Fresh Eyes Find Cracks: Importance of Beta Readers

posted in: Books, Editing/Revision, Writing | 0

Comic Con San Diego 2018 has come and gone and I am left deflated… No Stranger Things Season 3 updates.  None at all.  I guess I’ll just be patient and hope the release date announcement doesn’t leave me scrambling to get my re-watch and blog posts done in too much of a hurry.

Until then, I’ll keep my focus on all my other projects.  As you know (I don’t know how you could miss it), I have been getting really good feedback from several beta readers.  From everything to grammar mistakes to needing clarity on characters’ motivations and even geographical confusion, I’m running into lots of great comments and questions.  I already felt like my story was strong but this process just further girds up its loins (lol, girds).

There’s always some sense of uncertainty in the things you create (babies included).  You have doubts to its ability to stand up on its own.  Does it make clear the themes I am exploring?  Are the characters relatable and if not at the beginning, can they grow on the reader over time?  There are other equally important questions I have and hope to get answered.

These fresh eyes of beta readers are not jaded like my own eyes.  I actually prefer to see more “red”, that is comments and errors marked, than not.  As much as I think my book is near perfect after so many revisions and years of working on it, that’s not the truth.  My flawed eyes pass over these mistakes because I’m far too familiar with the writing.  The truth is, I can’t be the only reader before sending it off to an agent and/or publisher.  I’m so glad I’m getting this feedback because I was very close and willing to start querying last year but thankfully, I didn’t rush the process.

I so appreciate the people who have agreed to read my book.  It’s dense and requires dedication.  They will absolutely be getting gift baskets if and when my book does get published (I’ll do that even if it doesn’t to be honest).  So, to my beta readers, I thank you immensely for your help and time.  You give me more confidence in my writing and push me forward.

What’s Coming Up

I feel like I have quite the pile of projects going on and I don’t do myself any favors when I start getting new story ideas.  Even so, I still try to write these ideas down so I can return to them at a later time.  I definitely stay busy with writing and blogging and it helps me to keep all of them on track by providing occasional updates in my blog posts.

I announced a few weeks back that I joined a writing group.  We have had two meet ups so far and both were fun and successful.  I’m already seeing the value in the group and hope it continues for years to come.  I am sharing my book, So Speaks the Gallows, and implementing the group’s suggestions and critique as well as my beta reader comments.  Everything called out seems to be character motivation related, clarity issues, or small gaps in the story.  This is reassuring and makes me believe the story is strong, needing only minor tweaks here and there.  Again, the goal is to query an agent or two sometime this year.  Being July already, I can only hope I meet that goal.

I’m working on the newest Shoals to the Hallowed short story for the upcoming August newsletter and finding it to be an exploration of a genre I’ve not dabbled in before: horror.  I risk bringing this up because those of you subscribed may read it and say, “that was horror?”.  Well, it felt horrific as I wrote it.  Hopefully, it captures the tone and mood I was aiming for.  If I don’t nail that aspect of it, hopefully it was still enjoyable for the reader.

I am also trying to get my website updated.  It’s about time I give it a facelift and hope to have that done soon with the help of my friend who helped me set up the website last year.  If it goes to plan, it should not only look different but be easier to navigate through.  Credit must be given to my wife also because she has an eye for what looks good in a website.  Much of the changes will be coming based on her suggestions.  Be on the lookout for that.

Comic Con San Diego is this weekend so hopefully we get news about Stranger Things Season 3.  Again, I plan on re-watching and devoting a month of blog posts to Season 2 in preparation for the new season.

I hope you’re all staying cool wherever you are.  This summer has been brutal to us desert rats so far.  What I wouldn’t give for a week-long stretch of summer rain right now (minus the humidity).

To Write is Right

I had no idea what my writing time would look like with a newborn.  It definitely takes adjusting to but there are pockets to be found (sometimes it’s less than you hope for and sometimes you look at the clock and think, “dang… I need to go to bed”).  So as I’ve adjusted and made sure my son doesn’t go neglected, I’ve been breaking up my writing time but getting things done.

Obviously, the blog gets time (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this).  I don’t plan as far ahead as I’ve done in the past, leaving me to write a few days ahead of the schedule so I can edit and revise accordingly.  It makes for a more “on the fly” approach.  When I first started, it was easier to plan ahead because I had several topics I wanted to write about.  For this season though, I am more in the “what’s happening now” mode.  We’ll see how this goes as the months progress.  With Stranger Things Season 3 on the horizon, I will absolutely need to plan ahead.  I might even get a jump on those posts this summer seeing as how they took quite a bit of preparation to write along with re-watching season 1.  (I just checked and there’s no official release date for season 3 so I may have quite a few months to prepare.)

My book, So Speaks the Gallows, is currently being beta read.  I’m being patient, leaving me to spend time on a few other projects.  One of which is the Glossary I have for my Ravanguard series.  It’s extensive (that word might be an understatement) and has gone through so many revisions of its own over the last ten years.  Every place, group, and character is captured with details important to me as the writer so I can go back and reference the eye or hair color of a character.  To be honest, I’ve even considered going entry by entry and making sure every mention in the book is consistent.  Is that too much you might ask but one of my biggest concerns when writing such a large book is that there will be glaring inconsistencies that should have been caught beforehand (you’d expect as much with so long to write and polish the book).  I don’t know…  It’s a tough one to add to my already “thick” to do list for the book but I want and feel the need to get it as perfect as I can.

In addition to this, I am also revising the first novella of the Ravanguard series, Dim the Veil.  It is currently too long by novella word count standards.  To be brutally honest though, I’m not happy with the second half of the story.  I read it now and it feels…forced.  I wanted to implement some things that I thought I could make work but I continue to feel the story doesn’t fit.  Rather, it lacks what So Speaks the Gallows has embodied and consistency should be found not only in a single story but from story to story in a series.  This is why I’m going back through and giving it a proper scrub and tuck.

As you can see, I’m busy with plenty of things on the writing table.  Throw in my day job and my family and I am doing my best to balance everything.  My respect goes out to all those who do this well.  Again, I am astounded by my wife who does so much each and every day.  She’s amazing and I cannot imagine being a parent without her.  Truly, she is a rock and nearly perfect partner.  Watching her with our son brings me great joy.

No call to action today.  I don’t have anything to be honest and I’d rather not force something unless there’s one to offer.  Look out for my next blog post on the 9th.  It will be another “Forever Re-watchable” post.  Here’s a hint: “I said good morning, Gill.”

Blog Reset

posted in: Editing/Revision, Life, Writing | 0

I’ve been off from blogging for a month now and ready to return.

My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world on April 16th at 8:02 in the AM.  He was 6 lbs 13 oz and is completely healthy much to our excitement.  We’ve settled into the routine of feeding, changing diapers, and figuring out how to sleep.  So far, we’re only fatigued every other day or so.  Also I have yet to be peed on but I have had the wonderful honor of pulling off soaked onesies more times than I can remember (I’ve even got some small rashes on my hands form washing them so much lately. Fun times!).

I’ve been off from work for three weeks now and wonder if I’ll be able to assimilate back into the workforce after spending so long away (I make it sound like months don’t I?) and I’m curious to see how it works out.  I can’t even get my head around parents who are able or have to go back to work the week of or even a week after a child’s birth.  Seriously, how?

I sent out the newest newsletter this week.  I’d love to attract more subscribers but I’m struggling to do so, often wondering if people are signing up but the plug-in I use is not informing me.  It seems to be having problems hence my sending the newsletter later than I wanted to.  I don’t know.  I need to look deeper into it.  Then again, maybe I just fail at marketing myself (there’s like a 50/50 chance this is the issue…).  I need a PR person who will work for free and just do it because they want to see me succeed.  (Send all resumes to my personal email if interested.)

I’m also trying to find more beta readers but having no luck so far.  Apparently, it’s not easy and for good reason.  I think about people having time to read and critique a book that is 200k+ words and I understand the lack of interest.  I’d like to get at least 2-3 more beta readers feedback before sending out my first agent query letter (at this rate, I’ll be looking at five to ten years from now).  I just really think I need more feedback on the story as a whole.  I still wonder if there are things that either don’t make sense or parts that need to be simplified.  So we will come to the CTA.

Call to Action:  If you are interested in being a beta reader for my book, So Speaks the Gallows, or if you have any resources that you could point me to, please feel to do so.  There is no waitlist.

What to Write?

I’ve been watching the writing business from afar for a few months now (like fifteen+ months if I’m being honest) and I’ve been keeping close eye on the fantasy genre.  Mostly, I do this because I’m curious as to what is coming out.  I’m especially curious about the kind of fantasy getting published.

I guess the risk in this is being influenced to touch a specific kind of fantasy or subgenre just to be relevant or “buy worthy”.  I never wanted to do this as I grew as a writer but anytime you write a genre, some of those traditional or cliche elements bleed through.  It happens and there’s balance that I have to find.

For myself, I love the genre but have always followed the advice, “Write what you want to read,” first.  I admit wanting to explore other genres but I find myself encouraged and excited to hit the keyboard every day.  If nothing else, I think I need to keep on that path.

Little side note, I was working on my book yesterday and finally put in some much-needed fixes for my magic system.  For nine years I have sort of known about this problem and overlooked it.  Not because I just waved it away but because I trusted the solution would present itself.  I didn’t know it would be so many years but it finally came.  There’s a long exhale that comes when something glaring in the whole story finally gets fixed by your own hand and not by someone you’re trying to impress, hahaha!

Things are sharpening and shapening up.  A few more things on my list to do.  It’s a marathon that I plan to finish.  I’m a bit slower than I hoped but I hold steady.

Call to Action:  Whoa dang… we are a week and a half away from baby time.  I’m asking for prayers and encouragement for patience these last few days.  Go ahead and include my wife in there too.  She’s ready for this baby boy to be out!

Bitter Truths: Self-Editing

Just as it has taken years for me to learn and find my writing voice, it takes just as much time to find the self-editor’s touch.  I wrote a post last year about my editing process and as I’ve gotten further into the process, getting closer to looking for an agent, I’ve learned a few things that expand that process.  Sometimes, I forget that it’s never as cut and dry as I would hope.

I know what it is to pay a professional editor to put their hand on my writing but when dealing with a manuscript of 250k+ words, you can easily see why financially, it’s near impossible for me to take that course.  The cheapest editor I found was cents per word.  It adds up quick (trust me).  So, I have to trust my own abilities and also that of the few beta readers I’ve been able to work with.

Besides just the grammatical issues a writer has to deal with (run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives, etc.), I have to focus on consistency throughout the story and its three major viewpoints.  I have close to 50 secondary characters who speak (a rough guess on that number) and maybe double the number of tertiary characters who are mentioned by description and limited dialogue.  Not only do I need to make sure all of these maintain their descriptive elements, but there’s also the customs, history, and societies that have to be consistent.  As you can imagine, this is time consuming when editing.

Hence, my delay and taking longer than expected to begin sending out my query letters.  Not to mention the arrival of our first born in less than a month.  By the way, I’m not complaining about any of this.  I just wanted to make clear why things are moving slower than I had hoped when laying out my goals at the beginning of the new year.  It’s tough but not heartbreaking, hahaha.  I’ll adjust and get to these writing goals when I can.

It’s not crazy or even hard to admit that once the baby joins us, I will re-prioritize.  He will be number one and he should be.  I have waited a long time to be a father and not even my dream of being published would interfere with my heart and desire to be a capable and good father.  In fact, I trust that timing and seasons are always meant for my well-being and growth.  Entering parenthood now (so close to finishing and being satisfied with my novel) will have an impact on me as a person and therefore on me as a writer.

Call to Action:  I finally finished the show, Godless, on Netflix.  Check it out!  Highly recommended.  In fact, I think my next blog post will be a full review.

Blog Changes Announcement

After giving it some extended consideration, I’ve decided to make some changes to my blog post schedule.  While I’ve enjoyed providing roughly ten blog posts a month, that number will be cut in half starting next month.  The simple reason is I will have a newborn and I cannot quite determine or guess what my schedule and capacity will be for producing posts on a regular basis.

So, starting in April I will be posting every fifth day of the month (5, 10, 15, etc.).  Nothing else will change.  You all will continue to get my musings on writing, storytelling, films, and so on.  The Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction posts will continue to be posted on the last post of the month.

Also, with the end of April fast approaching, I will be working on the first newsletter of the year.  You can definitely expect baby news in that one, hahaha!  And at least a dozen pics of cuteness!

As for my book, life and its interruptions have slowed my plans.  Often, and other writers can attest to this, our schedules are somewhat cracked and tossed about like a ball by the unexpected.  My last bit of editing touches have taken longer and some minor additional fixes need to be in place before I’m satisfied with it.

The goal for the year remains to be agent querying and I am working at getting there.  My wife and I have even bought a desk for the living room where I plan on seating myself in order to focus my mind.  I’ve noticed I struggle to stay focused if I remain on the couch while trying to work.  Even if the tv is off, I think I associate that position with fixed relaxation rather than active creation.

I’m continually thankful to everyone who reads, comments, and encourages me as I pursue my dream of publication.  You help me push forward.

Call to Action: Seeing as how there will be fewer bits of content in the future, I am pushing my newsletter more.  There may be more meat in it seeing as how I will want to make it more appealing.  So, if you haven’t signed up for it and want to get exclusive book reviews and Shoals to the Hallowed short stories that specifically to fill the gaps in the flash fiction, please sign up!  It’s easy and free!

In Search of a Quiet Place

Why is it so hard to find a quiet place, absent of all other people of the human race?  You’d think I could find a spot where I can sit down with my book and read it out loud without another soul within listening distance.  Alas (yes, I use this word often), it seems forever unattainable.

You might be asking why this is so important to me.  Seems kind of silly to be obsessed (your word, not mine) to find a place of seclusion.  Well, it’s part insecurity on my part and part the need for peace as I audibly dissect what I’ve written, only ever hearing it in the echo dome of my head so far.  Hearing my story out loud is just another step towards polishing it before sending out those inquiry letters to agents.

The next question one might ask is what my ideal location would be to endure this endeavor?  I’ve been thinking about this for over a week and I think the best I can come up with is a space with sunlight, quality air flow, a kitchen, and as much coffee and donuts as I can stomach.  Okay, okay.  No donuts.  I don’t need those delicious morsels of self-hatred (that’s my special name for donuts whenever I succumb to their temptation).  I keep thinking a basement or office space would work for my reading needs but that’s only because I don’t have access to a cabin out in the woods (too many horror movies prevent me from going in search of such a place).

So I’m still working on it.  I can’t do this in the peace and quiet of my own apartment because I have a neighbor above us who finds it his sole purpose in life to watch tv all day and speak in volumes usually reserved for professional sporting events.  Oh, and he has a lady friend who is equally loud to which every time I hear her laugh I ask what’s that sound and my wife says, “Those are the shrieking eels”.

I’m open to ideas.  If anyone has a basement, attic, and/or guest house they don’t mind me vacating for free for a few hours at a time, I would be forever grateful.  Tell you what, I’ll offer you a once in a lifetime Amazon gift card for your graciousness too.  Only caveat is you have to buy a book(s) with it.  HA!

Call to Action:  If you have any other suggestions for me, feel free to share.  I’m not quite desperate yet but I’m fast approaching!

So Long Rut!

See, it goes away sometimes faster than it comes.  The writing rut has dissipated and I’m back to feeling productive.  Unfortunately, I have been hit by a minor cold, so I’ve tired and going to bed earlier than normal.

The final touches on my current draft of my book are taking longer than expected (big shocker there).  My wife and I have been putting baby things as priority one and they need to be.  Preparing for the baby’s arrival continues to require more planning and preparation than I expected but I think it’s been good for us.  We’re making room and getting ourselves mentally prepared as well.

We started birth classes and I’ve been learning a ton.  Like, seriously, birth is more than what the movies and tv show you (another shocker, I know).  We’ve got to make a birthing plan, get furniture, clothes, and all the other baby accoutrement as well.  It’s a not a simple endeavor, which I guess doesn’t surprise me.  This little person is introduced to the world and we are tasked to make sure it survives, grows, and strengthens until it can be a self-sufficient entity.  No pressure, right?

I also had the fun experience of watching childbirth videos last week.  We are planning on doing a natural childbirth at a birthing center and after watching the differences between a hospital birth and birthing center birth, I get the appeal.  To each their own, I’m just surprised the more I learn about the process and benefits of one over the other.

So we’re a few weeks away from our new roommate’s arrival and we’re getting more and more excited.  I am preparing as best as I can for being elbows deep into diapers, vomit, and lack of sleep.  I’ve wanted kids for a long time and at 33, I’m ready to say hello to parenthood.

Call to Action:  I watched Shape of Water in my pursuit to watch the more recognized and acclaimed movies of 2017.  Yeah, I didn’t get this one.  It was a somewhat original story.  The aesthetics were probably the best part while the acting was good as well but I don’t see the Best Picture there.  Anybody else see it?  If so, help me see where I missed it.

Nothing to Say Here

posted in: Editing/Revision, Life, Writing | 0

Sometimes I run into a wall and struggle to write.  I don’t think it’s writer’s block.  Instead, it’s a lack of inspiration or desire to write.  This is not the first time and it won’t be the last.  For whatever the reason (one day, I’ll figure out the cause and give it a good kickin’) I look at the page whether it’s blank or full and just say, “Meh…”.

Now, I’ve come across other writers on social media who describe this similar phenomena.  It’s nice to know I’m not the only one and there are quotes upon quotes of encouraging words out there to lend a helping hand to writers struggling to do what they love.  Sometimes these words help me but sometimes they leave me unmoved.

I don’t know if there’s any sure way to push through the funk, but I’ve found that I personally need to let it run its course.  The moment of inspiration will come and I’ll feel propelled, set afire to get to typing.  Until then, though, I’ve learned to simply let myself be okay with not being the typing terror (worst super villain name ever) that I’ve been the last few months.  The mind and creative muscles need a break and I think it’s healthy to allow a little reprieve now and again.

This does affect my editing plans a bit but blogging helps me micro-stretch my writing muscles.  I’m reading and listening to music and podcasts in the meantime, hoping inspiration will come.  I also wonder if my mind is preoccupied with other things (a mere seven weeks away from our new roommates arrival!).  The goal remains the same for the year but I’m not one to think I need to lay down strict red lines (aka deadlines) to meet those goals.  Sure, sooner rather than later is important but I also need to be aware of my need to take breaks and rest in the writing process.

Call to Action:  Don’t forget to do your taxes (bet you didn’t expect that one!).

Rewriting the End…Again

Starting a story is easy for me.  I don’t know why but it just is.  The end?  Not so much.  I have yet to know the end of a story (I mean in the novella or novel form) before I start from the beginning.

For most of 2017 I have been working on my rewrite/edit of my book, So Speaks the Gallows (if you’ve been keeping up with my blog and/or are subscribed to my newsletter, then you know this already).  As I near the end of this endeavor, it’s interesting to find I have probably put the most work into the beginning and end of the book.  I think this is good because of two reasons: the beginning is what I am banking on the reader to be gripped by (to keep reading) and the end should be satisfactory as a whole but also urge the reader to want to continue on this world.  For the ending, I’m definitely more satisfied with the changes I’ve made.

Once my edit is complete, I am not finished (you never truly are finished with a story).  I have both beta reader and personal notes that I need to go back through the book and apply.  These are minuscule in size.  Some are basic fixes like making sure I mention a detail about a character or place.  Others might be a consistency issue.  Now, some might think this trivial but I always think about the world needing to be lived in.  It’s those small details that help add shades and tones, seeing the richness of everything.

I’ve been working on this book for a decade and I continue to be surprised when I come across a section or passage that makes me cringe.  My eyes roll over it so easily now that I know I need to move slower from page to page.  After all the editing is done, I will read my book out loud (alone without another soul within a hundred yards).  The reason for this is to make sure what I read flows and doesn’t read clunky.  I’ve got the future audiobook to consider!

So, I’m progressing with this wonderful story that I love to immerse myself into.  I know the world and characters so well (I better after so many years!) and I continue to want to do them justice.  I can’t get complacent or sloppy.  Not now.

Call to Action:  Anyone have any book recommendations?  I realized I don’t ask this enough and I’m always looking for new books to add to my “To read” list.  Fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, etc.  Let me know!

A New Year to Embrace

posted in: Editing/Revision, Life, Writing | 2

What will happen in 2018?  I know I can’t be the only person to ask this question as we enter another new year (yeesh, as I get older, I lose the enthralling alacrity of what that means).  Obviously, my hope and prayers are that we suffer no losses, come ahead in our bank account statements, come out even or ahead in taxes, etc.  On a grander level, I’d sure love to see some social media climate change.  The vitriol every day definitely got old and I fear for the sanity of anyone who took delight in seeing the onslaught of drama and pettiness exhibited through social media streams every day.  Maybe it’s just wishful thinking and I should aim lower.  How about Deadpool 2 being better than the first?  Oh, and I’d love it if Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t take a nap.  I’ll set my expectations low.

Personally, I’d like to be kinder and gain some patience.  Come April, our baby boy will teach me a lot about myself.  I told my wife the other day that I want to make sure we not only prepare ourselves for his arrival and addition to our lives but also make sure we get rest, find time to relax and read (very important for new parents, I think), and be intentional about having time together.  I have this sense that as new parents, we will need to make necessary adjustments (an obvious statement) but also make sure we don’t burn out and let our emotions beat us down or each other for that matter.  And don’t tell me, “Oh just you wait, you’ll be crap-deep in diapers, crying, and baby puke” as if that’s all it is.  I kind of refuse to settle for that kind of attitude.  Our baby will not be a burden but a joy!  (If I’m wrong, you can take it to the bank that I won’t come back here and admit it to all of you.)

We went through a lot of changes and shifts in 2017 (still talking about myself and my wife. No political commentary here).  Job changes, pregnancy, financial decisions, etc.  I think we needed to make those choices last year in preparation for this year, which I foresee to be more stable.  There will be surprises (some good and some bad) and we will have to be ready and act as everyone must in order to keep the unexpected from keeping you on the ground.  What I want, though, is to learn and grow in each moment.

To gain wisdom is what I want most in 2018.  As a husband, father, brother, son, professional, writer, musician, and however else I might describe myself, I want to come away, and exhale accomplishment.  Maybe I’ll do that by the end of 2018 here on the blog.  In fact, here we go, on 27 December 2018, my blog post will be a look back on the year, but also an inspection of this first post of the year.  We’ll see if I accomplished what I wanted to succeed in.  Wisdom is what I’ll be chasing in 2018.

Call to Action: What would you like to see in 2018?  Doesn’t have to be a personal goal but let me know what you’d like to see or experience.

First Year Retrospect

Crazy.  That’s my best-word choice and thinking when I consider the last year.  I took to starting a website and blog with the idea that I wanted to write more and establish a platform as a writer.  I had some ideas and believed I could begin to have a voice in a world full of voices.  After a year, I think I made a dent but not a full impact.

While the website could use an update (I’m in the process of looking at my options), the blog has been the bigger surprise.  I started by writing about writing, especially my own thoughts and experiences with the craft.  Looking back, this was a much needed release because I had things I wanted to say but did not have an outlet.  The blog gave me that and now I feel ready to go beyond those topics.

I like themes and scheduled topics.  Sunday Levity, On This Day, and Flash Fiction posts allowed me to do this and those have been extremely fun and rewarding.  Each will continue moving forward and more than likely be a staple of my blog.  The posts in between will likely change and shift focus.  I loved being able to do my Stranger Things Season 1 Review and Rewatch in October.  With Season 3 green lit, you can expect the same treatment for Season 2.  There will be less in terms of “writing” posts but you’ll continue to get my thoughts from a writing perspective as I encounter new stories and even go back and explore old ones.

Outside of the blog and website, my life has taken unexpected turns.  Come April, my wife and I will be arms deep in parenthood.  How this will affect me as a writer, I cannot begin to know or guess but it will bring an adjustment.  That baby will be priority number 1a with my wife being 1b.  They will be my focus.  Then I’ll have work and then writing.  So right now it’s a matter of preparing and putting any notion of selfishness aside.

What I’m not worried about is the time to write.  I will find it.  My plan is to finish So Speaks the Gallows and find an agent remains.  Those updates will be shared and even if I get rejection letters, I will share those with everyone.  Obviously, my hope would be to receive a letter stating an agent would love to represent me but the more I follow other writers on social media, the more I see that rejection letters are more common than acceptance letters.  Maybe 2018 will be my year of querying.

When it comes to the newsletter, I’ll stick with it and hopefully get more sign ups.  It makes it easier for me to devote the time (it is time consuming) to provide more content if I know I’m reaching more people.  However, I do understand if people have too many newsletters arriving in their inboxes.  The more you have, the less time you have to read them all.

Other than that, I have some other personal goals I’d like to see accomplished but I read somewhere that not all goals should be made public.  Apparently, that can sabotage your chances of finding success.  Not sure if I believe that but I’ll keep them close to the chest for now.

I hope you all have had an amazing year!

Call to Action: The final call to action this year is to sign up for my newsletter.  Seriously, why haven’t you done so yet?  You get some fun book reviews and an exclusive Shoals to the Hallowed short story, which you won’t find anywhere else.  There are things happening in the story you won’t know about unless you sign up.  So do so.

To Doubt is to Progress


Let’s dive in.  As I get closer to finishing my recent revision of So Speaks the Gallows, the creeping whispers of self-doubt interrupt the process.  These are not words of castigation but instead subtle pricks of critique that make my hands pull away from the keyboard and seriously consider the words on the page.

Revising is difficult.  You think just writing a full novel is hard, try going back over what you’ve spent years shaping and being excited about and then questioning why entire sections come across as borderline tissue paper in strength.  You wish it was more than single ply but instead, you get this thin sheet that could disintegrate at the first sneeze.

No, I have not given up and I have not put my toes over the ledge to look down into writer’s oblivion.  (It would take a lot for me to reach that point of disappointment.)  I think I’ve simply come to a section of the book where I’m not impressed with the writing (granted it’s my writing).  I know I am more than capable of girding up the paragraphs and dialogue where it suffers most but I find myself wondering about the strength of the writing as a whole.

What if the beginning is strong but it begins to wane and lose its clout the further we go to the right towards that back cover?  It’s an honest question and, I think, a natural one to explore.  Maybe it’s strong enough in the beginning to hold up any weaker sections.  Maybe an agent will get to these weaker sections and say, “Well, this needs to be reworked but I think you’re more than capable of doing it.”  These are the questions that like to poke at my confidence each time I return to revise.

As I’ve said, I’m okay with rewriting entire chapters (I actually did rewrite the first five chapters and feel they are extremely strong now) but I wonder if I should do it now or simply try to fix the weaker prose as is.  Either way works to be honest.

All this is to say doubt is a very natural and, I think, healthy emotion to go through as an artist.  For me, it keeps me in check and forces me to look back at certain sections of my book and ask questions like, “Can this be better?”  Most of the time the answer is a big fat “Yes!” and so I need to be willing to strip down the prose and rework.

So to any of my fellow artists who lay awake or stare blankly at the page or canvas, do not become bitter or agitated.  Embrace the pain of being mediocre (only at times, not always) and let creativity fizzle and reset.  I have no idea if this is sound or good advice but I know it works for me.

Call to Action:  Here’s a fun exercise to consider when in doubt, ask some simple questions and answer as truthfully as possible.

1)  Why do I have this sense of doubt in my work or abilities?
2)  Is there truth to this?  If not, what is the lie behind it?
3)  What can I do to strengthen confidence in myself again?

Try these out and see where it gets you.

Dealing With Plot Holes

Have you ever been watching a movie, tv show, or even read a book and thought, “Wait what about (blank) or what happened to (blank)?”?  For example, did you ever wonder about why the eagles didn’t just take the One Ring to Mordor and drop it into the lava from on high?  Did you ever wonder why Marty McFly’s parents didn’t recognize him in the present after he impacted their lives back in the 50s?  Oh, and what about Buzz Lightyear freezing like all the other toys when humans come around?  I mean, he thinks he’s a real space marine yet he acts like a toy!  Childhood ruined…  Do these instances drive you crazy?  I can keep going if you’d like.

As a writer, this is something I often have to consider and pay close attention to while I plan, write, edit, and revise.  Early on, it’s easy to write yourself into a corner or come up with a convenient climax to force your main protagonist into success.  This is just another example of growing as a writer to be honest.  Lessons learned is the best way but you won’t get there unless you have some astute beta readers looking for these faux pas.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to find some very good beta readers myself.  In fact, I would actually encourage (I know this is weird but track with me) you to write into your story small and large plot holes (or inconsistencies), making sure you are aware of them and see if your beta readers come across and puts a big giant “?!?!” next to them.  If they do, then I think you’ve established finding a beta reader worth keeping around.  Plus, you can trust they will find the plot holes you’ve glossed over yourself.

Caution/Warning!: Make sure you go back and fix those deliberate mistakes before you send your story to an agent.  Trust me, they will pick up on it and if it’s especially glaring, they will chuck your query in the waste bin faster than a dog scarfing a burger tossed in the dirt.

How do you fix a plot hole?  By writing of course.  It may take some passes but the solution will eventually come to you.  The best thing to do is not feel overwhelmed if it takes a while.  Be willing to sit on it for awhile, letting your creativity go to work while not sitting in front of the screen.  In fact, grab a notepad and write down the plot hole.  Let yourself do some manual writing for a change and see what comes.

I ran into a minor but glaring plot hole in the first chapters of So Speaks the Gallows after my main beta reader brought it to my attention.  I actually had to talk it out with him in order to find the fix.  It was actually a simple solution that didn’t require too much rewriting but it did need to take place.  I’m glad it did because it actually allowed me to add a layer that otherwise would never have been there.  (I’ll reveal what this was later down the road once the book gets published.  I’m planning on releasing some behind the scenes/commentary posts in the future but you’ll have to wait for that.  Hopefully, not too long of a wait.)

Consider plot holes, mistakes, inaccuracies, etc. to be somewhat a natural occurrence if you’re a storyteller.  It will happen because the more complex your story is, the more likely you will forget to consider a plot, setting, or character aspect that will lead to your audience giving you a big red “?!?!”.  Try not to get upset or discouraged by these instances.  Shrug it off and begin the search for the solution.  Once it’s there, insert and revise accordingly.

Call to Action: If you want to seriously treat yourself to some fun plot holes in movies and tv shows, simply go to Youtube and search “plot holes”.  You will not be disappointed.  Avoid the Disney videos though because these will inevitably ruin future watching of your favorite animated films.  But if you’re a diabolical glutton, watch with and then test your children to see how smart they are once they watch those same movies.  See if they have the beta reader/critique knack.

A Writer on Vacation

posted in: Editing/Revision, Life, Writing | 0
This is a bit reactionary as a blog post.  I am writing this based on on my week-long vacation here in Colorado.  Sometimes, I think I can look at 7 days away from normal life and get a whole bunch of writing done, finish my revision, and start my agent querying letters!  Alas, I cannot… This morning (Friday) was the first chance I got to sit down and revise for more than an hour (which isn’t that long anyway).

While unfortunate, I think I need to be okay with getting little writing done while on vacation.  I’m sure other writers have different methods and can get work done but I think for myself, the pressure to try to write/revise even an hour a day is a little too stringent.  I’m around family and we like to get out of the house and go see the area and not be cooped up.  So, I’ve decided I need to make different goals while on vacation.  If I can write, I will but if I can’t, I won’t let myself be disappointed.

Instead, I think getting a lot of reading done is more feasible.  I love setting a reading goal for the year through Goodreads.  It helps me track, search, review, etc. books easily.  No muss no fuss (what even is muss?).  I finished one book on the drive to Colorado and had another ready.  My hope is to get this other book, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, finished by the time I get home Sunday (while you’re reading this, I’m probably getting close!).


Side note: Ready Player One is almost the perfect book to read before I start my re-watch and review of Stranger Things Season 1.  For those who did not receive the latest newsletter, I announced that I would be re-watching Stranger Things in preparation for the release of Season 2 on October 27.

The purpose of vacation is to get away and relax.  I’m not sure how many people are able to do this and actually relax but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Colorado.  I did a lot and definitely feel as if I didn’t sit on my butt (which I have done on other vacations unfortunately) the whole time.  So, I hope to return home and to work refreshed and ready to get back in the grind of life.  Hope you all have had a great week wherever you’re at.  Talk to you soon!

Call to Action: If you get the chance, watch the following movies: Logan Lucky and The Big Sick.  The latter might not be your cup o’ tea but both were fun watches with great writing and characters.  My wife and I watched both while here and enjoyed them a great deal.

Plot Twists

Something we often look for (it’s probably been ingrained in us ever since reading fiction became a favorite pastime) in a story/plot is the twist–the unexpected.  We love them as an audience.  Our brains and imaginations begin to search for them both on the pages and on the screen.  Why?  Because we love to be surprised.

Warning: There could be potential spoilers in this blog post but they’ll likely be of an “older” period.  So if you see any examples that spoiled the twist, I apologize but have to wonder why you denied yourself the joy of these great stories and then ask why at least your friends and family did not expose you to the light.  Just saying.

A plot twist is an unexpected revelation.  It can be a character moment, setting, theme, etc.  All of these can be stand as the twist but more often than not, it is character-based.  For myself, the essentiality (I wasn’t sure if that was a word or not when I typed it) of a plot twist is necessary in terms of keeping the reader on their toes.  I have read several books over the years that are straight forward and don’t offer any real twist or surprise but rather a simple telling of the story presented that focuses more on the characters and the things they do and learn.  This is fine.  Nothing wrong with it and quite effective.  One that comes to mind (very random but it popped in the ole noggin’) is that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carole”.  There’s no real plot twist by the end of the story.  Scrooge just experiences some existential trips and learns that this “humbug” ways lack happiness and joy.

However, the big plot twists that we’ve come to enjoy over the years somehow enrich our experiences as partakers of fiction.  The Twilight Zone series is consistent when it comes to twists and people flock to it to see if they can guess what is coming by the end.  Then we have what is probably the most famous cinematic plot twist in that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker’s father and not just the Sith Lord bent on destroying the Rebel Alliance.  What?!  (If I spoiled that for you…well, it’s time to crawl out of the dark hole and join us sunny folks).

I say all of this in that I personally believe and feel a plot twist should only be employed for the sake of enriching the story of the characters.  A great plot twist is one that shocks the characters we are following as they navigate through their conflicts and goals.  If the protagonist is shocked and undone, then even better is the reader who shares in the revelation!

For myself, I think I write knowing that things will be revealed in due time.  I don’t think of terms of wanting to set up a huge twist.  There has to be natural progression to the story in order for these reveals to work as they should.  I could give some great examples of fantasy authors I respect and feel inspired by but I’d have to play the spoiler.  I’d hate to deny people that joy.  Some really good twists that happen in fantasy can by found in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (I reviewed the first book a while back).  Sanderson does a great job of setting things up and pulling the rug just when you think something obvious is going to take place.

All of this s meant to enhance the reading experience.  There are so many aspects to great storytelling.  Many writers attempt to get there and the opportunity is always there to be grasped.  However, it is a learned art.  Like with so many aspects, including twists and reveals unexpectedly to the reader is not an easy task.  What is disappointing though is when a cheap twist is introduced.  I aim to not utilize this type of trick on the reader.

Call to Action:  Let’s see if I can get a boost of newsletter subscribers.  I’m a few days away from releasing the new one so tell your reader friends.  Thanks!

Creating an Editing/Revising Plan

I try to keep my blog informative and fun but sometimes I definitely want to write more towards fellow writers or even to those who are considering taking up writing.  Whichever you are (and maybe you’re neither but still like to come by and read my beautiful words), I hope today’s post will be beneficial.

If I had to estimate, I would say 40 percent of my writing experience is creating new content.  The other 60 percent is editing and revising.  I can often come up with new ideas quickly and hash out that first rough draft quickly with all the burrs and nicks.  In my experience, editing and revising are essential steps in the process of polishing a story to be ready to read.  Big rule for writers: Don’t let anyone read your rough draft.  Just don’t.  I know you’re excited to share your recent story and want someone else to love it as much as you.  Unlikely.  Just being honest.

In reality, your rough draft is not going to be good.  It may have parts that work really well but there will be wordiness and clunky dialogue more often than not.  Unfortunately…this goes beyond the rough draft.  For the love of all things sweet and shiny, I am seeing horrible mistakes in my fourth revision of my book!  Sometimes, it takes a few attempts to really chisel, sand, and polish before your story is ready to be read by another person.

I’ve been thinking about a system for myself and my own writing when it comes to editing and revising.  What would work best as I go through the process of making it worth reading and not come away having to answer a hundred questions of why this is that or what does that mean?  After a few questions like this, you start to question whether or not you acted prematurely in your earlier years.  So, I’ll preface this plan by saying I have not followed this yet.  This is merely my plan going forward with future books I write.  (Note: This is prone to change as I go through the process.)

Start: The rough draft is the beginning–the blank canvas.  That’s blank pages being filled in with whatever the writer’s mind is creating.  Notes and little ideas of setting and characters are implemented here depending on your level of preparation.  If you outline, then it’s easier but if you prefer the “go and flow” method, then the rough draft will have a definite coarse feel to it.

1st Edit/Revision: This should be done after you’ve finished the whole story.  Beginning and end have to be in place (write down any notes of things you want to change and plan to add, adjust, or delete after the story is done).  Resist the urge to go back and make corrections to page 10 when you are on page 230.  Until then, those changes you thought of while writing the rough draft should not be implemented.  Look for any grammatical errors as well.  Do not skip these.

2nd Edit/Revision: By this time, you know the story very well.  You could probably recite the whole thing to someone.  On this pass, I start looking at details.  Look for descriptions (characters, world, culture, themes, etc.) and make sure these are consistent throughout the story.  You are layering now.

3rd Edit/Revision: Step back and don’t look at or work on the story for at least a month.  If you are on a deadline, then I recommend some look-ahead planning.  When you come back to your story, you will see things you don’t like and will want to change.  Have at it!  One thing you may notice is wordiness.  Be willing to cut where it needs to be.  Rearrange some sentences if you need to.  Make it flow!

4th Edit/Revision: Read out loud.  I’ll be honest here.  I have not done this to a great degree but as I progress forward in my own writing, I have a plan to start reading my stories out loud to myself (not another soul in earshot!).  Why do this?  Because you will notice things.  Word flow will read bloated or stuffy.  You want flow.  Whether read in your head or out loud to a room full of listeners, you want your words to be silky smooth.

5th Edit/Revision: (I know, I know.  Almost there.)  Now, you might be tired of your story.  In fact, you are going to have doubts about it.  Before you convince yourself it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, take a breath and relax.  You’ve put in the work and it should be ready to be read by others.  Find readers.  I would recommend friends and family who will be honest with you (not always easy to do but you should have some).  Make sure to tell them they need to be honest.  They do you no favors if they tell you you’re writing is the second coming of Tolkien, Dickens, or Milton (it likely won’t be).

Finally, take whatever feedback you get and apply those changes where you deem necessary.  Sometimes, you won’t always agree with the suggestions and that’s okay.  Preferences in readers is not gospel.  Don’t let it be.

There it is.  This is my editing and revising plan for myself.  There are other details but seeing as how this is a long blog post, I’ll leave it there.  Writing requires patience, effort, discipline, and the will to finish.  Being creative is not enough.  I did not know this when I first started and discovered it along the way.

Call to Action:  If you’re a writer or want to write, I’d suggest tucking this post away for reference.  There are plenty of other writers out there with different methods and probably even wrote books on the topic.  Find what works for you and stick with it.  Make changes along the way if you need to.  If you’re another writer and stumbled over here and have different methods, please share!  I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Wordiness:  Too Many Too Few

As I revise, I am becoming more aware of the things I do wrong as a writer.  Some of this is chalked up to my first draftiness (ah, fun word play) but as I work on my fifth revision, I have to consider my growth and maturing as a writer.  Today, let’s talk about my being too wordy.

First drafts (in my experience) are serious word vomit sessions where I seem to just pour it on and on because I’m still telling myself the story.  That’s what first drafts are: the writer telling the story to themselves first.  Each subsequent draft of the story should be less of this.  Those drafts need to be approached with the attitude of, “Now I know what the story is so I need to whittle it down for others.”  When I use the word “whittle”, I do not mean to dumb it down.  Far from it, since I believe when revising, the story should be sharpened.  Each sentence should be put to the whetstone until there’s a fine edge.  No burrs or dullness.

For myself, I am revising my book to the point where I am making sure redundancy and over-description are being removed.  I am looking weak verbs like: are, was, is, etc.  Why say someone is running when saying they ran or rushed is stronger?  I am looking for word flow.  As I mentioned in my previous post about word count, I can honestly say my book is not lacking in the word count department, but to cut away the fat is necessary.

C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do the job for me.’”  This and other quotes about writing and being a functional wordsmith continue to linger in my mind.  Writers should strive to evoke and stir the emotions of the readers, remembering to show them what is happening in the story.

Call to Action: Newsletter plug time!  If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, definitely do so.  Not only will it have exclusive info about myself since the last newsletter and some book reviews, but you will also get the Shoals to the Hallowed short story that will close some gaps and provide context to the flash fiction series.