So – I finished the first draft of Perfect Coven 2: Cursebreaker’s Dance on my birthday, January 5th, 2016.
It felt glorious.
For about fifteen minutes.
Because now the real work begins.
Not to say that writing the story – getting it out of your head and into the computer or a notebook or however you write – isn’t work.* It is. But it’s also a wondrous act of creation. The story is new, the words flow from your fingertips, you’re watching it take form, live, and breathe.
But after you’ve told your story, then you have to polish that story. You have to make sure everything makes sense, that you have continuity, that your magic works, that you didn’t leave gaping plot holes, that you didn’t have the characters coming downstairs for breakfast two pages after you had them all seated around a table eating pancakes.** And you also have to check your voice and spelling and grammar and sentence and story structure.
While doing all that, you have to make sure you’re still telling your story and keep that story interesting and readable.
Then you have to turn your story over to someone else (or several someones) to get their feel. Do they like it? Does it make sense? Does something not work for them and if so, what and why? Fresh eyes really help at this juncture because by this time you’re on your third or fourth draft and you hate your story with every fiber of your being and your eyes might just bleed and you might just birth a chest-buster if you have to look it one more time.***
When you get it back from your someone(s), you have to squelch the immediate urge to ignore all their comments because, really, what do they know about your story? You wrote it, it’s your baby, and if they don’t get certain things, that’s obviously a failing in them and has nothing to do with your writing and your story. This is not a good attitude to have. Criticism is healthy, and will actually make your story stronger.
That’s not to say that all criticism is good; also, not all criticism is valid. My personal rule of thumb is that if two or more of my writing partners/beta readers/critique group members have the same issue, then the issue is with the writing and must be fixed. If one person has a problem, then you have to look at your story as a whole and decide if it’s a valid flaw that might prove an obstacle to your overall goal – to sell the book and get it out to readers. YMMV on this; make your own rules when it comes to accepting criticism, but don’t immediately discount it, either.****
Perhaps the most important thing a critique partner/beta reader/writing group will do is let you know if you’ve actually told the story. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of writing – structure, punctuation, point of view, word usage, word count, etc., etc. – that you forget that you need to tell a story. You need to give your characters something to do, something to want, something to strive for, then make them work for it. Tell. Your. Story. After all, isn’t that why we put ourselves through this? We want to tell stories.
Last, but far from least, your critique-beta readers will let you know if you’ve written a book that’s readable, interesting, and entertaining. After all, we don’t want to re-write – and therefore have to re-read – Moby Dick*****, do we?
James says: Sid left out one thing. When you’re writing in a shared-world along with your writing partners, and your stories are intimately intertwined, you have to keep constant awareness of what happens in the other stories and when it happens. This doesn’t diminish and of the points Sid made about what you have to look at; in fact, what it does is make every single one of them more important.
Mickie says: Oh dear. I’m still writing my first book. This is what I have to look forward to? YIKES!
I’ve been a beta-reader for several projects and it’s a bit fun to read with an eye out for things that don’t make sense or are repetitive. (Note from Sid: guess who found the double-breakfast issue.)
That said, I’m not looking forward to having my Frankenstein chased to the windmill by the crazed villagers.
*Also, if you get that far – actually writing the story – you’re further along than most writers. My mentor used to say:
“Most writers don’t write.
Those that do, don’t finish.
Those that finish don’t submit.
Those that submit do it wrong.”
So if you write and finish a project, you’re halfway further along than most writers.
**This is an anecdote drawn from life; I actually wrote a scene that way and missed it in all subsequent re-readings. A critique partner caught it – and that’s why the extra eyes are valuable.
***You’re also pretty sure it’s the most vile pile of excrement ever excreted and you should just give it all up and maybe summon demons for a living, since you’re spending your time nose-deep in a vile pile of excrement anyway.
****Yes, I know I stated that earlier, but it does bear repeating.
*****In my opinion, the most boring book ever written, aside from Walden.