This past Sunday, I met with my writing group and received their beta feedback in the form of almost three hours of discussion and pages upon pages of written notes.
Sorry. Scratch that.
Almost three hours of internal screaming and sweating while my eyes glazed over the written notes and I tried to write down everything that was being said in some way that would actually be useful to me in the future.
I still haven’t finished processing. Hopefully this blog post helps with some of that.
A couple quick updates: The untitled scifi story is progressing well. I’ve got more than 38k words in it so far and I’m planning on finishing the draft by the end of this month. I’m also working on a collaborative short story with a writer friend of mine. It’s an exercise and a chance at getting our name out there, but it’s weird and different. We’ll see how that goes. Finally, I’m continuing to amass rejections on my short story, Seeds, so I think I’m going to give it another once over before sending it out to the next publication.
This is the second time I’ve gone to my writing group and had a beta critique with them. For the same novel. It should have been easier. Right? That’s what I thought as I strolled through Los Feliz to the meet up location.
I was fucking wroooooong.
Let me be clear. I think the beta critique session went about as well as it could have. Everyone seemed to, despite all of their notes, like the novel. I know some compliments were thrown my way, but I gotta be honest, it was hard to hear them when gripped with that much overwhelming anxiety.
So, the format was such:
We sat in a circle and everyone got 2-3 minutes to talk about the novel. If any of the others present agreed with what was being said, they snapped their fingers. Other than a cursory “I agree with ___”, there was no repeating of what anyone had already been said.
That’s almost 30 straight minutes of people talking at you while you try and distill what they’re saying into comprehensible notes. After that, it was open discussion. Several times I was asked if I had any questions or if I wanted to direct the discussion and I had no response.
I was a wreck afterwards. I’m still feeling it. Luckily, I’ve given myself the rest of this month to not think about Rat. Even before the beta critique, I knew I wasn’t going to let myself get back to it until July. That’s when Camp NaNoWriMo is and that gives me time to finish the draft I’m currently working on, my untitled scifi novel. I should really come up with something to call it.
But it is SO difficult not to think about it. It just pops up in my head. On the treadmill. In bed. While working. While reading. That overwhelming sense of YOU HAVE SO MUCH WORK YOU SHOULD BE DOING.
And the voice is right. I do. I have probably around 50k words to write for Rat now. Plus editing.
I didn’t expect Rat to be perfect. I knew there were problems and I knew I needed guidance. I got what I wanted and what I needed.
But it’s still a gut punch. I’m still looking at a long, hard road before querying. Each time I think it’s just around the corner, the goal line is moved. That’s what it feels like. Like the work never ends.
That’s the life I’ve chosen, though. None of what I’ve just said should be taken as me giving up. There isn’t a question in my mind that I’m going to get back to Rat on July 1st and get going. What am I going to do, quit? Please.
Fifty thousand more words, approximately, and another round of edits. That’s what it’s looking like. My immediate future.
Now, apart from the eight writer friends I got a live beta critique from, I also sent Rat to about twenty non-writers. I think it’s very important to get diverse feedback, and that includes people who are just readers and those who aren’t readers at all (though be sure to adjust the feedback to the audience. If you picked someone who doesn’t read the genre you wrote in, their notes may be less helpful). I asked them to focus on specific questions I had for each chapter and then questions at the end of the novel. Things like, did you find anything confusing? What was your favorite part in this chapter? I actually adapted the questionnaire from Jenna Moreci’s awesome series on beta readers on her YouTube channel (channel HERE). If you would like me to share the questionnaire with you, drop me a line.
Now, perhaps you’re on the fence about whether or not you should find betas. Maybe you think you probably should, but don’t know where to find them or don’t know what to do. My experience probably isn’t the most encouraging thing to read, in either case.
Listen. I’m just bitching. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should have beta readers. Please, for the love of all that is unholy and necrotic, have beta readers. Do not write in a vacuum. You absolutely, positively need other eyes on your work. You’re too close to it. I promise you. Never mind the typos and grammar mistakes you’ve missed (they’re there, trust me), what is in your head isn’t what necessarily made it to the page. You need people to tell you what they experienced when they read your work and you need to be able to see how it’s different than what you were trying to write. You need their help. It is so painfully obvious when I read someone’s work who hasn’t had beta readers or a critique partner look at it. Just do it.
Don’t know where to find betas? That’s what social media is for. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Whatever. Make a post asking for volunteers, describe your work, and see the people come in. Try to get a varied group, but also remember who your target audience is. If you have questions, poke me on Twitter or Instagram. I will be happy to walk you through the process.
So, that’s where everything is with me. I’ve got a couple more weeks to get this untitled scifi novel draft finished, complete the June partner challenge, and get ready to dive back into editing.
That’s it from me for the moment. Take good care of yourselves, love yourselves, and keep working on checking off those goals. The road is hard, but it’s fucking worth it.