Be a better writer: read books about writing

If your writing made any sense at all, that would be greatI know, I know. If we read books about writing it takes time away from actually doing our favorite thing—writing! Some folks say “just write and you will get better”. Well, no. If we just write with no foundation, we write crap. I know because I did it, and I thought my crap was fantastic. Thankfully my writing has improved by leaps and bounds. The secret? Reading books about writing.

If you are reading this and just panicked about your draft, don’t worry. Self-editing is part of the writing process, and after reading about writing, it will come more natural.

People also say that reading anything improves writing. It certainly does. Reading leaves an impression on our minds not only about grammar and vocabulary, but about writing styles. Not all styles are timeless. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t read for fun. I’m saying we should learn what to take with a grain of salt as we devour books. Hemingway and King can probably get away with a lot more broken rules than can a newbie like me, and some writing styles I grew up with are no longer popular.

Wouldn’t it be great if an experienced person read thousands of novels and shared all the knowledge he or she gleaned?

People do. They write books about it.

Stuck on plot? Not sure if an outline is for you? Can’t seem to make your characters get from point A to point B? Read about writing. It’s faster than trying to decipher 100 successful books.

We can get concentrated knowledge gleaned from years of experience if we read books about writing.

As I finally wrap up my second edit, I have time to read a few of these books before jumping back into more edits and critiques.

Here are some books I’ve found helpful and some I want to read

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The Why Test

confusing sign“No, we can’t go to the park.”

“But why?”

“Because I said so.”

That never worked, did it? It doesn’t work on readers either.

If our stories can’t pass the Why Test, there is a motivation problem. The problem may be even deeper than why we allow something to happen, or a character to act a certain way. Does the part/person in question have a justified existence?

Let’s try it on my first draft of Fodder for Pigs.

I had to rip this information out of my head, and my readers probably would have done the same if they could reach me. Watch as it gets better in increments:

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10 Observations on Beta Reading

Open notebook

It’s your baby, and you’re letting somebody else tell you what they like and don’t like about it. Who does that to their children? The same people who know they must “kill your darlings”. Thank you Stephen King for telling us how it is. For many, beta readers are a must. For some, they are a waste of time. You get to decide!

I wish I had known a thing or two about betas when I first started this adventure. A quick internet search told me that betas read manuscripts and gave feedback. Well, that sounded fantastic! What I didn’t know was that beta readers are generally reserved for polished manuscripts. Alpha Readers are for that first read. Critique partners are for bouncing ideas off of and discussing your work. These definitions vary greatly, but if you want to get technical, I asked for the wrong thing at the wrong time. Yeah, I’d polished my manuscript. But I hadn’t actually done the restructuring a first draft needs in order to be anything but a first draft as far as plot goes. Furthermore, I found out how little I knew about self-edits.

Thankfully, two of my five beta readers were excellent critique partners, and they became great writer friends. They even put up with and participated in my awkward, sleep-deprived Facebook messages and accidental video calls. *Note to self: SLEEP IS GOOD. Take care of yourself.* Mind you, I’ve never done a video call before and would probably freak out if it happened for real. As it was, I frantically pushed all the wrong buttons trying to hang up.

Some things I learned about the process of matching up with people to read or trade:

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