How To Improve Your Writing.

Now there are many ways to go about this post. I can gather a bunch of quotes from successful authors telling you the best advice that worked for them or I could recommend some courses that will help you hone your craft. They both have their place, but the simple answer is feedback.

Now I say simple, but it isn’t really. For starters there are different types of feedback. There is the feedback from your alpha and beta readers, which is important from an audience’s perspective and then there is professional feedback. The first one is good to gauge how you are going with your manuscript and usually is by someone you know. Consequently they can word their feedback in a way that won’t destroy your soul. Not so when it comes to professional feedback.

broken glass

Like this window, feedback can shatter your soul

That’s not to say they try to do this, but it is pretty harsh when a publisher or agent gets back to you with a simple no. Sometimes the rejection letters can be worded nicely, sometimes not. All of it ends with dreams dashed, scattered at your feet (dramatic but true for that moment in time). This scared the absolute hell out of me and was not something I really wanted to do, but hey, if I want to get published, onwards march.

Then I came across the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. There I had the opportunity to meet a published author who went over the first 5 000 words of my manuscript with me. It. Was. Invaluable.

I can not tell you enough how 20 minutes of this lady’s time helped to take my writing to another level. Deb Fitzpatrick (author of 90 Packets of Instant Noodles, The Amazing Spencer Gray and other works) pointed out where I was telling instead of showing and also where I was actually doing pretty good. I came away inspired but also armed with the knowledge of how to improve my writing.

Find a writers festival near you and if they offer something like that, do it!!!!!

It was scary letting a complete stranger read part of my manuscript and critique it, but I went there with the intention of learning from a professional and I did. Consequently that is how I intend to approach any feedback I receive from publishers and agents. I have set myself a deadline of the 15th August 2016. No more mucking around editing etc, time to get it out there and let my baby fly.

book at heart

Time to let go and put my manuscript out there!

It may well and truly fall, but that does not mean I will give up. I’ll take on the feedback and continue to hone my craft. I view it as a learning curve on the journey to being published and that’s what this is all about.

 

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OMG… you’re a writer?!

One of the biggest issues (apart from procrastination) that I have had to deal with is my reaction when people find out that I write. People have been very supportive when they initially found out and have asked lots of questions.

question trees

The first question is usually what do you write about. That stumped me for a bit as I found it very hard to tell people about things I had only put down in words. Eventually, after having talked to a few people I managed to refine my answer to this: It’s a story based on balance and how one thing out of whack throws another thing out and eventually everything falls apart, but that sometimes that is how a new balance is achieved. As I re-read that I think I might still need to work on it. However it does the job and people then ask me for more detail on the story and I oblige (setting: medieval, genre: historical fantasy, does it have dragons? no!).

After that they then ask about publishing and that’s when things really get interesting. They mean well, after all they are asking when it is possible to buy my book. The trouble is I haven’t even finished my manuscript. I am half way through my final edit and then I plan on reading the whole thing from start to finish in one go. No editing, simply as a reader (not sure that is possible considering I wrote it, but I’m going to try).

Usually they then ask if I have anything else published (yes, a poem when I was 16. Sorry, can’t remember the name of the anthology it was in, but I can show you a copy of the poem. This is usually met with a polite no thanks).  Their interest dwindles and before I know it self-doubt sets in and my insecurities raise their ugly heads. I start feeling like I need to be published to truly be able to call myself a writer.

It is then I have to remind myself that even though my manuscript is not published, I write because that is who I am. I write so that I can better understand the world around me and my place in it. Yes, I want to be published. One, so that I can do this for a living and devote all day to it and two because reading transports me to another world and I want to be able to do that for other people. I touch on that in more detail in my first blog post Why write?

So yes it is great to have other people interested in what I do, in fact it is fantastic. My insecurities and reactions to other people however need a little work. I can be impatient and feel like I am getting nowhere when I don’t have any outside validation. I guess because I’m not being paid for this, it doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ job. And that is a mindset I need to change. I put a lot of hours and love into writing and everything that goes with it (social media, research etc.). I love my story and where it is going and it really is something I would buy and read, but at the back of my mind there is still a voice of doubt. That voice gains strength when I think other people are uninterested in my work.

pulling hair out

Writing can be hard, but rewarding.

What I have realised though, is that some people will still be uninterested if I was to be as successful as J.K. Rowling, Wilbur Smith and even Shakespeare. Not everyone likes the same things and that is alright, it would be a boring world otherwise. So if you are like me and feel those creatures of self-doubt and insecurity creep in on occasion, remember that there is no one else like you, doing what you are doing and that’s pretty freaking awesome. We got this.

Self-Care: How To Get More Done

busy

Today’s lifestyle is rush rush rush.

Self-care is something I’ve heard a lot about this week so I thought it was a good chance to focus on it and remind myself and others why it is so important, for in the end it actually helps you get more done in your life.

Today’s world is so busy and everything must be done now. My own life, for example, consists of looking after four school aged children, after school sport and training for it, my own sport (volleyball FYI), group personal training twice a week, a husband that works away most of the time and then there is the general stuff like running a household and all that comes with it. In there I also find time to write. Some of these activities have very specific deadlines, others are more flexible, but the upshot of it is that it all has to be done that week. Some of it I could give up, like volleyball, but then I would miss out on having fun with friends and this is where self-care comes into it.

If I focus solely on my family and put myself last, I end up tired, out of sorts and more often than not, sick. That helps no one. For starters I make a pretty shocking patient (I either want sympathy all the time or don’t believe I’m that sick and get worse from disregarding advice), my husband or mum have to help me look after the kids and everything tends to fall apart to some extent. However, if I take the time to do something for myself, I’m happier and everyone else around me feels the effect of it.

Self-care for me is taking time to exercise at least three times a week, reading everyday, a bubble bath a couple of times a week and catching up with friends and family. These activities take a few hours max, sometimes they last only five minutes, but when the time is up I have recharged and I feel capable of continuing on at full speed. This has a flow on effect with my writing. I often find that when I take these moments for myself I come up with ideas and solutions in regards to what I am currently writing. This happened yesterday when I was catching up with my brother and dad. Talking with them gave me an idea for a plot hole I was struggling with and last night I was able to fix it.

reading

Self-care can take many different forms. Reading is one of them.

In the end it comes down to this, if you don’t take time out for yourself, eventually you will run dry and be unable to help anyone. It’s like the airplane safety drill, put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help others, passing out isn’t going to help anyone.

What is an alpha reader?

Most people have heard of beta readers, but not as many have heard of alpha readers. I myself had not heard of an alpha reader until recently and it turned out I actually had one without realising it. Therefore I think it is important to clarify what an alpha reader is.

study

The  alpha reader gets the first look and is trusted completely by the writer.

For starters, an alpha reader is the person you trust to read your manuscript first. Hence the title, alpha reader, alpha being the first letter in the Greek alphabet and in more general terms meaning at the top (alpha male/female etc.). After writing on your own to the best of your ability, the alpha reader comes along and works with you to pick up any grammar and punctuation mistakes as well as any loose plot threads and character development issues. They point out what they loved and what didn’t really work for them as a reader.

If you are lucky they will then work with you as you revise your manuscript (sometimes several times) and polish it to the best of your ability. Once this is done the beta reader/s come in. They do much the same thing but they are coming from a casual reader perspective. They can still be someone you know and like, but you don’t trust them with your manuscript like you do the alpha. And that is where the major difference lies, trust. You trust the alpha reader with your manuscript in its infancy, the beta readers you don’t.

The alpha reader is someone you trust to be honest with you about your work but do it in a kind and constructive way. They work with you on improving your story, after all they are the first audience and it is highly likely your manuscript still needs refinement. The beta readers you trust to tell you if they would buy it and why/why not. They will also pick up grammar and punctuation mistakes and weak plot points, but are either too harsh or soft with their feedback for the first time around.

magnifying glass book

Alpha and beta readers both look for mistakes.

I started with my mum as my alpha reader but quickly changed it to my best friend Kat. I’ve known Kat since we were both 8 years old and trust me, she can be brutally honest, but always in a way that is helpful. Kat is currently reading the first part of my manuscript and I have never been so grateful for the fact that she likes to correct grammar! She is one of my biggest supporters but is also good at pointing out when and where I can do better (in regards to my manuscript that is, otherwise she leaves me to it)!. It helps that Kat knows me well enough to do it in a way that won’t upset me.

The reason I changed my alpha reader from my mum to Kat is because my mum was a little too soft and hesitant in criticising my work. She makes an awesome beta reader though, finding any mistakes Kat and I have missed. And after revising and re-editing a manuscript a number of times, some mistakes do get through, which is why it is important to have a beta reader/s.

So at the end of the day, an alpha reader is the person you trust to be completely honest with you about your work. They are important and a good alpha reader/writer relationship is worth its weight in gold. It improves your manuscript, making it ready for the world and that can only be a good thing.