While writers don’t need to live in isolation, the act of writing is typically solo. One person sits at one desk with one laptop and, well, writes. Particularly if you’re working on a novel or longer piece, this could take months or years to complete. So, it’s natural to want to sing it from the rooftops when you finish and share your baby with the world.
To be clear, writing should be shared, especially to help refine it for publication. But with that sharing, I offer a few friendly cautions.
First, let’s understand the terminology.
Beta Readers – Beta readers read the entire novel for general notes. Think big picture. A good beta reader can find plot holes or flaws that the author may have missed.
Critique Partners – Critique partners swap work and comment on anything from story fixes to word choice and line edits. You shouldn’t pay for a critique partner, and it’s a very reciprocal relationship.
Editors – Editors are (typically) paid and provide everything and anything from the above list for a set price. Never go into an open-ended contract with an editor. Settle on a fee ahead of time so you can budget and know exactly what you’re getting for that fee.
Here’s the thing. With all three of the above, it is important to vet anyone you trust with your work to avoid wasted time, unhelpful notes, and potential plagiarism. When approaching these relationships, consider the following.
Know who the person is. If you trust someone with your freshly crafted novel, a real name and a little background is a must. You don’t need to swap social security numbers, but sending a manuscript to an anonymous screenname is like dating a nameless, faceless person. You wouldn’t do it, I’m guessing.
Understand their qualifications. A middle grade author may or may not be the best person to beta read an erotica novel. Different genres rely on different voices and techniques. On a technical side, look for someone who compliments your weaknesses. For example, my writing is strong on detail but suffers with action and pacing at times. I was lucky enough to find a critique partner who could help me with that and vice versa.
Consider references. With editors, this is a must. If someone wants to charge you for their work, you have every right to talk to their (hopefully) satisfied customers. The best route is to ask for a list and randomly pick a few names to contact. It is also not out of court to see the editor’s work in action on a manuscript. That way you won’t be upset if you expected grammatical fixes but only receive plot notes. References provide a realistic idea of these things.
Be picky. There are many incredible writers offering giveaways of services. And swapping work is a wonderful way to connect with other authors, but just because someone is willing to read your work doesn’t mean that they’re the right person. Unfortunately, I’ve seen people offer inaccurate query notes or genre-inappropriate suggestions. You’ll find the perfect fit. Take your time and don’t jump at every opportunity.
I don’t want this to come across as a terribly cynical post. There are many kind souls out there who offer reading and editing for free, and Twitter and other online hubs make it easier than ever for writers to find help on all levels. But let’s face it, our manuscripts are our lifeblood. It is wise to be judicious when sharing it.
There are three fairly certain truths about writers. We drink lots of coffee. We read whenever we’re not writing. And we are masters of self-doubt.
So, the next time you start to tell yourself you or your writing are not good enough, feel free to steal one of these guys to substitute. And no, I won’t barrage you with stories of famous writer X who failed 87 times before success. Hopefully these truths are a little more realistic but soothing nonetheless.
1) Good journeys are supposed to be hard. If things came too easily, let’s be honest, they wouldn’t feel right or rewarding. Unless you’ve got a magic genie in your pocket, embrace the struggle. Just like battle scars, the prove your hard work.
2) Once, you wrote that awesome sentence. Of course, you’ve written many awesome sentences but consider taking a favorite and posting it somewhere. Write it on a slip of paper and keep it next to your computer or in your wallet. Remind yourself just how incredible your words can be.
3) You can do other things, too. Writers are dedicated, but sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that we can also juggle, or roast a mean chicken, or play a mean hand of poker. If you feel like you’re slacking with word count, think about those other skills.
4) Write for YOU. When the what ifs and the could be’s beat you up, remind yourself that at the end of the day you should be writing because you love it and that alone is a reward.
5) People are rooting for you. Go find one. A fan. Text a friend. Put out an APB on Twitter that you need a kind word. (And if you’re not tuned into the #WritingCommunity yet, get connected.) Find someone who will push that negative self-talk right out of your head.
6) That kid. That kid over there NEEDS your work. Today, if you write for children, in ten years, if you write for teens, or in twenty years, if you write for adults. Your unique story is needed in this world, and nothing you tell yourself can erase that simple fact.
Being creative means that you can also come up with some pretty harsh words for yourself. Try these tips and if all else fails, do five jumping jacks. Whatever it is, give your body and your brain a reminder that you are a writer and that’s pretty amazing.
I firmly believe a good metaphor can change your life. And for me, a good metaphor changed how I approached writer’s block.
Years ago, at a writing conference in a quaint Pennsylvania hotel, a famous YA author suggested that writers are pitchers of water. We eternally pour out creativity through our stories, and when our pitchers are empty that’s when the dreaded Writer’s Block steps in. (I am intentionally capitalizing here because I don’t just see writer’s block as a thing. I see it as THE villain in any writer’s life, worse than self-doubt or Netflix.)
The author proposed that when our pitchers run empty, we must stop writing and refill that pitcher. We vanquish Writer’s Block by actively seeking inspiration or else the villain of the story wins and our pages stay blank. Below is not an exhaustive list but instead a personal one that I keep handy to help me.
Go to a gallery – Visual art is a quick inspiration snack for me. Galleries are the best, but even if I only have five minutes and pull something up on my phone, it’s an immediate infusion of color and texture and narrative. Online, I highly recommend skimming winners from National Geographic photography contests. They are breathtaking.
Make emotional playlists – Consider not just a writing playlist but instead find those songs that put you in the mindsets you need. Is a character ready to break? Make a chaos mix. Need the sexiest scene ever? Make a love groove playlist. Army going to war and you need to rage? Perhaps a Game of Thrones mix, but you get the idea. Have them ready for an immersive infusion of inspiration.
People watch – I’d love to say I’m an outdoor gal, but I’m not. However if I could get away with it, I would don full bird-watching gear and head to Target with binoculars. Don’t stalk. Don’t be creepy. Just look at the expressions on peoples’ faces. A wrist overloaded with bracelets. A man who rubs the spot a wedding ring should be. There are a thousand stories waiting for you anywhere you go.
Read, of course – Reading is a mixed bag when Writers Block droops its ugly chin on your shoulder. Sometimes a few beautiful words are enough to ignite the spark to write again. Other times, reading can be frustrating or only highlight your current situation so treat this one delicately.
Indulge in television and films – Whether it’s a familiar character you could cosplay in your sleep or a new recommendation, get lost in someone else’s world. Play the what if game. What if that character hadn’t turned left but instead turned right? Before you know it, you might just be hatching your own entire world.
Discover the news – Another cautionary one to try. Normally the news offers a million stories happening at once. Unfortunately, at the moment the political situation is strangling everyone. But perhaps if you can filter out all of the national conflict and look at the local news, that barn you drove by your entire life just burned down or a man wins the lottery at ninety. Regardless, life does imitate art and art is always allowed to imitate the kaleidoscope of life surrounding us.
Seek human contact – Listen. Call a friend and let them talk with nothing to contribute. Call Aunt Betty who lives in a yurt along the Susquehanna River and ask her to tell you about her day. We live in a technologically advanced world where we are both connected to everyone and tied to no one simultaneously. Or if you are limited to technology, start up a real conversation with a new Twitter friend. The devil’s in the details, and unless we listen closely, we often miss those brilliant kernels that could be our next novel.
Write it all down – Carry a notebook with you and have a book of inspiration ready. If you’re anything like me those pesky ideas happen when I’m in the shower, at the dentist, cooking dinner, teaching my classes, hoovering the living room, you get the picture. Few of us have the luxury of stopping to write whenever we want, but that doesn’t mean we should ever let a great idea go. Write it all down! (Dictating notes in your phone counts, too.)
Writer’s Block may be the villain of our story, but as writers we’ll win. I guarantee it. Inspiration will hold us up as we put pen back to paper – or fingers to keyboard, or what the heck, quill to scroll. Good luck with your writing journey and thank you for taking a few moments to share mine.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. I look for other writers who feel the same.