I gave myself a few days to shout, “Whoo-hoo, I finished my first draft!” Now, I’m back to chewing all my nails and the first few centimetres of each finger as I realize my next step is to write the draft that my beta readers will review. Uh, excuse me for a moment.
OK, that helped a wee bit. You see, the first draft of my novel is written solely for my benefit. I can read it, I understand it, and I get excited about it. However, I know my book is way far from being finished, and the technical writer in me knows what a review process is like. Heck, I remember handing in drafts of user guides and watching them get ripped to shreds. This will be different, though, because as cool as an SSL appliance is for securing online transactions, I’m not as emotionally attached to the material that describes how to use it. No, this work is purely my creation. I’ve fallen in love with my characters, I empathize with their emotions, and the book is my baby.
HOW CAN ANYONE CRITICIZE MY BABY?!
Sigh, I know. Beta readers are invaluable because the novel isn’t their baby. I desperately need them to tell me what works, what doesn’t, if the rhythm of the story is right, if the characters are annoying or charismatic, and if they’d want to buy the book. So, as best as I can, I need to comb through the story, chapter by chapter, and make this the best draft I can make, without an editor’s help.
Things I’m planning to do:
- Make sure every chapter has a consistency–I don’t want ups and downs when it comes to the quality of writing. I want the same effort to be made for each chapter.
- Go through at least two passes of useless words–No writer wants to admit that they do this, but we have to own up to it to help other writers. When you’re ploughing through that first draft, you really, really don’t really realize how you really can overuse words that add no value to your sentences. I removed hundreds of such words and after they were gone, I had no idea where they first were. This really, really, can clean up your manuscript and tighten your story-telling.
- Listen to my story–I cannot stress enough how important it is to have another person’s voice read your story back to you. It helps with flow of dialogue and gets my attention when things don’t sound right. It also gives me confidence when things do go well with flow and rhythm. I typically convert my book to an epub format and let my Google app read it to me.
- Type a list of things I’m looking for–I want my beta readers to tell me whatever they like, but there are a few things I need to know, as I mentioned earlier in this article. Guidelines can help people direct feedback to you. The more information they can give me, the better I can improve my work, or understand how it is perceived.
- Breathe into a paper bag–PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ THIS STORY FOR THE FIRST TIME! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! Yes, of course I’m nervous as heck. I’d be lying if I played it cool. You put yourself in a very vulnerable place doing this for the first time. It’s truly my first time, beta readers. Please be gentle with me. (Nah, just go for it. I want this story to be a good one. Lay your feedback on me!)
I’ve selected my beta readers already, considering the genre that I’m writing, and am looking forward to and dreading to read their critiques. In the meantime, I’ll take the advice of another writer who said to work on something else while people are reviewing my work. Believe it or not, I have another story that I’m playing with, and I might dabble in that while I’m waiting for comments.
That, or I’ll just pig out on cupcakes.
Until next time!
Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer in high tech and government organizations. She is currently a Web Developer consultant for Dynamic Canvas Inc., and assistant to the Executive Director at H’Art of Ottawa. She also enjoys her crafting business, Cait Cards.