of the stuff I need to work on to achieve those goals and then immediately go and do something else instead.
I am so bad at following through that I could make a todo list that includes reading a book that I’m supposed to be reviewing, catching up with the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic and eating some chocolate and it would lead to me scrubbing the kitchen sink.
It’s starting to feel like I only ever achieve things by accident. I’m pretty sure that my 9+ first drafts and my one completed novel only exist because I was supposed to be tidying the house. I’m wrapped in a crochet shawl that only exists because I was supposed to be editing. I’m blogging because I just decided to crochet a hat. Earlier today I cleaned the hob rather than blog.
And it wouldn’t be so bad if I was doing any of these things properly. But i’m not. My books aren’t published, my blog is kind of bland, my kitchen is still a mess and my crochet mainly results in me spending too much money on yarn. But I recently backed a kickstarter for a really nice planner and this one has a SYSTEM. Surely this is the one that will finally work.
If you have enjoyed this post then why not buy me a coffee with Ko-Fi?