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Why Beta Readers Are Awesome

When I picked up writing again after taking time away from it while my children were young, I felt behind. I began writing fast and furious. I had an idea for a novel-a women’s fiction. After I had written about two drafts, I thought I might actually have something so I went to my almighty, intelligent friend Google to find out now what? Google informed me I needed to find beta readers.

After some research on beta readers, I went to my next resource, my best friend who, (besides my husband) has been my cheerleader. Also knowing she’s an avid reader, I asked her if she would be willing to read my manuscript. I warned her it was probably, most likely, a mess. But she graciously accepted. Not only that, she also wrangled a few other readers for me. They were a couple friends and colleagues who were enthusiastic about reading my manuscript. I recruited my sister, who I knew loved reading but who also has a critical eye and would tell me the truth.

So began my journey into what a writer/beta reader relationship looked like. That manuscript had five beta readers. Four of which didn’t live in the same state as myself and three whom I’d never even met in person. I emailed all readers, included a short synopsis, and questions I wanted them to answer and attached the manuscript.

While I waited for their feedback, I started something new. A short story, which I ended up submitting to an anthology and was later chosen to be published. Then I got started on another novel. When the feedback came back, while there were plenty of suggestions, the majority was positive. It gave me the “spark” and I was hooked on writing again.

Here are some tips on beta readers:

*Choosing Beta Readers:

When finding beta readers, it’s best to not ask all of your loved ones. Asking your mom, spouse, sister, brother, grandmother sounds like a great idea. But in reality, your family will likely sugarcoat their feedback and you’ll come away from the experience thinking you’ve got a New York Times Bestseller on your hands. While in reality, you most likely have a decent plot with somewhat manageable characters, a nice setting, and stakes that need amped up. I try to stick to asking only one family member, two at the max. While also recruiting readers who either like the genre of my manuscript and/or are avid readers in general. A good idea is to choose other writers. I like to get a mix of all of the above. But mostly, I save other writers as critique partners. *Also, be sure to find people/readers you trust.

*Questions to ask Beta Readers:

  • Did the first sentence, paragraph, chapter pull you in? Did they grab your attention enough to want to continue reading the book?
  • Were the character’s goals clear enough?
  • Were you able to visualize what the characters looked like?
  • Was the dialogue believable? Did it flow?
  • Were you able to imagine the setting?
  • Did the scenes flow? Did you feel there were any I should add or cut?
  • Did you find any inconsistencies or discrepancies? Any places I got a character eye color wrong? Things like that?
  • Did you notice any plot holes? Things that didn’t make sense or need to be explained?
  • When did you take a break/put the manuscript down/go to the bathroom?
  • And anything else you feel would be important to point out to me.

This list has changed over the years. I’ve sort of simplified it. These are the ones that are most important to me. You may find ones that are better suited for you and your books. I also shortened it because when you ask someone to read an unpublished book, you’re asking for a huge favor. I don’t feel it’s fair to also inundate them with a thousand questions on top of that. Typically, I send my beta readers a coffee gift card in return for their time/generosity. I can’t afford much but it’s another way, beyond my words, to tell them thank you. They are awesome and just took time away from their schedules, families, hobbies, to do a favor for me.

Beta readers are often the first readers, (beyond yourself) to take a look at your project. They can tell you if you’ve got an interesting plot and intriguing characters with an eye-catching setting. Yes, opinions are usually subjective, but that’s why it’s important to get a handful of readers. I typically stick to 3-5. If the majority of them are telling you there’s a problem in an area of your manuscript, chances are you may want to take another look at that. Even having a literary agent, I don’t just send her my rough drafts of my next novel. I send them to beta readers and critique partners before my agent ever gets a hold of it.

I hope you find a great group of beta readers and if you’ve already found them, thank them or give them a shoutout to show you appreciate them! 🙂

New Year-New You? Nah…New Year-Better You!

*WARNING* Real Talk ahead…

I intended to write this post in January, after taking a couple of weeks off. But after a few events unfolded, they altered my post. I had planned on talking about your yearly writing goals and how to stay motivated. I had a ton of positive ideas on how to encourage you to reach those goals. But creating a list of goals and accomplishments felt jaded in light of those events.

In 2019 I was blessed with a new and unexpected friendship. She gave the best hugs and was encouraging me to say “no” to help me to not overcommit myself. Three days before Christmas she suffered several strokes and nearly lost her life. Miraculously, she not only survived, but grew stronger each day. She drew strength from her faith, family, and friends. She’s back home with her husband, two young boys and dog, (who won’t leave her side). When I got my first hug from her after she went through this ordeal, it felt the same as I remembered but also different. She’s a new person. She’s been given a second chance at life and she’s not taking it for granted.

So instead of a long list of goals for 2020, I’m trying to look at the big picture. I’m trying to look beyond 2020. But I’m also trying to take it one day at a time, focusing on making the best of each day. Last year I spent many days sick over worry and anxiety, bogged down by stress and depression. I’m hoping that in 2020 I find a way to feel refreshed rather than all the former mentioned. I hope the same for you.

This is the first year in quite a while, I haven’t written out my goals. Sure, I have some tucked away in my brain. Once in a while, I whisper them and on occasion, I shout them into the universe. My 2020 word isn’t RESOLUTE for nothing. I still have big hopes and dreams. But writing out a list of things I want to accomplish felt small in comparison to thinking what could be on my friend’s list for 2020. I’m assuming things like: Be thankful for each day, Make the most of each day, Tell family and friends you love and appreciate them, Grow stronger each day.

Sure, I still have dreams to publish all of my books, go on a fantastic family vacation before my son leaves for college this fall, and find a way to balance the day job/family/volunteer work/home/writing. But those felt minor in comparison to some big picture things. They say if you’d like to accomplish your dreams, you should say them out loud. I hope you’ll try it too. Here’s me, saying mine out loud:

My hopes for 2020:

  • Focus on today
  • Don’t allow the negativity of others steal your joy
  • Don’t give into anxiety; take control of it
  • Say NO; don’t overcommit yourself
  • Focus on what you actually have control over
  • If you feel yourself spiraling from depression, talk to someone
  • Don’t give up

I hope 2020 is off to a fantastic start for you! And if it’s not-well, we still have 11 more months to turn it around 🙂

Where To Find Inspiration

Since I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember, sometimes it can be difficult for me to notice just where my inspiration comes from. At times, a full-blown plot idea will manifest out of nowhere. Other times, it’s bits and pieces that come while I’m working the day job, taking a shower, or in the car. When my mind seems to be busy on something completely unrelated to writing or story telling, that’s usually when an ideal strikes.

What I do know is, when I’m facing writer’s block or feeling uninspired, there are things that I try that sometimes help. If you’re new to writing and want to stretch yourself by trying your hand at writing fiction or a short story, or if you’re feeling uninspired lately or facing writer’s block, maybe these ideas will help you.

-Listen to music: Sometimes, just listening to a certain genre or song can help inspire me to write. It can either help me figure out a plot or inspire a new character. Country music usually does the trick for me. Their ability to write a song that tells a story in about 3 1/2 is pretty inspiring.

-Read a book: Often, new writers think reading a book will confuse or interfere with their own writing. Most of the time, when I’m reading a book, it triggers and fuels my own creativity. I can pinpoint where the shift in the character arc is. It can show me what works with my own writing and maybe what doesn’t.

-Take a walk: Getting outside and breathing in fresh air is great for the brain. It gives you oxygen and energizes the soul. Stepping out into nature is rejuvenating, triggering your creative mind to feel rested and ready to develop that plot or flesh out those characters.

-Watch a movie: Watching a movie can be so helpful for plot flow and character arcs. I pay attention to plot holes and slow burn romances. Looking for the humor, the heart, what triggers natural emotions.

-Write by hand: When I write by hand, it takes me back to when I first started writing. It can feel fresh and raw.

-Journal: Taking a step away from writing fiction and writing in a journal about your thoughts and feelings and your day can get you in the flow of writing again if you’ve been dealing with writer’s block.

-Do something else creative: Spending time on another hobby can get your writing creative juices flowing. If you enjoy drawing, painting, knitting, or something else, honing that craft can possibly help you in honing your writing.

I hope some of these ideas help inspire your writing or get you out of your writer’s block. What helps inspire your writing?

Creating Aesthetics For Your Story

Before I begin writing any manuscript, I create a visual. A lot of writers I know do this as well. Plenty have their favorite process and favorite app for creating an aesthetic. If you’ve never made one and you’re interested in doing so, you might want to try a couple different apps before you land on your favorite.

The method to my aesthetic madness goes something like this: I create a board on *Pinterest first, pulling photos of inspiration of characters, settings, and other plot points. Let’s say my character suffers from an anxiety disorder and visits a therapist, I can add pins on anxiety and what to expect when seeing a licensed therapist. Then I choose 5-9 or so photos and create a collage on Canva. Sometimes I find quotes on Pinterest that fit my story, so I may use those. Or, if I have my own line or quote already floating around in my mind I’ll use that. In the past, I’ve also tried using the Picollage app. It works well too but I like the clean lines, the ability to add typing, and the filter options on Canva. They also have their own photo stocks that you can use.

There are other websites that have free stock photos like, Unsplash, Pixababy, and Stock Snap. I like grabbing my photos from Pinterest because I can create an entire board there. Creating a Pinterest board and/or an aesthetic can help if I’m feeling uninspired, stuck on my plot or helping with writer’s block.

If you create aesthetics, what’s your favorite app or website to use? If you’ve never created one and do so after reading this post, I’d love to hear about your experience.

*Be sure to always credit the artist/author/photographer/creator when using their work and not using it at all if they specifically state not to.

Finding a Writing Group

Finding my writing group was both the most frightening and fantastic thing ever. After I picked up writing again after I had taken time off while my kids were young, I had been writing solo for about a year. While writing is mostly a solitary activity, I knew I needed to find support and community. I had already found a solid group of beta readers but I needed support and encouragement from other writers. When things get tough, when you feel like quitting, when you feel uninspired, or frustrated, or like no one in your life understands your passion and calling, having other writers who support you is priceless.

I found my group by Googling writing groups in my community. There were a few but the one that caught my attention for a few different reasons was a part of Meet Up called Shut Up and Write. For one, it was free to join-no membership fees. Two, there wasn’t any read alouds or critiquing involved. And three, I figured I could survive the 15 minute meet/greet at the beginning and end because there was a solid hour of silent writing time in between. I found the idea of chatting about myself/my project intimidating but the accountability intriguing.

When I went to my first meeting at the coffee shop, I was nervous. But everyone was friendly and welcoming. I decided to go again. And again. Each time it got easier and easier. Soon, I developed a friendship with the other members. Now, we talk about our projects, bounce ideas off of one another, and talk through writer’s block. Sometimes we talk about our favorite authors or craft books.

These people have become my community and my friends and I’m forever grateful to have joined. Having people like this during your writing journey is essential. I hope you have your own group and if not, that you have the opportunity to find one near you. Here’s a link for Shut Up and Write to check if there’s one in your area. https://shutupwrite.com

Is There Something You’d Like To Say, Karen? (Tips for Writers-On Surviving the holiday with family)

The holiday season is quickly approaching. For most, that brings mixed emotions. While there’s often sadness over loved ones who are no longer with us, whether by choice or death, there can also be old grudges or ongoing family feuds. Spending time with family and loved ones can be difficult and wonderful and awkward. If your family is aware of your art/creative outlet/writing, you’re vulnerable for every nuance.

I’ve been blessed to have many supportive relatives. Some ask me how my pursuit to traditional publication is going, how my current project is going or what it is about, or they tell me to not give up and they’re impressed with my perseverance. For me, I find it comforting when people ask me questions about how things are going. It makes me feel as if they care and are truly supportive of my goals and dreams. Lately, I’ve been finding that since it’s been a few years since I’ve been back into writing seriously, some family members are over it, or bored. But what those people don’t understand, (because they haven’t asked) is a journey to traditional publishing is often long.

If I find myself frustrated by *family over the holiday, I tend to go quiet. Sometimes it’s necessary to isolate myself as well. Taking time by myself can help me regroup. People who don’t understand the industry or the process, don’t really understand either, 1.) why publication takes so long, and 2.) why do I keep going. Yes, traditional publication is the goal, but writing is therapeutic and a passion that has always been inside of me. So regardless if I ever get traditionally published or not, it’s important for me to reiterate to family that I’m not planning to give up on writing.

What can you do if you find yourself in the “hot” seat?

-If your relative is giving you a hard time about “still doing that whole writing thing”; force them to sit there and listen to an hour of you educating them on the process of traditional publishing.

-Be prepared to give an explanation of “why don’t you just self publish?”; while I both respect and support authors who self publish, it’s not for everyone. So be prepared to have an explanation for why this isn’t for you. And if you don’t have one, maybe self-publishing is right for you (?).

-If they ask you, “why don’t you just quit?”; for me, quitting isn’t an option. Writing is a form of “self care”. Quitting would’t be good for my disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s important they know that you have set a goal and you intend to work hard at accomplishing that goal to prove it to yourself. Also, for me, I want to show my kids that with hard work and perseverance, dreams can come true. Find your reasons and list them.

-You can also go with the, “give it to them straight” approach; if you’re outspoken, tell your family members exactly what you want to and need to. Be firm and concise. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells. They’re your family. If they don’t love you and can’t be supportive, that’s on them.

-You can also go with the, “isolation” approach; for some people it’s easier to keep your mouth shut and make nice and isolate yourself during a holiday gathering. While it’s disappointing if this is the case, this could be the healthiest approach for you. You need to protect yourself and your art. Take care of your mental health.

Good luck to all of my fellow creators. May you have a wonderful time celebrating with your loved ones and treasuring all you’ve been blessed with and are grateful for.

*To my family who thinks this post was inspired by you; it wasn’t. This is not about you 😉

How Does Anxiety Fit Into Writing

A few posts ago I said I’d write about anxiety. So here goes.

Living with anxiety is different for everyone. For me, it shows itself in various ways. At times, it sneaks up on me while I’m not expecting it and it can cause either an accelerated heartbeat, shortness of breath, an inability to concentrate, and irrational, (though not to my brain) thoughts and fears. Other times, it can send me into a full fledged panic attack. Sometimes anxiety hits me when there’s too much on my To-Do list, not enough time, and I’m sleep deprived.

In whichever form anxiety hits me, if it lingers, writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Either by choice or not. Anxiety can cause me to spiral, making it so my brain is unable to either form the words and sentences I want to write or making it so I believe my words don’t matter or I’m not good enough to write this story. When anxiety causes lack of concentration, I’m unable to stick to a plot or fully form relationships or dialogue. When anxiety is stemmed from busyness or too many balls being juggled, I have no choice but set my writing aside. The only problem with that, is that writing is a form of self care for me. So if I’m so busy I can’t find the time to write, it makes me irritable and can even cause a form of anxiety as well.

Leading from that; writing as a form of “self care”. When I become too anxious or irritable, I have to step away from my adult responsibilities for a few hours. I usually take an evening. My husband and kids are super supportive and they actually are good about noticing when I need to shut myself away by myself to write. When I do this, there are times when I’m able to pick up my current manuscript and add to my word count no problem. Other times, when my brain is foggy from anxiety, I spend time either journaling or writing poetry. While those are a similar type of creative outlet as writing fiction, they’re a bit different. I find journaling and writing poetry therapeutic. An added bonus? There’s been times when I’ve gone back and read some of those poems or journal entries and have been able to incorporate them in a story. I feel like anytime I can use this cursing disorder to my advantage, I’m sort of winning.

How does anxiety affect your writing?

Benefits of Writing by Hand

There is something about writing by hand that I find therapeutic. When I have a pen in my hand and a new, blank notebook in front of me, it takes me back to when I first began writing. It reminds me of the joy and love I felt long ago. As the words bleed from my fingertips, it feels raw and thrilling. The ideas seem to flow faster than when I type. Sometimes I cross things out as I go or add to the margins. I find that my best and cleanest first drafts are the ones I write by hand.

My typical process: Hand write first draft, type second draft into the app/program *Storyist, then email it to myself and create a Word document.

I find that if I’m feeling either stuck or uninspired, writing by hand helps get the creative juices moving again. Next time you’re feeling that way, maybe give it a try.

*Storyist; is a program that is similar to Scrivener though I’ve heard it is a bit more user friendly and a bit cheaper. I love it because it formats your manuscript correctly so it’s professional and clean and ready to submit to agents or publishers. https://storyist.com

Nanowrimo-The Murky Middle

Congrats! You’ve made it to the murky middle of *Nanowrimo!

If you’re participating in Nanowrimo this year, kudos to you! If you’re not, that’s okay too. Nanowrimo doesn’t fit into everyone’s schedule. For some, it can cause severe stress and anxiety. Or, if you do participate and then don’t win, that can be disheartening. Putting the pressure on yourself, in somewhat of a public setting takes courage and can be nerve-racking. You make the choice for yourself and what you think you can handle based on your daily agenda and where you’re currently at with your writing. I think the purpose of Nanowrimo is to get you in the habit of writing often, or every day. It challenges you to set a goal and stretches you to reach that goal.

This year I wasn’t going to participate in Nanowrimo. I participated and won in 2017 and 2018. The reason why I wasn’t going to is because those two manuscripts I wrote those two years are still sitting there with 50-60k words in first draft form. But I found myself on medical leave from my day job after a surgery and with an outlined plot for a new manuscript. So I decided to participate for my third year.

If you’re following along with the goal of reaching 50k by the end of November, then you’ve probably reached around 25k by now. I’ve always found reaching the middle of any novel, regardless of Nanowrimo or not gets you to the “murky middle” or “saggy middle” and it can be the place a lot of writers want to give up. It’s a tough place to be. The thing I always try to remember is, if the middle of my book is boring for me, it’s definitely going to be boring for my reader. So the key is to keep the pace going and the momentum building so it doesn’t become “saggy”. Save some of those smaller “ah-ha” moments, or twists/turns, or secrets for the middle. Don’t give them all away in the first 3 chapters or save all the big reveals for the ending. If you give them away too soon or too late, your reader will either quit reading your book because you’ve already revealed all the good stuff, or because they’ve lost interest from not revealing things soon enough.

With Nanowrimo-because the point is to reach 50k in the month of November, if I become too bogged down by the middle, I’ll move straight to the ending, the downhill slope. If your novel has been outlined or plotted enough, you usually know the ending. I focus on that. I write all of the big reveals, the two love interests make their way back to one another so that happily-ever-after can be achieved. Sometimes, writing the ending actually helps me to go back and write the middle, making sure the character arcs are all there and the pacing is moving along so that the ending makes sense.

Good luck Nanowrimo participants! Halfway done, halfway to go. We got this!!

*Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month; where the goal is to write 50k words during the month of November. Check out the details on their site: https://nanowrimo.org

How to Love a Writer

So listen, while I’ve spent plenty of time with writers, I’ve never had to live with one. My husband and children get true props for putting up with my random discussions on plot ideas, my sneaking off to write when inspiration hits, and my emotions during the rollercoaster ride of publishing. Some of my loved ones have taken it upon themselves to learn about the process of querying literary agents, revising a manuscript, being on submission. And not because they want to write a book and figure out what to do next with it, but because they love me and are interested in my life and my passion.

Here’s some ways to love a writer:

-Ask questions: What is the process like for traditional/self publishing? What are you working on next? Can I help you in any way? Can I *beta read for you?

-Invite them to coffee: Having coffee with someone in a crowded coffee shop rather than working on a project in a crowded coffee shop is weird for a writer. But it’s also good. Being out visiting with a friend gets the creative juices flowing and also, eavesdropping is a writer’s best friend.

-Gift them blank notebooks: Writers love notebooks of any shape or size. Sometimes we’re picky and have our favorites but if someone is giving me a free notebook, I’m not gonna complain.

-Give them space when they need it: For the most part, writing is a solitary act. And unfortunately we cannot create/produce if we aren’t given the time to do it. So give them the time without the guilt trip.

-Give them a soundboard: Sometimes we just need someone to listen while we bounce ideas or dialogue or plots around. We don’t necessarily need you to give us your fantastic best seller idea, just give us a listening ear.

*Beta readers. So I have, for the most part, a set group of fantastic beta readers. Once in a while I’ll throw someone new into the mix, depending on the genre I’m writing and the interest of the beta readers. I’ll share a post about beta readers another day, but keep in mind that family/loved ones aren’t necessarily always the best choice for this. Typically, it’s a good idea to choose one. Two tops. Having that one person who is always willing to read your work and who’s in your corner always rooting for you is needed when you’re most definitely going to receive subjective feedback on your writing.