I can’t write alone. Neither can you.

Posted: January 8, 2014 in Writing Experiences and Advice
Tags: , , , , ,

My stories are all products of my own imagination. I labor for days and weeks over each chapter. I work with a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a Google page at the ready to ensure that each carefully selected word evokes the exact feeling I want it to have. And when the chapter is finished, I go back and do some basic editing for grammatical errors and such. 

At this point, I could technically say I’m done with the chapter. It reads well to me. It’s 98% error free. I’m happy with what I have produced. This is the point with my fan fiction in the past that I have posted the chapter. I’d post the chapter even though I didn’t feel ready to post it. The next day I’d read the chapter and realize it wasn’t 98% error free. Not even close. And some of the wording was just awkward. What was I thinking posting this?!

My first solution to this problem was the most obvious to me: my husband. This is the person I trust above all others. This is a person who loves me unconditionally.  My husband is very matter-of-fact and down-to-Earth about everything. He is obviously going to be able to critique my writing with honesty and compassion, right?

Okay, well, he tried. I have to give the man props; he gave it his best attempts. He read the stories – honestly and truly read them – and then told me where the weak points were. But that was about the best he could give me.

(I’m going to go out on a tangent for a moment here. If you follow my blog, you are going to learn a lot about this man, so let me just give you a brief introduction. My husband is the love of my life. He has loved me when I was unlovable and has been by my side for 17 years now. Furthermore, my husband supports my writing aspirations. As far as he see things, if I want to be a writer, then I need to go for it. It’s just that simple to him. So now, I digress…)

Here’s the problems with having my husband be the buffer between my imagination and the rest of the world. I write M/M fiction. (For those of you not familiar with this term, it means gay male or male-on-male fiction.) And my particular cup of tea is very violent, graphic storylines. My husband has no problems with the fact that I write these sorts of stories, but he’d prefer not to read them for reasons that should be fairly obvious. On top of that, my husband isn’t a writer. To him walk, stroll, pace, and meander all mean the same thing. And the word saunter is just simple ridiculous. It’s just not in his set of skills to help me edit a piece of literature.

Like I said, the man deserves major credit for trying. He did it because he loves me and knows that my writing means a great deal to me. It was his way of showing support of my dreams. I love him every day for that. But I needed someone else. Badly.

Over the last several years as I have written fan fiction, I have had several different betas. In the fan fiction community, a beta is a person who helps the author with edits, much like an editor. Some people have only one, and others have one for syntax, one for grammar, one for spelling, etc. I’ve always found the use of a beta helpful. It’s nice to have a second set of eyes look over a piece before it’s made public. Unfortunately I never found a person that could take my work and help me bring it to the next level the way I wanted. I had one that was fantastic at spotting grammatical and spelling errors, but she failed to grasp how I wanted the story to feel. On another story, I had a beta that was great at picking up on odd syntax, but her suggestions to fix the problems were just not the same voice I use when writing, which just left me feeling even more frustrated than I started.

For a while I gave up on using a beta. I am a complete control freak, and I want my stories to scream “ME!” in every letter. I want people to just know they are reading one of my pieces of art.

I was working on a new piece that was heavy with Catholic references a while back. I am not Catholic, so I did tons of research. I spent months reading about Catholicism, parish layouts, rites, prayers, the Catechism, you name it. I made myself as well versed in the religion as I could without converting for the sake of research. Then I wrote the story. Once it was done, I let it sit for a few days. I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. I was terrified of making a fool of myself by making some enormous mistake and breaking the whole “suspension of disbelief.”

I have this friend that has been reading my fan fiction for a while. I knew she had done some beta work before and also that she had a Catholic background. I summoned my courage and swallowed my pride, and I finally asked her if she would help me with this one story. She enthusiastically agreed. The rest, as they say, is history.

Amy is like an extension of my own mind in some ways. Not only does she zero in on exactly the right parts, but she gives the best advice on how to fix things. We work together extremely well, sometimes batting an idea back and forth half a dozen times before getting it perfect. I am completely comfortable putting my hard work in her hands.

And that story I was talking about? Well, Amy helped me take it so much further than I ever could have done alone. It came out way better than I ever dreamed it could have.

I am now sending Amy parts of my debut novel to work on. I trust no one else to handle my work (besides my husband, but that’s been discussed already). It was my turn to be delighted when I asked her to help me with a story and she agreed. There’s something magical about being able to get excited about seeing what’s going to become of this rough draft, and I have that experience because I have a fantastic beta. Between you and me, I’m making sure Amy gets her due credit; she works very hard for me.

My point with this long ramble is that… well I have several points. One is that you need someone to help you. All those people that say we are too close to our writing to be objective are actually right. A second opinion can’t hurt. Another point is that you have to find the right person (or set of persons) to give you that second opinion. It just makes the whole revision process easier, and more enjoyable, when you do. And lastly, don’t be a control freak. I know that’s hard, believe me. In the end though, it’s still going to be your story with your characters told with your voice. Being able to let go just a little bit can have huge rewards in the grand scheme of things.


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