On personal writing advice

Last Saturday I went to a writer Q and A that was done by our local NaNoWriMo region. I sat and listened politely as the (self and traditional) published authors talked about their own trials and tribulations regarding writing habits, getting their word count in, finding new story ideas, and the joys and horrors of marketing. I was already familiar with much of the procedural advice. I know what works for me and what doesn’t to get words on the screen. I am not so much concerned with the quantity anymore as with the quality. This talk was more geared to NaNo beginners and as such most valuable to those writers who are daunted by the mass of words that has to materialize on the blank pages in 30 days.
But then the event got really interesting for me. One participant asked about publishing her novel that was as of yet just an idea. The panelist respectfully made clear that one should not put the cart before the horse, i.e. make sure you write it first, then put it away for a while, then edit it, then edit it again, then give it to Beta readers and then edit it again and then inform yourself about agents and query letters and all the different ways you can get to a manuscript that is even worth publishing. This in turn gave me an in for a question I had and that was: How many Beta readers need to be in your target audience? The answers were very surprising. Basically you need none of them to be. Then one of the panelists, Tom Leveen, said that it was much more important to have Beta readers who knew what they were talking about. Fellow writers who knew about pace, character development, dialog, and elements of a story to point out why sentences, chapters, or even the story itself did or didn’t work .
Now this piece of advice is very valuable to me, because I do not have any Beta readers who are published writers. I do not have Beta readers who are accomplished editors either. I also have little knowledge of the nuts and bolts of story theory. I should have studied literature, but I didn’t. The little I know is self taught. I am also doing all of this in my second language, so there is even more reason to edit and correct. So what I need now are people knowledgeable in their craft who are willing to help me out. People who will show me what exactly works and what doesn’t in my prose. And those people should do so preferably without making me pay an arm and a leg for their insights.
On the way home from the event I came up with the question I should have asked following that Beta reader answer. The question that is most important to me now.

Who are your mentors and how did you find them?

About scratchingcat

Writer, mother, friend.
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4 Responses to On personal writing advice

  1. ChelseaIRL says:

    this is all just my very unprofessional personal conjecture, and feel free to completely disregard it, but i think it’s more important to have “readers” read your stuff than “writers.” sure, someone else who writes can tell you what’s wrong in the proper jargon and therefore might have a better time communicating something more efficiently, but any avid reader (writing skills or not) can tell you what’s wrong with a story. they can tell you where the story got boring or verbose, if the pacing needs to be changed, if the characters are believable. they might not call it “pacing,” they might say the beginning dragged. and they might just say they didn’t like a certain character, rather than that their dialogue wasn’t realistic. or they might say they got confused when reading that one paragraph, rather than saying it was verbose. but either way, your gonna get the same very valuable feedback. careful readers, not necessarily writers, is who i want to read my stuff.
    that said, having writers read your stuff is also stellar-awesome and invaluable.

    • I think I want to have both. I am extremely lucky that I have already found some very good and generous Beta readers, who tell me about the good, the bad, and the ugly in my stories. However, I think I would prosper greatly with an experienced mentor. Sadly, those are extremely hard to come by.

  2. Jennings says:

    I disagree somewhat with that advice. I think you need READERS to be beta readers. Readers are who you’re selling to, and avid readers are just as in tune with a well crafter story as a writer. They may not have the terminology, but they know when something doesn’t work, when they can’t figure out how you got from A to B, when they have to reread to figure out what you’re talking about. If you have a writer that’s willing, that’s great. I don’t know any. But my beta readers have been wonderful, and given great advice. Good luck!
    PS – just saw that ChelseaIRL said the same thing. So I second that!

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