by Kyle Royse
Congratulations on making it this far. If you’ve been following the blog from the start then you should have a healthy chunk of your novel down on the page, and it should feel good. Real Good. If you’ve joined us somewhere along the way, welcome, and keep writing. Actually, keep writing in either case. No, keep writing in any case. It’s the only way you’ll ever finish.
In all honesty, I had really been contemplating giving up on my novel. I’m sure that at least a few of you have had the same thought crossing your mind. Sometimes you’ll read over something you wrote five minutes prior, two weeks prior, or everything you’ve put into your novel up until this point, and you’ll hate it. This is normal. More normal than you might think. This is why I’m going to share with you the ways that beta readers helped to save my novel.
This past week those of us inside the fishbowl, Beta Group 2 specifically, had the pleasure of sharing our thoughts with our group members about their writing. If you’ve been part of a writing workshop before then you will know roughly what went on, but there is something different between reading someone’s short story, essay, or poem and reading a 20-40 page chunk of someone’s novel.
When workshopping a shorter piece of writing you’ll likely hear people comment on sentence level issues, interpretations of particular lines, talk of word choices, and thoughts on the piece as a cohesive whole. This is not what we discussed.
When taking a look at a chunk of a novel you’ll want to comment of the plot, the character development, the tone, and the strengths of the piece. It requires that you keep in mind this chunk is just that, a chunk. Sweat the small stuff later. Big picture ideas are ideal topics of discussion. Now that you know how he process worked, I’ll share how it saved my novel.
4. Beta Readers Will Find Your Plot Holes
If you’ve ever lived in an area that experiences all four seasons in their full glory, then you know that Old Man Winter and his shiver-inducing winds will find every crack and crevice in your house, and you’ll be left looking for plastic wrap, tape, and if you’re lucky enough to have one, an infrared thermometer.
Beta readers are like the infrared thermometer. It isn’t exactly necessary that you have them, but they sure do help help to find the gaps much sooner. Sometimes they’re the only way you’ll find the leak. Heck, some beta readers might even be handy with plastic wrap and tape.
3. Beta Readers Will Know Where You Need Work
Anyone that has ever taken standardized test has probably had this same thought: “I know I’m bad at Algebra, but which problems am I missing?” (I’m assuming that everyone is as bad as math as I am) Sometimes you’ll know that you’ve made a mistake on an equation, but you won’t know where you went wrong, and standardized tests only care that you’re in the bottom 20th percentile.
Beta readers are like a kind Algebra tutor in this case, and your eyes are like the standardized tests. You know that your dialogue doesn’t seem quite right, but you don’t know what the issue is. Beta readers can tell you that your punctuation is in the wrong spot, you don’t need the italics, and dogs can’t talk, like ever, not just that 4 out of 5 writers are better than you.
2. Beta Readers Can Give You Fresh Perspectives
Imagine that every day for the last five years you’ve ate a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup for lunch. Yeah, you like it and it’s what you’ve come to know, but then one day your significant other swaps out the Campbell’s for Progresso Tomato Basil, and you from that moment on you can never look back again. You’ve been blown away by the unique taste, it’s a complete revelation.
Beta readers can be like your significant other in this situation. There’s even a good chance that this is literally your situation. Fresh eyes can lead to ideas that you would’ve never imagined, like adding basil to tomato soup or combining two similar characters into one.
1. Beta Readers Can Literally Save Your Novel
This is the most powerful way in which a beta reader has helped to save my novel. No, not by running into a burning house and cradling it through the smoke and flames, but not too far from it.
During the portion of Beta Group 2’s meeting where my group partners were discussing my novel Cathy asked if I planned on pursuing the project until the end. I thought about the possibility of dousing my pages in kerosene telling ghost stories around it while it burned. I replied without hesitation. “No. I kind of hate it.” She then let me know that she thought it would be a real shame to give up.
I was mad and defeated because my novel had developed a mind of its own. It wasn’t the novel I had originally envisioned. It was a rebellious teenager. I just didn’t realize that I was this teenager’s parent, a smothering parent at that. I didn’t realize that if I loosened up a bit, it would likely become something better than I had originally planned.
Some of that realization came from the workshop itself. Some of it came from a long walk. The rest came from an email that shared this link regarding the very topic of finishing a novel. I hope it will help some of you as you continue your journey as well.
- Keep writing until you’ve finished
- Beta readers can find issues and keep you going
- Don’t give up, keep pushing
by Haley Muench
So we’ve gotten this far. I’ve written over 18,000 words for my novel. I have almost forty pages waiting for my Beta Readers. And now all I have to do for the next two weeks is write. I feel a little bit like the Little Engine That Could, I’m at the bottom of a great big hill and I need to use that momentum from the last hill to get up the next one but it’s so much nicer to just sit in the valley and enjoy the sunshine.
The temptation here is to just throw up my hands and say good enough! I’ve written a lot more than I ever thought I would, this is a school assignment and I’m done! But I’m not done. There are forty pages of my novel just sitting on my computer. It’s not done. It’s just forty pages. And then I start getting afraid. I’ll never finish; no one will like it, blah, blah, blah.
I believe that all artists go through this period of self-doubt and fear. If you don’t then awesome, I’m jealous of you. But if you do please know that you’re not alone.
<—–This is how the rest of my novel feels
Writing a novel is really hard. There’s a lot more to it than simply sitting down and writing. Or maybe there isn’t. It’s hard to tell. I get wrapped up in how to write, what software should I use? What’s the optimal time to write? Where should I write? What kind of adverbs should I avoid using?! I’m not a real writer! How could I have ever thought that I had any talent whatsoever?!
Take a deep breath.
Writing is like any other form of art. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. Just like drawing, you have to sit down and do it. You can read about every technique in the world but unless you really try to make art you won’t get anywhere. And believe it or not you are an artist. I know it might not seem like it on the days where you just can’t seem to get the words to flow the right way or when the words don’t flow at all but trust me you are an artist.
I have slogans up on my wall above my desk. One is Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art”. Great advice of course and it makes me feel like I’m contributing to society somehow.
But above Neil’s quote is another one that makes smile and sometimes laugh out loud. “ART HARDER” from Chuck Wendig (terribleminds.com). Chuck is a strange sort of author; his blog is laced with profanity but the good kind that makes you laugh. I discovered him by accident looking for writing advice (aka procrastinating on my novel). While he does indeed have plenty of good writing advice his number one rule is that you must WRITE. If you don’t then you will have nothing which seems like a no brainer but you’d be surprised how many people talk about writing more than they actually write. Don’t be one of those people.
There weren’t any readings for this week for those of us inside the fishbowl that aren’t in a Beta Group. So to those of us waiting to get our packets done or those outside the fishbowl, I tell you DO NOT QUIT. Keep writing. Find whatever you can to inspire you, don’t procrastinate, etc. Those of you on the outside I encourage you to seriously consider who you can be inspired by or who can become your own Beta Reader. I’m terrified and impossibly excited to have people I barely know read this story for the first time. I’m even more excited that I have forty pages to show them.
- Writing (like all artistic endeavors) is hard. And it should be! If it was easy everyone would do it and then where would we be?
- There are people out there who care and who will read your work. Whether than means they are Beta Readers or something else it is still important to remember this. It keeps me going.
- Not every method of writing works for everyone. Find the one that makes words appear on the page and stick with it. Recognize when you are procrastinating (even when it seems productive!) and stop the behavior.
MAKE GOOD ART!
KEEP ON CHUGGING!
It’s worth it. I promise.