Ready to Rewrite

Most people call this season spring; for me it’s critique season. The beta readers for Providence (sequel to Accidental Child) are hard at work and I’m working hard at being patient. I know I’ll have plenty to do on the rewrite, but my generous readers will guide me. Obviously, the final decisions are mine and the book will live or die on my watch.

Given nine readers, I had to devise a way to collate their observations and advice. I’m not interested in shuffling paper or computer files repeatedly and maybe losing some important remark in the process. So I’ve adapted a story board idea to handle this input.

I have a large piece of foam board, hanging on the closet door in my office by a string and a wreath hanger. Across the top horizontal edge I’ve put sticky labels with the names of the major characters. I’m a character-driven writer for fiction, so this is my approach. Another writer might prefer categories like setting, action, point of view or dialog–whatever seems most useful.

Down the left hand vertically, I’ll list the chapters. As I come across suggestions from my readers, I’ll post a sticky note at the intersection of the character and the chapter in question. Stickies can be stacked, so I think I’ll have enough room, but I might need a second board to accommodate all thirty-four chapters. I’ll decide that when I’ve gone through the comments and see just where I need to concentrate my rewriting energy.

Not only does this plan help me stay on track, but also it’s a visual reminder that I have this work to do, daily if I’m any good. Originally, I had imagined a spring release for this novel, but reality suggests fall. I do have a busy life outside of Providence, and it’s best to take the time I need to write a good book. I’ve spoken briefly to an editor and once I’ve done the rewrite, I’ll ask her to look at it. Then on to the book design and publication. It’s a huge project to write and self-publish a novel, and there’s no point in doing a sloppy job. So, I’m ready to rewrite. Wish me luck–nah! Luck has less to do with writing than determination. And I am determined.


I’ve been on a mini sabbatical, letting the ms in progress marinate in its own juices. Tomorrow I’ll do a blitz read through to mark the places that need attention. I think there’s plenty of work left to do. Then I’ll put the book into readable form and start looking for beta readers. If you’re not familiar with that term, it just refers to the folks who agree to read a nearly finished ms and respond in some detail as to what they think of the book.

As with so many things in life, the 80/20 rule seems to apply here. With the previous novel, only a small percentage of those readers who agreed to help actually did so. But feedback is important before the work goes public, so I’m compiling my list of potential betas. (No, not the Siamese fighting fish, humans who read novels.) Betta_spawningI have many friends who write and I will certainly welcome their opinions, but I also want those of readers, the people who settle in with a book in hopes of enlightenment, entertainment, distraction–whatever makes them turn the pages. If folks reading this post are interested, please look up to the menu bar here on the blog and let me know via the “Get My News” link. In the space with your name add the word beta. Sometime next month I will distribute the ms electronically and hope to have the feedback not later than mid-March.

Beta Readers

Networking–aka, hanging out with other writers–is one of my favorite things. My writerly friends are smart, funny, open-minded folk spread all over central Colorado. Yesterday I went to Boulder in the morning to talk about climate-change fiction, at noon to Arvada for lunch with five poetically oriented friends, and later that day to Denver to meet three other writers in our beta reading group.

As beta readers, we don’t write together or read to each other. Typically one of the four has shared a significant chunk of work well ahead of the meeting time. Our genres vary:  crime fiction, memoir, speculative fiction and history-as-memoir. (Yes, I think I just made up that genre.) The basics of good writing apply in all cases, but what one of us sees as a headlong read another sees as needing more action. Someone else questions the writer’s motivation, and we struggle to say what sets us on the long road to writing a book.

The payoffs are the wine, the iced tea, the talk and the grand feeling that someone else is paying attention to our work. And we learn from each other. One is a formidable researcher, another can plot, a third is funny and courageous about personal history. One of us has a cache of writing tricks up her sleeve. (Including advice not to use a cliché like “tricks up her sleeve.”) Our process is akin to true beta readers, who are, I suppose, less attached to the writer than to the manuscript. Inevitably though, we have formed attachments that make it dicey to say anything negative about the text in question, but gentle honesty (e.g. not attacking personality or life style), sticking to principles and a dab hand at language allow us to help each other. Always, always, the writer remains in charge of the work. None of us can write another’s story, nor should we try.