Annie On Writing

May 1, 2015

When a writer is not a writer?

Filed under: Writing Tools — Annie Evett @ 3:09 pm

By the very definition, a writer is someone who ‘writes’.  It’s something that infects the blood, drives you to finish that paragraph, become a stalker in coffee shops –  to listen in on conversations for character development, create an obsession with Pintrest with boards so weird and varied, you decide you need a alias log in so you don’t need to explain the midget horse board or the 18th century womens’ underwear collection. Writing is that passion in the blood until one day, something happens and you stop writing. Excuses and busyness lay hurdles in front of your writing. Suddenly, its months since you opened your writing files. You’ve stopped “writing”. You have nothing to write about. Many state it’s just a bump in the road, a slight case of writers block. But you know in your heart, it’s more like writers atrophy.

So when, along the journey do you consider that you are no longer a writer? That you “hang up” your writing tools and “call it a day?”

I am a private person, who doesn’t share a huge amount of the turmoil and issues I have faced in the last few years; but feel its time to give light to some, in the hope that it inspires or motivates others.

Flashback 8 years and flash fiction writing was a living, breathing obsession for me. I had several  vibrant blogs, loyal followers and built strong professional relationships with writers around the world though collaborative writing projects. I wrote new fiction every week, was part of an exciting editorial team, had begun my path in publishing and submitted a number of articles a month to various online writing websites. Writing both fiction and non fiction was an emotional outlet for me and a way to deal with the mounting personal issues my family was facing. In short, six months before my husband of 24 years eventually died from a horrific brain tumour, I stopped exploring words. I stopped sharing. My worlds became numb and my characters voices, once so clear; were silenced.

This halt to writing was no ordinary writers block. No manner of workshopping, brainstorming and doodling on blank pages could encourage words to flow again. I had access to excellent tools for creative blockages and over time, attempted to utilise them to kick start my lifeless passion.  Attempting to write even the briefest email has been excruciating. The great nothingness of depression has been an overwhelming and consuming entity living skin deep against my heart.

Once, I proudly wore that sly smile as I announced I was a writer, before giving a few details about my latest WIP. It took a lot of courage and self belief to go beyond the “faking it till you make it stage”. Now, I hide behind the statement of “I used to be a writer”; and even that feels false.  The journey back to ‘being a writer’ seems insurmountable. However, deep inside, there is a tiny flame which continues to flicker, waiting for inspiration to feed it, for passion to set it alight again.

Over the years, I’ve written some great columns, given great advice, coached and mentored many emerging writers, so for me, there is a huge slice of humble pie sitting in front of me to consume before I set off on my journey again. Though more than a bump in the road, I am hoping this diversion away from writing will prove to be a strength, hater than a hinderance to my overall journey.

I stand now, unable to claim to be a new writer; but unwilling to claim writer status. How many readers out there are able to empathise and stand with me in this no-mans land of writing? How have you launched yourself off again? What strategies have worked ( or not worked?)

I would like to publicly thank my readers and fellow writers for being so gentle with me over my absence. It is my intention to hang out here more often. Who knows, I may even start writing again.

January 24, 2015

Beta Readers makes books (and words) better

There are a number terms being bandied around  writing camps and unless you are brazen enough to admit you don’t know what one might be, you may be in the same situation I was a few years ago when my Facebook page was full of requests from other writers for a beta reader.

What does a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who isn’t familiar with your storyline and perhaps unrelated to your work as a whole. They are occasionally willing volunteers, but more often than not, a paid professional who are happy to read your flash, excerpt or finished novel an give you honest feedback on specific concerns you have about it. They might be another author or an editor; but most importantly, they are an avid reader of the genre you write in.

Why would I you need one?

When a writer crease a character and event or a scene, they become intimate with every nuance. When an author writes a story, they know what message they are attempting to communicate. However, this doesn’t mean that they have been able to convey it clearly to a reader.  Even when it is read back, its quite possible that the real meaning is still not shared in the way the author meant it to.

A beta reader will read your work with no preconceptions of character or plot and let you know what is clear and what is not.

Beta readers make your words better

A beta reader is best sourced through social media or networking and be someone who would be amongst your target audience.  After approaching your beta reader, supply them with a list of issues or challenges you may have with plot, character or scene setting. After a read through, they will help identify the problems and work with you with their feedback on ways to solve them

A beta reader is the person who can shine a new light or perspective on an aspect of your story which has troubled you, or seemed glitchy; but you had failed to find a solution to it. They can assist with questions to deepen possibilities or opportunities for a character or event to demonstrate the point you are trying to make.

Get the best out of your beta reader

In order to get the most out of your beta reader, you must be clear in what feedback you need from them. Vague instructions will only garner vague suggestions or commentary.  A beta reader is able to assist you in developing a character through pointed questions, so that it comes across to the reader in the way you had meant it.

The most valued beta readers will look at your work critically and be specific with their feedback. They will provide notes on your story with quotes or passages which need exploring further and tightening to give clearer meanings.

Most beta readers will provide a short feedback note, but the best will be one who is willing to work with you further and assist in improving the story.

However, once this type of back and forth feedback, improvement and honing comes into it, you wander into the realms of manuscript appraisals. The intention is exactly the same; but the feedback and work invoked with this professional is at a deeper level.

They pull no punches and not only are well connected with agents and publishing houses, but will give you a lot to think about and work on to improve your work. Professional manuscript assessors can be sourced through accredited writers and author societies.

What they are and what they are not

A beta reader does not take the place of an editor and is not expected to correct structural, grammatical or spelling errors. Very often a beta reader is sourced before your work is completed or is sent the rawest of first drafts for their initial feedback. This is in direct contrast to the use of an editor who assists with completed drafts, or manuscript assessors who look at a finished and edited piece. One of the most important things about a beta reader, especially if they are a volunteer, is to treat them with kindness and gratitude; not taking their feedback personally and offer to assist them in a similar way in the future.

Beta readers play an extremely important part in the revision and expansion stage of your writing. Once it passes the beta test, and you’ve completed it to the best of your ability, its now time to find an editor; and start the revision process again.

This article was first published over at Todays Author

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