Partials, alphas, and betas, oh my!

One of the things I’ve been hashing out with a of the members of my critique group is the different kinds of feedback, and the value of each.

What sparked this discussion is the fact that both of us spend a lot of time editing parts of our wips that will end up being cut, or re-written entirely.

It occured to me one of the ways to reduce this time was to have an alpha reader (someone who reads your manuscript as it is after a first draft). It was pointed out to me that not many people have the time (or the inclination, if we’re being honest) to alpha read.

I’m also not certain if having a manuscript alpha read is the best idea. It seems to me that this type of feedback can lead the manuscript in another direction: one belonging to someone other than the original author. But, then again, maybe not. Yet, more importantly to have someone alpha read for me, would be giving away precious time. Time that I would spend with my characters and in my world, getting to know them even better. I don’t think it would be worth the trade off.

I’ve had partials read, and for me personally those help point out weaknesses that I’m too close to see. Good feedback will ask me questions that enable me to dig deeper into my world. And I’ve been lucky – I have gotten excellent feedback.

Betas are crucial for me. Without them my second to last draft would be missing some of that shine. They help point out the lags, and any relationship misconceptions or plot strains. This type of feedback is invaluable, and if I had to pick only one type of feedback to receive it would be this one.

I’m convinced (most of the time) that all this editing – much of it what I perceive as superfluous – is absolutely necessary for me to get my ms to its end stage. There’s just no milky chocolate path, or yellow brick road, that enables me to bypass it. And if I consider it, I’m not sure I’d want to bypass it, after all part of what I love about writing is being immersed in my work. It’s just nice to find the tools that help along the way.

What about you, have you given or received partial, alpha, or beta feedback? And  what have you gotten from the different types of feedback?



Hello, back then

About two weeks ago I was working in one my favourite coffee shops when I noticed two people at a nearby table with a large manuscript. One of them was clearly mentoring the other. I went over and introduced myself as a fellow writer, and I was told the gentleman was having his work looked at for the first time ever. He had been writing in isolation, and he was having a hard time accepting feedback. I assured him this is natural, something we all experience. The poor man was so distraught, and it brought me back to my own first experiences of reading out loud, sharing, and receiving feedback.

I suggested he read Stephen King on Writing, because he talks about the two stages of writing, the first writing behind closed doors, the second letting the world in. He seemed very uncertain and I left with a feeling that despite our encouragement that this feeling of disillusionment is normal, he may withdraw.

It got me thinking about myself, and I wondered what advice I could have used most as an early writer. I think it would have been great to hear something like this: don’t take yourself too seriously. And by this, I don’t mean not to take my study of the craft less seriously, but to take the work itself, the product less seriously. With time and work there’s constant evolution and growth, and I think I wasn’t really aware of this. I was quite stuck thinking that I had to produce the best now, today, and in a way this was a barrier I was writing over.

How about you: what advice do you think you could have used at the beginning of your writing life?

stop shouting

There are voices in my head. They won’t stop talking. Not good voices, not my characters, and certainly not my own.

I’m lost in my writing.

I can’t find my intention anymore with my wip. I feel like I’m writing for a thousand people and not myself. Everyone’s shouting at me, telling me how my novel should be, what they want from it.

ok, this is not really happening. It’s only happening in my head, I admit, but it certainly feels real.

I’ve changed so many things in the first 70 pages that I feel I don’t recognize my story anymore. I’m forgetting how it was born, what it was meant to be. Change is good, change is great, but it’s supposed to bring my story more to itself, and I don’t know what that is anymore.

Feedback is invaluable, and I’ve learned so much from my group. I’ve always thought that writer’s need feedback, and I think they still do, however, I’m seeing that feedback needs to be received at the right moment. I feel like I’m at a stage where I need to withdraw, pull away from my critique group, and from all feedback, and just listen to myself. Or is it that what I really need to do is  change the way I’m listening to the feedback?

We all need help, an outsiders eye. The thought of taking a hiatus from feedback is scary, and I wonder if it would be disadvantageous to do so.

Any thoughts?

what do you do when feedback confounds you?

Many of you have blogged about how being part of a critique group can at times challenge you to remain true to yourself as a writer. I had never experienced that. I had been able to take feedback that I was in accord and implement it, and I was able to discard feedback that I knew just didn’t agree with my style, voice, whatever you will call it.

Last week, at my meeting, I left thoroughly confused. I received some feedback that I’ve been mulling over since. Some feedback that if I implement will change my work and it will no longer be my own. I came to this understanding by doing two things. The first was to write. Not re-write! Just to write. I haven’t been steadily writing (being soooo sleep deprived and in a house were not a day does not go by where at least one member is not sick! Any other moms of young kids go through this? Any tips?? And how about how to get baby to sleep? third child – you’d think I know this by now!).

Mommy rants aside, I was not in tune with myself as a writer. So I wrote, to remind myself of who I was, to find my voice and my style. It was a very simple thing. Really all I needed to do was write. Once that was done, I began to think about my novel. What was it about? Where is it going? What ‘s the theme, the message? And in this particular case how do I want it portrayed?

I knew all these answers. This is no new novel after all, I’ve been at for some time. The feedback that would emphasize these elements in my novel, bring them out, make them shine, well that’s definitely feedback to use. But the feedback that would change it? I have to dismiss it. That’s not to say that writing is static in any way. From conception to what we decide is final product massive changes are undergone. Yet, we remain true to the heart of the story.

I love my group, and all this wouldn’t change that one tiny bit. Without them I wouldn’t have undergone this challenge that made me more certain about who I am as a writer. It was during this same meeting that talk about moving one of my scenes gave rise to the creation of a new opening scene in my mind as I drove home. One I became very excited about. Even if it changes again and again and again.

How about you? Is this something you’ve ever struggled with?

now that i have it….

Five, sometimes six different critiques from the members of my group. It’s taken me not one week but two to go back through two submissions from the opening pages of my wip. The most important part of any novel in my opinion. And for me, always the most difficult. Normally the beginning that gets my story going is not the one I think it should be by the time first draft is done. This time however I was quite confident about my opening, until one member of my group suggested re-sequencing! ahhhhh! The problem was that I liked the suggestion, while liking the opening the way it is now!!!! I haven’t moved things around quite yet, I’ll see.

So, I’ve been going through each member’s critique, and I have created a notebook file (something I have never done before!) and have written down each piece of criticism that I agree with. Be it language, paragraphing, word choice, characterization, whatever, you all know the drill. The ones that i am not certain but warrant further contemplation also go into that notebook. Now I have pages of notes, but it’s all in one spot, and what’s been most interesting combining it all in one file is seeing the overlaps. The sentences that jarred 3 or 4 members, the imageries that didn’t work. Once in a while one person will point something out no one else did, see things completely unique to him, and I think wow – what an interpretation!

In the past I implemented the changes after reading the critique from one person, and then moving on to the next. This way works much better for me. It allows for a much stronger interpretation of the feedback. And it gives me time to really make that feedback mine.

I was wondering how you process your feedback that you receive, from any source(s).

The other thing on my mind is this: how often do you re-write your opening? And do you wait until novel is at end stages to re-work it because  you know it can change so much from early to late stages?

Happy writing!

no mashed up crackers here!

ok ok so I’ve been watching too much So you think you can dance – I admit it. Now we have so you think you can dance Canada that started, and mash’ up crackers is how Luther Brown (a judge) described a contestant last year, because her training was too all over the show: jazz, ballet, hip hop, and tap (i think it was these, don’t hold me to it.) This year he told her that she had tightened up her main style of jazz, and added a taste of other styles for flavor in a good way. A favourable way. A way that added to her movement and her creation.

Yes, I know, I’m talking about dancing on a writing blog, but art is art, and I feel this can applied across the field.

The other night, the kids were asleep, baby was asleep in my arms (but he wouldn’t go down) while I was rocking him. I was alert still (highly unusual brain activity for me late at night) so I decided to get some editing done. Hubby was watching Men Who Stare at Goats. I know this is not the best environment to be working in, but I have learned to work in all kinds of situations.

I came to a section where I had added an element of the spirit world. Now, I am not writing a ghost story in any sense at all, but I have added a touch of ‘otherness’ to my novel. I was staring at these few lines, thinking maybe I should get rid of this, cut cut cut. Just as I was about to press delete, I heard George Clooney say something about how this is his psychic element (please note that at that time I still did not know what the film was about). I stopped in my tracks, and laughed out loud. Hubby asked me what’s up, but how to explain it to him? I told him I was just about to erase my psychic element. I don’t think he understood me at all, but that’s all right.

Today, I asked myself the purpose of this element. It’s to show how the past can be alive and highly influential to us at some moments. So, I happily leave my ‘otherness’ in my novel. A line here, and then a hint of it pages later. I had introduced it early in the novel, too early in the opening paragraphs, and that is taken out. Why is it there, this haunting, if there is less than a dash of it in the whole novel, asked one member of my critique group. Amazing sometimes what others reveal to me in my own work. I won’t sidetrack to that discussion.

It’s great to be able to cross genres in this way, but to do so in a way as not to end up with mashed up crackers, instead of one unified story with lots of flavor….well, for me at least, it takes much awareness.

Do you cross genres? Hint at other flavours that interest? Or are you strict, remaining within well-defined borders?

(This is another post written under severe exhaustion. I think soon you will all be able to tell when I’m not rested….I think my tone changes completely. interesting to write a post about that….)

(oh, and I think that after a year I have finally come up with a name for my blog. If it sticks with me, I’ll be putting it up….eventually)

(and, STILL struggling with tags…..)

backbends, flips, and more

Feedback, feedback, oh what a wonderful thing!

I’m not talking about receiving, but giving,

In this last week because I’ve been reading and giving feedback to three members of my critique group (we have just resumed after the summer break).

I love commenting on the work of others, I find it so calming after editing my own stuff. There is no attachment to it, no prior knowledge, everything I wish to be able to bring to my own writing when editing. Except that I have no idea what the author intended and I can only hope my interpretation is what they were striving for.

Critiquing the work of others has really helped me develop my own. It has enabled me to see the common problems so many writers have. I have learnt about pacing, motivation, character development, plot, and on and on. The biggest thing it has brought me is clarity. I can see so many of my own flaws in my work since I began steadily critiquing, and more I can see the path to correction. Before what would have seemed daunting can now be broken down and analyzed and adjusted.

Are you part of a writing group? if not, why? If so, how do you find your own work has developed from it?

I’m off to see what’s been happening here in blog land this last week!

Happy writing.

I can see clearly now the rain has gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way,

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day..

Johnny Nash