Tag Archives: Feedback

Respect the Stages

I entered into Pitch Wars. Since, I’ve been trying (<— read, failing) not to just stalk all my potential mentors’ feeds and see if they say anything that resembles my book at all; trying (<— read, still failing) not to refresh my email every ten seconds in hopes that a request for a partial or a full might come through; trying (<— read, forever failing) not to get lost in the feed while glancing at my calendar and wondering why it isn’t August 25th yet. Those nervous, contest butterflies fueled by fragile threads and hope and anxiety are in full swing and it’s only been two days.

So, this morning, I thought, Hey. Instead of obsessing over a book you can’t do anything with at the moment, perhaps you should work on polishing up another novel? Hmm? 

When I made a call for beta readers for ARTEMIS last year, I also asked for betas for the only science fiction novel I’ve written, THE RESISTANCE, so that when I was done editing one, I could go straight into editing the other. I hadn’t looked at that feedback yet (because I wanted to look at it when I actually had time to implement it), so I figured that was as good a place to start as any. Look at the feedback, see how people felt about the novel, make an editing game plan, maybe start getting into the actual manuscript next week.

And then I read the feedback.

The consensus was clear.

The book sucked.

That was…hard to swallow, especially right now, when I’m pillaging through the teasers from the contest and that nefarious doubt is in the back of my mind, whispering lies like, You know your book isn’t good enough, why even hope at all? I didn’t read through the feedback in-depth, yet, just glanced through the general summations they gave, but the trend was the same: my main character was annoying and didn’t have enough to work for, the pacing was slow/off, the world-building was confusing, none of the characters had enough depth and the ending was disappointing, if not downright depressing.

Image result for hiccup you just gestured to all of me

Cool premise, though.

Seeing that kind of response, I immediately felt deflated. My stomach twisted in knots, an overwhelming wave of disappointment washing over me. My mind panicked, thinking about the other manuscript I’d just entered into Pitch Wars, one of the most prestigious and well-known Twitter contests you can enter. Had I just made a huge mistake? Is ARTEMIS truly as bad as RESISTANCE? Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Before I let myself completely give into despair and woeful lies, I had to pause and recognize another emotion in the mix, buried beneath all of those questions and sick feelings of shame.

Non-surprised expectation.

Though I hadn’t glanced at that feedback before today, in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t going to be positive, in the sense that there would be a lot more constructive criticism than there would be praise. It’s not that the feedback itself is negative or that receiving only criticism is a negative thing (quite the opposite, in fact; how can we improve if we only experience praise?). It’s just that I knew RESISTANCE was not going to receive glowing reviews from my beta readers.

I knew without admitting it that book wasn’t ready for the eyes of others yet. That was only the first draft I’d written. Hell, haven’t even read it more than once. I hadn’t edited anything yet, hadn’t done anything to it beside try and get the ideas I had in my head down on paper in some sort of comprehensible fashion. In every sense, what I sent out to my beta readers was the worst possible draft I could have sent them. Yet I was putting out a call for my other book, so in my brain, I was like, Hey, why not get feedback on two books at once? 

That was a mistake.

Because both of those books were at different stages.

With ARTEMIS, I had written a draft and then went back through and edited it once myself. I know that may not seem like a lot, but trust me, that second read through makes a huge difference. I’d already worked out a lot of kinks that typically result from a first draft attempt before I sent it out to betas, whereas with RESISTANCE, all of those problems were still present. I hadn’t given RESISTANCE the time it needed and deserved to make it at least resemble a story, not just being the bare, confusing bones of one like all my first drafts are.

So of course my betas had tons of problems with every aspect of the book.

Similar to how I wasn’t surprised when there were more aspects betas liked about ARTEMIS than they found to critique about it.* And what they did critique was exactly what I needed, locating the places I was blind to, things I hadn’t even considered would need improving because I was at a loss as to how to make the story better, hence looking for an outside opinion.

With RESISTANCE, if I would have paused to really think, I could point out many of the same weaknesses my betas did. I was just so excited about the idea of someone else reading my work and offering feedback that I didn’t stop to consider whether my novel was ready for that kind of attention.

And for that mistake, my RESISTANCE betas, I apologize profusely. It was not my intention to waste your time and your feedback is valued to me. I will read through everything, thoroughly, and incorporate your thoughts into my next round of edits.

I learned a couple different things this morning, I think. The most important lesson was figuring out how to know when my book is ready for beta feedback–not only so I never waste anyone else’s time again, but also so that my book has the chance to benefit the most from another pair of eyes, i.e., if the obvious, glaring issues that I would have caught aren’t there, my betas can actually look for more complex, complicated issues to help elevate the story.

I have been reminding myself (and seeing the reminder in the Pitch Wars feed) that so many writers who entered are in different stages of their career, so I should stop comparing myself to them. Similarly to how, if I don’t become a mentee or, if I did become a mentee and didn’t become agented afterwards, I can’t consider that a failure when I look at those who did win or did become agented; because every journey is different and we’re all at different stages. Yet I was also reminded that I’m at different stages across my own works. 

I know that probably seems obvious. One book that has been undergone twelve drafts is obviously different than a book that’s only been written once. Yet, for a moment, I assumed that because RESISTANCE is still in such a bad shape, that obviously that means ARTEMIS sucks just as much. And that’s simply not the case, because I’ve put so much more work into ARTEMIS. Multiple rounds of revision, including a round implementing beta feedback. Not to mention that I understand that story so much more and feel so much more confident about it. My writing reflects that, whereas my writing in RESISTANCE shows my hesitancy and uncertainty I have for that narrative.

This is a really long post to basically say this: recognize the various stages your writing and your career are in and then respect them. Take the time to work on a novel to get it ready for betas. Rewrite as many drafts as you need to, to make it work. Don’t forget that your first draft usually sucks and that’s okay. It’s also okay if your tenth draft sucks. Every book is different. Every career is different. Focus on yours and doing everything you can to make it the best of your ability. Recognize your mistakes, admit them and then keep pushing forward.

And never give up. Our world needs your stories.

Cheers.

* When I say this, I’m not trying to come off as conceited and say that I assumed my book was so great, all my betas would love it. What I meant was that my gut was telling me ARTEMIS was ready for their eyes, whereas RESISTANCE was not.


Insights With Editing

I don’t think there is any “correct” way to edit your novel. You just gotta find what works best for you in that given moment or that given manuscript and continue to strive to create the best story you can.

That said, I’ve discovered some interesting differences editing ARTEMIS for the second time than my previous editing go-arounds.

The first comes thanks to the input from other writers, i.e., I sought help from beta readers. Last November, I sent my manuscript out with a questionnaire, looking for any sort of guidance and outside input to help enlighten this blind creator to the flaws and areas of improvement within her creation. I’d sought out opinions from others before, but never was I so organized or specific. Not only did I give a little more guidance as to what I was looking for, feedback wise, instead of the simple, “Do you like it?” generalization, but I also got opinions from five people instead of just one other person. And not from family members, either. Five fellow writers, all in different stages of their careers.

Their feedback has been invaluable.

Not only was I able to create a six page document of ideas and suggestions based off their advice, but I also made a copy of my manuscript, went through it and inserted all of their line edits. Every time I finish editing a chapter, I compare it to the chapter that I marked up based on their feedback. And almost every single time, the typos that I missed when I first sent out this manuscript, I missed again editing it myself, e.g., using lead when I meant led happened almost every time I use the word.

It never fails to blow my mind how often I’ll have these little mistakes and how I continually miss them, which is just one example of how important a second pair of eyes is.

The feedback from my betas, not only with the line edits, but the larger scale issues they pointed out, as well, has proven invaluable, as aforementioned. I don’t think I’ll go through editing a book again without seeking out betas to get a second (or sixth) opinion, but probably after I’ve had a chance to edit the book at least once myself.

The other major difference I’ve noticed doing these revisions is how I really do have to obey my moods in order to do this properly. Considering I’ve been in such a writing rut recently, I’ve been really focused on trying to write/edit every day to get back into the groove of things. Or finish so many chapters a week.

Sometimes, that desire to write consistently has taken away from the quality of the work I produced. Instead of actually editing and looking at the areas I needed to improve on in each scene (some things as minor as typos, others as grand as deleting and reworking entire sections), I was just trying to fly through the pages. I got through a couple of chapters before I realized that I needed to slow down and actually be willing to do the work.

Even if that meant on the days that I wasn’t willing, I didn’t force it for the sake of consistency.

I do think there is a difference between just being lazy and actually recognizing when you’re not in a mood to put in the work writing. But there have been times in the past month where I’m reading through a chapter and I’ve made all these notes of the elements I need to change, yet I haven’t made any of those changes, yet I made a move to cross off editing that chapter on my To-Do list. Or every single word I read, I immediately think is shit. It took me a couple times, reading through chapters without actually editing them, before I finally forced myself to take a step back, go do something else and then return to that chapter when I’m in a better frame of mind.

And every single time, I’ve found my work to be better than what I thought it was when I was in a foul mood. And every single time, I’ve made the changes I knew I needed to be making, but was just too lazy to make the previous time I sat time to work on it.

So, yeah. I’m not writing every day. Sometimes, I only work for 15 minutes. Sometimes, it’s three hours. Sometimes, it takes me a week to get through a chapter. Other times, I can fly through three in one session. But I’ve found that by listening to my own emotions and actually taking the time to think about what I’m actually feeling and the source behind those emotions, actually really helps my writing. I’ve come to be able to recognize when I’m looking for an excuse to waste time on Pinterest–and instead sit my butt down in that chair and force myself to get the work done–or when outside influences are risking the quality of my work. I’ve also become more keen to recognizing when I’m really in the mood to write and giving myself permission to listen to that desire, even if that means I have to send an apologetic email for failing behind on X, Y or Z.

I only have about 35 pages left to edit before I’ve finished another draft of ARTEMIS. It could take me a day or it could take me a month to finish. But I’m choosing to stop caring how long it takes and instead, do everything I can to make sure I’m creating my best work and always putting in 100% when I sit down to write.

Not gonna lie: I’m pretty jazzed about the progress I’ve made and have a lot of hope for this story. And that’s a feeling I most certainly missed.

Cheers.


Differing Opinions: Part Two

This post is a tad bit late thanks to my body going on protest against functioning in the world, resulting in me laying in bed for three days straight, running on nothing chicken noodle soup and lemon-lime Gatorade. It was meant to go up the day after I wrote Part One, where I talked about how I didn’t like a short story I wrote yet others did and the difference in opinion intrigued me. For Part Two, I want to muse over beta reader feedback and why I think it is not only terribly important to seek out beta readers, but also to always have multiple. The main reason?

Because everyone has a different opinion.

Obvious, I know. But when you are viewing that obviousness in terms of your own work, it is actually quite fascinating. Over the past week, I’ve poured through feedback from five different beta readers over my novel, ARTEMIS SMITH AND THE VIRTUOUS MARRIAGE QUEST. It was fantastic because it showed me a lot of places where my novel could improve: from starting in the wrong place (which happens to me with every novel I write, frankly) to being way too repetitive in delivering information in the first half of the book to fine-tuning details to raising questions about how logical something is,; I have so much material to help raise this book another notch. And I’m actually quite excited about it, despite the workload ahead of me being a bit daunting. I was also very lucky in that there were some elements that were praised, as well: the unique voice, the creatures that are incorporated and, one sweet soul even claimed, I have a “knack for storytelling.”

*blushes*

Aside from all of this awesome feedback, the copious amount of notes I took, the editing game plan I finished up this evening and am really stoked to put into motion starting tomorrow, and the crazy amount of line edits I’ve already made (good lord, I didn’t realize how many misspellings I had!); aside from all of this, one of my favorite aspects was the patterns that emerged looking at all of the feedback. Sometimes, in the notes within the actual manuscript, the same typo would be caught by everyone while the next would only be caught by one person. Or everyone could comment on a specific paragraph, even if they were all saying something different. Or how a majority of the comments came in the first 50 pages, cluing me into where the majority of my focus for revision should be. These patterns are so telling.

Reading the questionnaire I asked them to fill out, this is where I realized the importance of multiple beta readers. All of them had varying opinions, but four of the five were generally on the same page, with minor differences and ranging suggestions. Then, my fifth reader was completely opposite. Every single time. And while, in the end, I decided that reader simply didn’t connect with the book the way I was hoping, so some of their suggestions I’m not going to follow–which is totally okay and totally happens, by the way–their feedback was also ridiculously helpful, because it showed me exactly how readers would respond if they didn’t connect with my book; some of the issues that would be raised; some of the elements that would turn them off. Sure, I may not be following their suggestions to fix this disconnect, but their feedback was still damn helpful and is still going to shape my book to be better than it was a draft ago.

Quite honestly, it did make me laugh, sitting in Panera and, question by question, never failing to reach that fifth questionnaire and get the exact opposite feel and opinion that was just expressed in the previous four. And I mean laugh in a good way. I was honestly fascinated by this response and, in a weird way, proud of myself. A few years ago, if I had read that questionnaire, I would have been devastated. I would have wondered how everything I tried to do missed the mark; wondered why someone I respect so much didn’t enjoy something I wrote and loved. Now, I am thankful for another viewpoint, for honest feedback and recognize my ability to discern between feedback that needs to be heeded and feedback that is simply a difference of opinion that is respected, even if not followed.

Which, friends who are currently trying to edit the beasts they’ve created, is exactly why you need feedback from multiple sources. Just because someone suggests a change or, hell, even praising something you did well, doesn’t mean you should heed them and believe those opinions to be fact automatically. Because at the end of the day, they are just opinions to be weighed and considered. Just like your opinions change on a dime–one day, you love every word you’ve written, the next, you wonder where the nearest dumpster is and how your manuscript wasn’t born in it. So obviously, you need to marinate on feedback and listen to your gut before you decide to pursue it.

I’m very lucky that my beta readers were so thoughtful, insightful and in-depth with their thoughts and opinions, so I had plenty to muse over and chew through. And now, thanks to their feedback–and their differing viewpoints–I have a course which to sail towards, with much more guidance in terms of which direction I should travel than if I were attempting this alone, like I usually do on the editing journey. I can’t express how thankful I am for them and what a joy it was to work with them all. Hopefully, I’ll get to do it again, one day.

Cheers.


Coming Full Freakin’ Circle

Just a few days ago, I got a nice sucker punch to the gut that was oh so very necessary. It came in the form of feedback over my earliest completed story–Darryn’s trilogy; particularly the second book in the trilogy, that no one else has read. You know, the same trilogy that I’m pretty sure a few blog posts ago (or many blogs ago, as I have been absent for quite some time recently and I apologize profusely for that), I was bragging that, after completing another round of edits, I thought were close to being ready for publication.

dreamworks how to train your dragon toothless hiccup berk

Ha.
A ha.
Ha ha ha.

Let me preface this to say that while receiving this feedback felt like a punch in the gut, it was a necessary punch in the gut. And it was delivered thoughtfully, respectfully, professionally and coming from someone who I admire a very, very, very high amount. She could have said she hated my work (which she didn’t) and I would still think so highly of her and value her opinion. But hearing that your work isn’t ready yet when you thought you were close and have been working for years is never an easy pill to swallow.

But even more so, this time around, it was an eye-opener.

Some of the major points of advice I was given include (amongst other things, but no one needs to see my six total pages of notes, suggestions and ideas):

  • Characters and their desires/motivations/goals aren’t clear
  • Chapter endings don’t end in the most natural spot
  • Doesn’t feel focused
  • Really consider which POVs are necessary
  • A lot scenes are there simply to include worldbuilding elements that aren’t actually necessary in that moment
  • Would that character realistically do that? Why didn’t they do THIS?
vikings dreamworks how to train your dragon toothless

Obviously she was super nice about telling me all of this and it didn’t feel like this moment at all, but any moment when I can use this GIF is a moment I can’t pass up.

Granted, I have some ah, some work to do.

And that’s work I’m putting off for a while. I got new stories I want to write and the amount of revision this one is going to undergo is a bit more than I can swallow at the moment (but I promise you, I’m not giving up on this story; no way in hell). But about halfway through our phone conversation, I had that moment; that eye-opener; that a-ha; that moment where everything suddenly came:

Image result for olan rogers full freaking circle

Thanks, Olan!

Almost every thing that was pointed out in my work that could be improved? Those are the elements that I am most nitpicky about when editing others works, whether it is the one client I’m working with or simply beta reading for some friends. How worldbuilding is incorporated, realistic dialogue, characters making rationale choices that match with their personalities and chapter endings are elements I almost always comment on and ask writers to amp up in their stories. But did I ever think to look at my own writing and see why those elements stuck out to me so glaringly?

I think you know the answer to that question.

So, massive facepalm moment later, my lesson has been learned, my thoughts on my own writing humbled and my determination has hardened. Despite every punch, every moment when I think I’m ready but I’m not (and when I think I’m not ready yet I am), despite every flair of fear or doubt, I’m learning. I’m growing. My writing is improving. And though I’m not sure when I’ll return to edit my most precious of stories, I will be editing them and you will be reading them one day. And we’ll all look back at this moment, this lesson, and laugh. And we’ll be thankful for readers willing to deal out the hard truths and writers who refuse to give up.

Cheers.