Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It Takes a Village

It’s been two and a half months since I read Holly Lisle’s article on One-Draft Editing.

I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you that . . . nope, I didn’t make it in one session, although I did learn some lovely new editing tricks. Those tricks helped shorten my previously protracted process, for which I am very grateful.

It took me three tries this time, and I didn’t do everything myself. After years of writing and interacting with others, here are the people I’ve found invaluable in the editing process:

In June, at WIFYR (the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference – which I highly recommend), I was able to receive feedback from my fellow work-shoppers as well as my talented instructor. They were kind but honest. They came from many walks of life and gave varied advice (from which I could pick and choose – you don’t want to take it all) that enriched and deepened my story.

People who know the story:
When I ran into critical plot issues, it helped to bounce ideas off others who understand my characters and storyline. A thousand thank you’s go out to my amazing critique group!

One member of my group read the last forty pages, and then the first forty pages in one day—in that order. (I know, she’s brilliant, and she deserves a medal!) She came back with great advice on how to make my main character’s arc stronger, make my ties between the beginning and end stronger, as well as feed in more foreshadowing.

Beta Readers:
Two new friends from WIFYR agreed to read my story. It’s a huge help to get a fresh perspective from someone who doesn’t know your story. They caught completely different things from those in my critique group, like lame lines, confusing parts (after I’ve removed sections and didn’t clean up all the ties), and questions about character motivation.

Age-appropriate readers:
This book is a mid-grade. One of my friends had her young daughter read it, and mark the parts that worked, the words or parts that confused her, and give general feedback. It was like striking gold!

I guess, at least for me, it takes a village. And it took years to find that village, but it was worth the search. There’s just no way to produce a book of quality without help.

I know some people have a hard time finding or joining a critique group. What holds you back? What spurs you on? How did you find your village?


  1. I'll be a member of your village any day. :)

    Excellent post.

  2. Ha ha, thanks, Leisha! Here are the keys to the village and a plaque naming you honorary mayor!

    1. Mayor? Now that's a scary thought. Hee hee hee.

  3. I met my first critique group by entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. We were the only six writers active on the message boards who had submitted something YA. That group went on strong for two years, until one member snagged a six-figure deal on a sci-fi trilogy. Yeah, that kind of blew everything apart.

    After that I started a critique group of WIFYR attendees. We're still together, sort of... though no one has commented on that chapter I sent out three weeks ago...

    BUT I have lots of friends out there who, though not organized into a formal group, know they can send me things and I'll give them a good critique. And I know who I can send things to when I need an educated opinion. I'm also always looking for friends and neighbors willing to test-read a manuscript. I don't ask them for a critique necessarily. I watch for reactions. How long did it take the reader to get through it? And when they were done, did they want to loan it to a friend?

    1. Rebecca, your village sounds wonderful! Being able to work with critique partners and writing friends online has been a wonderful writer's tool for me, too.

  4. Great post! I used to have a village, but they all faded into their own circles. I am abandoned but I need to find a new village that is willing to stay with me. It's been a tough road, to be honest.

    What holds me back? One of the biggest things is that I have more than one book that needs beta reading. Over the course of 20+ years, I've written about 10 books. I'm so behind on getting them polished I feel overwhelmed and lost. Any suggestions?



    PS--Rebecca makes for a great beta-reader; she doesn't hold back. :P

    1. Elizabeth, you bring up an excellent issue. Over the years, I’ve seen the same thing happen in my critique group – which has been ongoing since 1999. The sad truth is members come and go. I don’t have a single person in my group now that was in the original group. I’ve also been in several groups that fell apart and disbanded. Life changes and people’s priorities and interests change. You have to really love writing for the right reasons to be able to stick with it and be committed. And there are times when it’s a hard and lonely road. I lucked upon the stalwart writers in my current group by not giving up, and continuing to circle the writing lanes. We all have similar writing goals, compatible personalities, and are willing to give a certain time commitment to each other, to help each others writing along. (This is HUGE. It is a big commitment for everyone.) One member lives in another state and participates completely online. We met her at a WIFYR conference. Sorry, it’s a long answer, but the most important thing is to just stick with it, and keep up the hunting. You’ll not only find or make a great group - usually one by one - but you'll find those whose personalities and schedules are compatible with yours.

      Just a side-note: I attended an excellent meeting where author Dan Wells spoke. He suggested that we be open to the possibility of letting our previous stories rest in peace. He said to count them as your hard-earned education, which have brought you to this point.

      At that time, I had been reworking an older story for years. It was actually liberating to set it in a drawer and move on to my newer, shinier ideas. And if I really, truly want to resurrect my old story, I can at any time. (But I’ve been much happier moving forward.)

    2. I agree, Jonene. Revising old stuff is what you do when you haven't got some shiny, new idea to chase down.


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