Terri Skuce, Canadian Poet, gives me feedback on ‘Cosm

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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.

Cait is also Madam President of her consulting company, Dynamic Canvas Inc., Chief Crafter at Cait Cards, and works part time as Assistant to the Executive Director at H’Art of Ottawa. 

I’m afraid for my Ma’s health. MEDIC!

As I await comments from beta readers, I am almost in hysterics over how emotional my Ma is about my novel. It’s like watching a child see the sky for the first time. I think she might be even more attached to my characters than I am. It’s just hilarious how after so many chapters she asks me a tonne of questions about what will happen to whom. I even said this afternoon, “Ma, I wrote an entire book, so you can answer your questions by reading the rest of it.”

Gosh, would every reader be like my own mother!

I’m not naive, though. I know this novel won’t be for everyone. Espcially since it has no pervy vampire sex. 😉 It does have sex, though, in a comical sort of way. Silly sex is the only kind worth having, in my opinion. So buy my book when it comes out, ’cause it gots sexy silly sex!

My Ma has survived the sexy silly sex stuff. She told me that she’s old, so nothing much shocks her that way. Really, Ma? Hmmm.

Even though I’m in suspense over my beta readers’ comments, I can’t wait for the next excitable phone call from my Ma. She just cracks me up. So far it’s my favourite part of the writing process.

Any fun moments of your own, writing-wise? Share with us in the comments.


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.


No, really, get an editor.

“Hi, I’m Cait, and I’m a writer.”

“Hiiiiiiii, Cait!”

“It’s been over 20 years since I started writing, and I acknowledge I need a higher power. I need an editor.”

People clap. Someone hugs me. An enthusiastic word-smith gives me tips on how I could have improved my confession. I am among writers who cannot write real good without an editor’s polish. I am home.

I just finished reading a few paragraphs of a book written by an independent author. Now, I might be an indie author myself if I don’t get picked up by a publisher, so I’m not about to slam people from my potential clan. However, I felt a wee bit of a sting while reading the work, because the writing could have been tighter.

ID-100236272One of the biggest complaints I hear from readers about indie books is that they are poorly written. You don’t know how many of my friends have wagged their fingers at me, saying, “Make sure you get your book professionally edited!” My response is always the same: “I wouldn’t dream of publishing anything without a proper edit.”

Writers, my homies, you might have original ideas and a cool style, but you’re never as good as you think you are. Take it from me. My work is so desperate for an editor’s eyes, the manuscript created a personal profile on eHarmony, listing “must like to rearrange words” as its turn-ons. I was paid for over two decades as a technical writer and in that time was subjected to Editing Bootcamp from the Dark Side. What I learned most of all is how blind I will become staring at my own work. I’ll stop seeing my own mistakes and my brain will tell me everything is perfect, when it’s not.

Unless your Auntie Sally is a book editor, don’t get friends or family with “a little editing experience” to do the final edit. This is where you should fork out some cash. I know, it’s hard when you are an unknown and the money is not there. Think of it as an investment in future book sales. Readers can be tough with their reviews and if your book is poorly edited, news of it will spread and your work will be dead in the water. Give your book a fighting chance. It’s your baby, after all.

Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware published the article, Vetting an Independent Editor, where she warns us to make sure any independent editor we hire is associated with professional organizations:

“Also, for individual editors, membership in the Editorial Freelancers Association (US), the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders (UK), the Institute of Professional Editors (Australia), or the Editors’ Association of Canada are all indications of professionalism. (The websites of these organizations provide a lot of helpful information, including sample agreements and charts of recommended rates).”

~ Strauss, Victoria (2012). Vetting an Independent Editor. Writer Beware.

I’m currently having test readers go at my book, and the group includes avid readers and writers. I fully expect to get bombed with feedback. They are acting for me as my substantive editors and will tell me if the structure and content of my story gels. Even though I plan to query publishers, I feel this substantive peer review is vital. As for the copy edit, which checks grammar, typos, punctuation, and so on, I plan to do a two-step process. First, for querying publishers, I’ll get an editor I know to comb through the text, so it presents well. Then, if I’m not published traditionally, I will hire a professional book editor for a final copy edit.

It takes so much out of your soul to write a book, and I would rather people panned my work because they didn’t like it, rather than because it was poorly written. Presentation is everything, especially in alphabet arrangements.

Have you had bad reading or editing experiences? Let me know in the comments.

Happy word-writin’!


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.

People are reading my book. REAL PEOPLE! *bites nails*

Well, I did it. I think some of my edits might look like drunk writing towards the end of the manuscript, but no matter. My book has gone to the beta reader test group. I selected people who are discerning and detail-oriented, so heaven help me. While I’m nervous, I’m also looking forward to hearing their feedback. I’m used to having technical documentation bled on by endless layers of red ink, but this is the first time my creative writing will be under the scope.

This writing journey has been excellent. There are so many articles where other authors share their experiences and editors provide essential tips and best practices. I’ve truly benefited from their wisdom. While I’d love to just start submitting, I can’t help but feel that test readers are a vital part of the writing process. They’re going to tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’m going to have to weigh those opinions quite carefully. For example, if all my test readers notice the same thing, I’ll have to take that seriously. After all, readers matter to writers.

Getting critiqued can pinch a little. My husband’s feedback (I know, I actually am letting him read it) can be tough. He is not a sugar-coater at all. There were times I wanted to smack him with my Whacking Pillow after he criticized my work. But you know what? After I hung up with my divorce attorney, I realized the hubster was right. Every single time. (I hope he’s not reading this, because his head will be too big to fit through our doorways.) I took his opinion, mulled it over, and discovered a better way to write my characters or fix my plotline. The book’s much improved, as a result.

So, for my summer vacation I’ll be on holiday from my manuscript, while my beta readers comb through it. In September I’ll be at it again, to prepare my Submission Draft. I can’t even believe I wrote that sentence. Last May I was meddling with some paragraphs just to take my mind off things, and now I’ve accidentally written a book. One that I care about so much.

This is a cool ride. Better than any rollercoaster ever!


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.

Incorporating Redlines, or, How I Want to Punch Myself in the Face



Did I mention that I also did some editing during my Technical Writer career? This is an advantage when it comes to reading my manuscript and looking for

  • plot discrepancies,
  • thin chapters,
  • flow issues,
  • grammar usage,
  • unnecessary and overly-repeated words, and
  • good ol’ spelling mistakes.

My beta-reader draft is underway, but these redlines, oh, the redlines! I know, I know, I’ll face worse when a professional book editor looks at the work, but somehow I can handle other people’s feedback more easily. That’s probably because of my experience in high-tech. Sending stuff to editing was just part of the process.

The first thing that struck me during my self-editing phase was how large 120 000 words looks like when printed. I sorta made that Scoopy-Doo inquisitive sound. Because technology is so sophisticated these days, I haven’t had to print the book until last month. I listened to it on my phone while updating the manuscript my Chromebook, or just read it on iBooks, and made annotations. It seemed like a benevolent wee story. Then I printed it out and had to breathe into a paper bag. Out came my red pen and I went to town!

My protagonist, Virj, is also a writer who really wants to be published. Unfortunately, he’s not that good yet. My goal is to be better than him. (Sorry, Virjie.) I guess I’m tough on myself, but that’s only because I want to do my best to relay the story that I want to tell. Hence the redlines, and more redlines, OH, THE REDLINES!

One surprising motivator to get this editing done has been my Ma. I know, right? I sent her the first three chapters and she keeps asking me for more pages every time we speak on the phone. I think this is good training for meeting deadlines. Also, I’ve left my friend Jeremie hanging. They’ve only read until chapter 17 of the ugly first draft. I can’t let Jeremie down!

The biggest reason I want to get this draft out is because I really like the diverse group of people I have chosen as beta readers, and their feedback will really be invaluable to me. I can’t wait to hear their constructive criticism and insights. So, on I go, incorporating all those redlines.

But OH, the redlines!

I dream in red ink these days, I swear.


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.

Up next: Beta-reader draft!

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.


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.

The First Draft Dance of Joy!

Oh my word, I made it this far. Any seasoned writers reading this will laugh at me, I know. This is a huge milestone, though. My book is now in the ugly, poorly written, filled with useless words, but completely mapped out phase.

I love you ugly manuscript! *hugs tightly*

The book will be 30 chapters long. This was the last chapter I had to draft out, because I wrote the ending months ago.

When I was a tech writer, I always breathed easier after I’d finished the first draft of a several hundred page manual.  I knew it was just a question of revising the thing, but the hardest part was over. When you’re on a high-tech deadline, getting a first draft done makes you want to dance for joy.

My next step is to take a little break–which is hard, because I keep reading the manuscript–and start preparing the draft for my beta readers. My goal is to have the book in as a good shape possible without an editor’s help. I want the beta readers to view the story with a critical eye and tell me what works and what doesn’t. I need solid feedback, and I have my Teflon suit at the ready for the onslaught. (In technical writing, you’d toss a manuscript to the reviewers and it often came back looking like it was shot full of blood. Ah, the red pen of smiting.)

Writing a novel is no sprint run, that’s for sure. It requires endurance, patience, something to punch at times, and an obscene amount of dessert. Yet, hitting any milestone along the way gives you that wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and the desire to faceplant into your pillow and sleep for a week.

For now, I just want to bask in the glory of the moment. And maybe eat more dessert. Gotta keep my strength up you know.


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.