Wednesday, 2 April 2014

What do I Need Now?

By Catherine Hudson


Last time I wrote for ACW I talked about Beta readers. You can read that post here. Now I want to talk about after you’ve received your work back from the Beta readers.

First of all, breathe. All that red ink may be giving you heart palpitations and we don’t need a coronary on our hands.

What’s needed now is a teachable spirit.

Huh? Well, no one ever grew or changed for the better without hearing some good home truths that motivated change. It can be hard to have someone find fault with your manuscript, and it can feel like a personal attack. You may even sit alone in your office and yell at the Beta readers and critique partners.

But that backstory needs to be there! Otherwise the reader can’t possibly understand why she avoids falling in love!

But that cliché is the perfect description!

I’ve cut 50,000 words. It’s impossible to cut any more!

The classic: But my mother loved my story!

Or in my case, My dialogue is not torturous! That’s how they spoke in 1870!

Ok, let’s take another deep breath and grab some tissues. This is not personal, it’s not the end of the world, it will pass, it will be worth it and you will thank the Beta readers—after you finish yelling at them in the privacy of your office. Don’t go emailing them. Sit on it a day or two. A week or month maybe. And, most of all, pray.

As Christians we know that we have a flesh or sin nature that can inhibit our ability to see things as they truly are. We can agree and disagree over the same issue more than once in our lifetime and retrospect gives us the ability to see the benefit of a painful truth—but generally only later.

As Christian writers it is essential to have our hearts soft enough and in tune with the Holy Spirit to hear and address what is necessary. This is a teachable spirit.

Our writing (or us personally?) will grow—but only if we move past the point of hurt, anger or offence, and be willing to hear. I didn’t want to hear that my dialogue was torturous.

But. It. Was.

I took those hurtful words and researched better writing craft. And I realised something—I could make the necessary changes without loosing the message contained in my story. If anything, most advice will tighten your work and make the communication clearer and more appealing—it did for me.

And isn’t that what we want?

Industry standards are set for a good reason, but we cannot benefit from those who have gone before us unless we are willing to listen, change and grow. All that starts with a teachable spirit.

I’ll leave you with something my prayer partner taught me. If there are two ways to take something and one offends you—choose the other option. More than likely it will leave you a better person, or in this case, writer.

What’s been your experience? Tell us a time you had a cry/rant/rave then decided to hear the truth of what was said, and put in the time to improve your manuscript (or yourself).

Andrea Grigg will be posting on 4 April, offering us another attribute needed to get through the dreaded editing-after-beta-readers. Look forward to seeing you then!

Catherine Hudson writes Historical and Contemporary romance for the CBA market. She was a finalist in the 2013 MARA Fiction from the Heartland contest.

20 comments:

  1. Hi Cat, thanks for your wise post!

    Every author has so much to be gained by cultivating a teachable spirit. I loved the advice from your prayer partner to choose the least offending option. That could make the difference between a toxic day and a beautiful one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Dotti. I always begin my replies with an automatic 'Thank you' and, with a deep breath, I then discover what it is I am thankful for. Beta readers are rarely wrong about the problems - though sometimes they are about the solutions.

      Delete
    2. I discovered this with a couple of my first ever experiences with editors. I was concerned and contacted a friend who had many books already published. Her advice was invaluable. She said if someone suggests a solution, while you consider it may not work for whatever reason, the main thing to accept is that it jarred that reader and does need to be revised. Easy perhaps to say but I know only too well how very hard to do most times!

      Delete
    3. Yes, Dotti I have found that sage peice of advice a simple way to avoid on-going pain or an argument - whether with someone else, or in my head!

      Annie you're right - thankfulness is key, too. And advice that is weighed will not always reveal that the beta reader's solution was correct, but the weighing is the important part. The ability to see things objectively is essential.

      Thanks for sharing, Mary. Your friend's advice is wise and I understand how you feel, the revisions needed are sometimes extensive and painful....but worth it in the end :)

      Delete
  2. Thanks, Catherine. I loved those classic lines. There's also: 'My grandkids were enthralled,' 'People have been saying for years I should tell my story,' and 'All my friends said they'd buy this, if it were published.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Annie I believe there are a few! These comments are useful for spurring us on and feeling encouraged, but as we have discovered, they don't help us stretch and grow - constructive criticism does. In fact that last one (mine) was not constructive at all - he criticized and gave no advice. But as a result, I went on a journey to seek out the reasons he would say my dialogue was torturous. I have since improved vastly so in the end, as you say, he was right about the problem.

      Delete
  3. Such good advice, Catherine. We all need to keep being reminded of this. Thank God for a Christian writing community where we can help each other through all the stage of writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Carol. Yes I find that the growth needed is cultivated more within the Christian writing community. Probably because that is the walk of God's people - ever upward! :)

      Delete
  4. A teachable spirit is not easy to culture but as you say, it is essential in our craft. Without it, our writing won't grow and neither will our character! Like Carol, I'm very thankful for our supportive writing communities. We need all the encouragement we can get.

    Thank you for you honest and heartfelt post, Cat - you've done the hard yards and come out shining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Andrea. Funny how you learn to love the negative comments more than the positive!

      Delete
    2. That's because if you have a teachable spirit, you learn from the negative comments. The positive comments reinforce what you know (which is great), but the negative comments point you in the direction you have to go next.

      Delete
  5. Love that advice from your prayer partner. One comment from one of my beta readers sent me back to changing and re-writing whole chunks of my latest manuscript as I had to change a plot point. At first I struggled to think how to f do it. But with time prayer and thought it got changed.Hopefully it works better now and makes a stronger manuscript..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Dale,
      That's so valuable that you got such great advice. Perhaps it's time now for a second round of Beta readers? See if the new plot change flows? I've had to do that and I often think of my manuscript like a tapestry and if I have pulled a thread out, will it now unravel? I'm on my fourth round of Beta readers now. They are so valuable.

      Delete
  6. Thanks Catherine. Honest Beta Readers are gold - they will pick up things we as writers miss. I like Annie's point that they may not always be write about the solution but if something has jarred in their reading of the text we should take note. Great idea too, to take a deep breath, to take time before responding and to pray.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jeanette,
      Yes, Annie has a point. If it jarred the reader, we need to look at why. It's not always a disaster and going to take hours and hours of revisions, either. Sometimes its as simple as adding a little more foreshadowing. Keeping that initial panic in check has helped me many times. As I said, I'm glad they can't always see us, sitting in our office, receiving their advice!

      Delete
  7. Cat, great post! A teachable spirit rather than an arrogant spirit is essential. We also need to exercise discernment when we choose our beta readers. Years ago, a friend of mine read the first chapter of my first manuscript. The writing needed work. I was learning a lot about writing craft from my critique partner and judges feedback from the contest circuit. My friend said "It's okay... I don't really like romance... I think I'm a better writer than you." As you can imagine, this wasn't the feedback I was seeking. After that experience, I was reluctant to show my writing to non-writers until I was close to selling.

    My beta readers are invaluable because they analyse my books from a reader perspective. They don't necessarily know the writing craft rules but, as Annie has mentioned, they know when something isn't working for them in the story. I appreciate their honest and constructive criticism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Narelle, yes I agree, you have to choose wisely both in timing and who to Beta read for you - that was where I was going with my first post. It's a really delicate process and can help us head toward publication, or send us running for the delete button when we shouldn't. I'm glad you bounced back from that comment and have had the success you're now enjoying!

      Delete
  8. Hi Catherine,
    Yes, I agree. I think Beta readers approach a story with fresh brains, so their advice must always be considered after working away for months or years. They notice aspects the writer has been blinded to, just through sheer familiarity. I also think it's wise to choose readers whose opinions you may be confident you'll trust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paula,
      yes, a relationship of trust is important and its amazing the friendships that can be born out of this Beta reading process.

      Delete