Who decides?

Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.

― Eleanor Roosevelt

Sometimes we have difficulty with finding the correct audience for our writing.  Beta readers are not easy to come by, and as introverts– generally speaking– we are not likely to approach strangers to solicit critiques of our writing.  Certainly never for first or rough draft.

But sometimes, we elicit the overall negative response which incites others to tell us something just isn’t working.  If the reviews are mixed, let’s say 50-50 division on when a turn in the writing is working, or when it isn’t, it’s up to the writer to decide.

But let’s address the endless number of people who are quick to point out flaws, foibles, and faux pas in a genre they do not normally read, or are wholly unfamiliar with, even on a good day.  Those people are not your friends.  They are not seeking to help you.  Let me say this again, not helpful.

When you ask for help with a writing project, ask the appropriate person.  Someone who knows the genre, by virtue of being a long-term avid reader.  Or someone with a proven track record, preferably someone publishing– and publishing well, in the same genre. This is the type of author who can give you valuable advice about readers of the genre. This is they type of help you need, and you should always be specific about the type of reader you’re looking for on a project.

Do you want a line edit?  Ask for help from someone who does line edits, or purchase the service.

Do you want someone to read for content?  Then ask some one who reads for pleasure, hopefully an avid reader, to just read and please tell me where and when you put the book down and why.  If the baby was crying, they needed to put the book down.  If it became slow or boring, you need to examine the portion of the manuscript in the next editing pass. These readers will also tell you “I just didn’t believe he/she would do that, it didn’t seem realistic.”  Now that is a motivation problem, and also is easily fixed.

Just plain beta readers, those who are not aspiring authors, are sometimes they people who help you to correct the worst of the manuscript mistakes.  They will tell you the important things, like “Not believable”, or ask the ever important question of “How could she?”   These readers also better with pin pointing POV problems that new and aspiring writers don’t see.

Most often when we ask for help, we get exactly what we ask for, but it is also unpleasant to know you’ve made a mistake.  The wrong thinking in having your mistakes pointed out is the inability to just fix what’s wrong and move on.  Fixing is learning, and we don’t usually repeat the mistakes we correct.  Sometimes, but not always.

In the end, only you can decide.  Who will be your beta readers, those who can and do help you?  Or those who just want you to know how much they know. You decide.


“Where do you get your ideas?”

A question all too familiar to most writers, whether they are seasoned professional with a hard track record of novels multi-pubbed in many foreign languages or the aspiring writer  who has just — mistakenly– shared their aspiration to a career of full-time writing.

This is a common question for two very good reasons; 1) people are genuinely interested in how your process works or, 2) the can’t think of anything else intelligent to say to someone who makes their living as a writer.  After all, full-time author isn’t a real job, is it?

Happily or sadly, dependent on which side of the argument you fall, people do make a living at nothing but the writing.

So back to the question, where do the good ideas come from?

They are all around us.  The good ideas are in the people we know and those we don’t know, the folks we’ve grown up with and those we pass on the street.  The good ideas are everywhere if you know how to mine them out of your everyday life.

What will you do when faced with a life changing decision?  What do you think the people you know really well– your nearest and dearest do, when faced with a life altering choice?  Would they sacrifice one loved one for another?  Would they sacrifice their own life for someone else?  Or would they sacrifice another in order to live?

The choices we make on our best day as human beings is not usually the choice we offer our characters in a novel.  Those choices are much more difficult.  The things we know– or think we know about ourselves can all be called into question in our fiction.  This is what we mean when we talk about writing what we know.

In fiction we build characters who help us tell our stories, of what we think we would do– or hope we could do, or even help us tell of the better person we would like to be, if we aren’t telling the cautionary tale of  history which shows us the path others have chosen, much to their regret.

That is what fiction is all about, after all.  Telling the story.  Choosing the path for our characters, writing what we know and asking –” What if?”

So share with me, where do your good ideas come from?

Building character

People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.

― Eleanor Roosevelt

Meeting the challenges of life and career will certainly build character, but for the aspiring writer, it’s important to remember that building fictional characters is accomplished in exactly the same fashion.

What builds more empathy for a character than the opportunity to learn and grow, to overcome adversity as the character advances through the plot?  Nothing else will engage the reader with such intensity as a character who meets and overcomes, or recovers from, adversity without giving up.

This is what the NYT bestselling author is trying to tell you when she says “write what you know“.  She doesn’t mean write about the day job you are so desperately  seeking to ditch for a writing career. Of course, you can do that if you have an interesting day job.  But the advice she’s giving you, and everyone else, is to write about the changes in your life which engage you on an emotional level.

What the bestseller is telling us all, is we need to engage our readers on a visceral level, with a core connection.

We all know we are best understood when we speak in the language our audience understands, but when we speak from the heart–from our emotional core— we’ve tapped into a connection which engages our readers and touches them where they will remember our story and how it affected them.

The translation of emotion into written language is the writers gift.  What makes a good storyteller a great writer is the ability to make this connection with others.  The translation of feelings to words for readers to share in the belief that we, as writers, understand who they are and can identify with their life trials.

Making this connection will keep any writer at the forefront of popular fiction, especially for women readers.

Using your gifts

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

― Albert Einstein

Just how much of our brain do you think we use every day? Some people would tell you they use it all, while others might say that it’s never enough. The real problem for most writers is the inability to turn off portions of our brains, even selectively.

For many, the ability to “turn on the auto pilot” is the appeal of a thing like National Novel Writing Month.

Can you accomplish more if you just put your head down, tuck your elbows to your sides, and keep typing?  I bet you can, and  Chris Baty believes that too.  In fact, the belief is one of the reasons NaNoWriMo survives today.

So tell me, did you win?

If yes, good for you!

If no, then don’t sweat it.  Lot’s of people drop out.  Every one who takes up the gauntlet discovers something about themselves, and sometimes the thing you discover is . . .are you ready for this?  You don’t really want to write a novel after all.

That’s Okay.  You don’t have to do it.  No one does.  Writing is a choice.  Many choose never to return to the keyboard in an attempt at fiction, but some of us learn different things.

Like, let’s say, you don’t have a plot.  There’s no problem during the first draft, that plot thingy is fixable.  Eventually you will need a plot, hopefully a trim, tight little plot that delivers a great story.

But at the beginning?  Nope, you don’t need it.  Just keep writing.

In fact, in case you missed it, that’s the secret to success at NaNoWriMo.

Just keep writing.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before and I will credit Nora Roberts with the saying, I’ve heard her say it often enough;  you cannot fix a blank page, but you can fix a bad one.

So really people, this is like getting the meaning of life, just keep writing.

Don’t make me resort to the story about the monkeys, the typewriters and the Bible.  Please, don’t.

And keep you minds and your eyes open, for this Holiday Season, my blogmates are threatening our readers with more short stories.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Just member, I write horror stories, so what was Santa doing in the chimney, anyway?