Yesterday I met with Terri Skuce, who published her first book of poems, Dreamer: A Collection of Poems and Dreams, last fall. She has been involved in writing groups for over a decade, and even though she’s my friend, I know she’s no sugar-coater. My favourite thing about certain people in my life is that they’ll always put the truth before my feelings. Coming from a place like Verdun, Quebec, where honesty was spoken loudly and with colourful metaphors, this works for me. It’s one of the reasons I chose Terri to be among my beta readers. (Please note that she speaks gently and without all the swearing, but she’s a straight shooter.)
We went to lunch at a local hangout and I couldn’t stand waiting for her opinion about my upcoming novel, Life in the ‘Cosm. You know how in films it seems the director makes a person pause for an eternity before answering a question, but in real life it might only take two seconds? I’m telling you after I burst out with, “The suspense is killing me. What do you think about the book?” it felt like 20 years went by before Terri replied. In that pause I told myself I totally sucked as a writer. Then I ran away from home, dug a hole, and buried myself in it. Can you tell I’m a noobie at this process?
After I was ready to put the last bucket of sand over my head in my newly dug hole, Terri replied with a dead serious expression, “I think you have a winner.” I hopped out of my hole, elated. After that she gave me constructive tips about getting rid of more useless words, rewriting weaker sentences, and all sorts of good tips to tighten the manuscript. This is the kind of feedback I wanted. I think the best thing I heard from her was, “You made me laugh, and you made me cry. And when I cry during book…”
This was the icing on the cupcake. Having someone else feel my story is the greatest compliment I could get. Of course I’m attached to the characters, but when another person is moved, it’s almost better than cupcakes.
I’ve spent over a year solidly working on the story, and its contents have been a well-kept secret. I’m an expressive extrovert. I hate keeping secrets. I want to share everything with everyone on the entire planet. Sending my manuscript to beta readers was terrifying but a part of me was relieved to get it out there. Keeping the story to myself was like falling in love and not being able to tell a soul about the person I’m crazy about.
I’m looking forward to getting more constructive tips from my other beta readers. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to get real notes about how to improve my work. I purposely sent out an unpolished manuscript. It was better than a first draft, but nowhere near a submission draft. I strongly felt that I needed more eyes to comb through the work, so I can produce the best draft possible to send with my queries (hopefully) this fall.
Heroes are made when people take risks. It’s super scary, but very rewarding.
Whatever you do, don’t keep your writing under a mattress or hidden from the world. Take a chance and send it out there, even to friends. It’s totally up to you what you do with their feedback.
Now, excuse me while I cover up the hole I dug in the ground. I don’t want someone to fall in and get hurt. 😉
Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is with beta readers and she’s accidentally writing her second in the series. She didn’t know there would be a series. Huh.