From The Editor’s Desk: Why You Need A Beta Reader

There is nothing wrong with having honest feedback.

There is nothing wrong with having someone else look at your work with the sole purpose of feedback.

Beta Readers are the secret weapon in any writers’ tool kit. This army of your own enlisting help you to weed out what works, what’s boring and what you need more of. The best analogy I can give comes from a process my grandmother did while baking.

When she would bake cakes or pies, she would make what she called a test cake. When she would do this, she would like a few taste the cake. The purpose of the process was to figure out if the cake needed anything added or taken away: more sugar, less vanilla, don’t cook it so long.

It was the feedback coupled with her expertise made what she created all the greater!

The same is said for beta readers! These people are the secret ingredient to what you need to make your work–before the prices of editing!–as reader desirable as it can be.

A good rule of thumb is after a draft is complete is have a small group of readers (friends, family, classmates) to look over your work purely for feedback! You can do the mechanics and other clean up later.

As Nora Roberts said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

[images from guardian.ng and findbetareaders.com]

Submit Or Not To Submit: Do You Dare?

Image result for submitting work to a publisher

 

There is something to be said about writing, and then letting other people read that same writing.  This brings me to the subject of submitting your work.

Hold on. Let me get the smelling salts.

Get off the floor.

Remember, I’m hear to help.

Writing is a great hobby, and is also a competitive sport. The idea of sending off a thought to someone else to get validation (or publication) is horrifying. It’s horrifying thinking someone can read what you have researched, conjured and written–and with a blink call it nothing.

There is so much that goes into writing that submission seems like that last thing on your mind. It seems the scariest thing is to let someone else read your work! However, let me help you again.

Two things:

1.) Writing is a craft, art and a profession.

2.) On some level, all writing is subjective.

 

This means there is an  audience for your work, and you have to find it. And if there is n audience, they deserve to read it. They deserve to read your genius, your suspicions and your recorded joys. Someone wants to see it. What you must confront is why you won’t let anyone to read what you’ve created.

There are things you may be working on that no one may ever see. There may be things you are working on where you may just need the confidence to allow it to be seen. Writers can be some of the biggest control freaks on the planet! We want everything to be perfect. From grammar. To syntax. To content. Asking a writer to submit something?

Man. From writer to writer? It’s hard.

It’s hard enough to be a writer. Having a writer give glimpses to their work? Monumental. It doesn’t make you less of a writer if you don’t submit your work. It doesn’t make you an elitist as a writer to have your work submitted and published!

There is no grand moral. No shaming. No swift kick in your writer’s butt.  I leave you with encouragement. Keep writing, dear ones. The first audience is you, the next is the world.

 

[image from Google]

 

 

For My Grandmother, Arceal Williams

Today, this morning marks 5 years since my grandmother has passed. Here is what I would want:

I want to go over her house today at 4221 Prairie Avenue, with the swinging gate that creaks. I want dogs to be barking as soon as the gate shuts with a metal clanging protest. I want to walk up the brick walkway—looking at the lush magnolia tree. I want to talk up the gray stairs to her front porch. I want to knock on her front door with the ‘family knock.’

I want her to open the door without her walker, glasses and eyes bright. Her gray hair pulled back. I want the smells of Lysol baptized floors to greet me. “What made you come by!” I want to kiss her cheek, clean and smelling of Nadiola cream. I want to smile at her, betraying nothing. “I just wanted to see you.”

I want to sit in her front room, on that same cream colored couch, inviting and warm. “Did you eat?” I smile, stomach rumbling. “No ma’am.” I want her to laugh loud, her drawl evident and soothing. “Come getchu something den!”

I want a plate she’s make me; making me full with her presence, strong with her whit, ready with her strength. “What’s been goin on baby?” I want to kiss her face again with the plate of leftovers in front of me on her dark oak table. She would sit across from me, snapping beans or wiping counters. Bleach and lemons steadying me.

I want to tell her I’m writing. I want her to know I took her advice. I want her to know the girls want to know how to sew in the Spring. “That’s good, Jennifer.” She never did call me Jenn. “Grandma, I finished my first novel!” I want to drink her sweet tea, watching her reaction. “I knew you could do it! You was always so pretty and smart!” I want to study her favorite red house dress. The paisley pattern making her look more regal than I ever thought. Her hair coifed and short. Her hand would be on her hip. She would look at me, giving me future and past. The one standing as the ten-thousand Maya Angelou spoke of.

As I finished my plate, she’s come close to me and just hug me. She was never one for words. But in her love, in that embrace, her love would soothe the jagged parts. The parts that wonder how, why and keep me dreaming. “So proud of you, Jennifer. And bring me a copy of all those books to put in the China cabinet.”

I would hug her back, “Yes ma’am.” I’d squeeze her once more. I’d help clean up, and she’d tell me how I’m not doing it quite right. I’d ask if she needed anything. She’d lie and say no. Fiercely independent at almost 90. Don’t wait so long to come by!” She’d pat my hand, kissing it. “I’ll see you later, Grandma.” I’d say. She would smile at me, and I’d hug her again, going towards the front door. Leaving the solace of her warm green kitchen, the sleeping watch dogs to go face the world again.

*Note: This image was taken on the actual front porch of my grandmother’s house here in St. Louis, MO. It was also used for the cover of my book, WriteLife. If you would like to purchase a copy, click here.

The Eerie Infinity: Is It The Death Of Words?

Image result for no desire to write

 

Genre. Troupes. Ideal. Retellings. Protag. Antag. Plot.

Falling action. Rising action. Climaxes.

It can be utterly maddening and terrifying to be a writer. There are so  many opposing forces at work which would drive you to burn everything in your immediate vicinity which would would lend yourself to writing!

There are certain things about writing which indeed are immutable. Grammar. Spelling. Syntax. Punctuation. Spacing. Margins. Just like with breaking the fourth wall, it can feel sometimes as if writing is less an exercise in creativity and more like a practice in regurgitation. It can be scary to go into a traditional genre, or specific character troupe and feel that you cannot draw an audience.

From that doubt, it is easy (or even expected) that here is where you quit. Here is where you decide whether or not you will trust your talent and imagination. Here is where you will be told that you don’t have what it takes to write, to pursue this as a career. Or, as Anne Rice was told,

“What makes you think you be a writer?”

Let me tell you, it is this fear that kills writers. It rips words and will out of you…giving nothing back.

As a writer, as an editor, I cannot prevent this from happening to you. This is the fear every writer, everyone that desires to write must overcome.

 

Word by word. Letter by letter. Thought by thought. Contend with the doubt, so that you may know it, and overcome it.

 

[Image from Google]

Trying To Break The Fourth Wall

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The trippy thing about writing is when you get sucked into you own worlds.

 

Has this happened to you? I know it has, at least once. In the creating of a story, mastering of a world, you will be sucked in. That’s how you know it’s good. This is the thing you do with a good book–when you have to orient yourself to where you are or even when you are.

This is the goal. This is the high. This is why we write.

This is the fourth wall.

 

Being able to bring the readers into something you have created is beyond amazing. It is a testimony to power, skill and crafting of your story. Margaret Atwood describes it this way in her MasterClass. She says the goal of writing any story is to keep the attention of the reader. Then she gives this saged wisdom. She reminds her pupils that you want to keep the reader enthralled, engaged in a story–‘even though you both know its fiction.’

This is breaking the wall. This is what we all strive for. To be lost in a world you have created…and leave the door open for other people to follow behind you…even when they don’t know what happens.

 

 

[image from Fight Club]

When The Dam Won’t Break

There is nothing more stressful to see the words in your head and can’t get them to your hands. Don’t confuse this with writer’s block. This is what I call The Hitch.

The Hitch differs from Writer’s Block in one way:  accessibility.

Writer’s Block is the drought; there is a drought. There are no words.

The Hitch is when there are words, and somehow, someway, there are none.

Think of it in the case or form of the above image. The water is representative of the writing talent, the mastery of words as it were. Sometimes in all our rush to create, we don’t take time to listen to what the waters of talent are saying. We don’t pay attention to whether this is a drought or a hitch.

The Hitches I fear more than Writer’s Block. Why? You can almost explain it or explain it away if necessary. The Hitches are assassins. They rob you of cohesion to thought, creative insight and mock you when you try push through.

The Hitches are imps of the creative process.

In including this quote from Stephen King, it is your inoculation against The Hitch. It acknowledges, and identifies yourself as you are:  a writer. A slayer of words and pages. You have worlds to create and people to direct! You must break the dam!

This is done by confronting whatever it may be that has stopped you from going forward. This can be defined by three topics:

  • Fear
  • Doubt
  • Exposure

 

Fear. Margaret Atwood says fear comes to writers because we indeed are afraid of something. What are you scared of? The worst thing that could happen is either people not read what you wrote, or they read everything you wrote.

 

Doubt. This rears its ugly head when you think what you  are creating isn’t good enough, or not worth your time because ‘someone else wrote it.’ This may be true, but you haven’t done it! You haven’t created it. The people in your head haven’t lived it! Let the people in your head out!

 

 

Exposure. There are things, stories, appetites that writers roll around which may be alien to what you may be used to writing. That linguistic trepidation  is normal. The choice then becomes–will you chase after the thoughts? Will you indulge the strength of your imagination? I’ll give you a hint:  YES. This is the beauty of a free write and other writing tools in your tool kit.  You can write down what is in your head–and never show it to another living person. Then, when you are ready, you can take that file or those pages and make an entire world. Which people will read.

 

Your blank pages are waiting on you. Don’t keep them waiting long.

 

 

[images from Google; screenshot from YouTube Channel, BioGraphics]

From The Crates

LEAVING:

(c) October 2015 JPHarris

The voices are aging. The forebarers that lit the path through the igniting of thought are leaving towards the same light that sent them.

In contemplation, I find myself going to these people: my mother Bessie Bush, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. It was my mother whom introduced me to the worlds books hold, and the solace they provide. In my darkest moments, she would ask me, “Are you still writing?” I would answer her as my situation dictated. I recognize there will be a day where I will no longer have benefit of her voice on the other end of a phone. Despite past contention, she has been graced to be my mother. I will need her until the Lord will need her Home. I thank her for being my mother when it would be easier not to be.

Anyone that knows me understands my love for the other 2 aforementioned women. With the nation losing our grandmother Oracle in Maya, I grappled with that sense of loss-I have enjoyed her work since age 9 when my mother gave me her copy of I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS. All we, yes we, have left of her, is what she left: her letter and voice.

Toni Morrison is 84. The same age as my grandmother whom would be 86 this year. I found Toni Morrison in high school and was rapt with her tone and description of anything. I knew then, this gift of words and being a writer, was indeed a craft. Indeed a craft. There will too be a day where the world will only have her letter…and voice.

The Word of God says “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” In this space, I commit these intangibles back to Him seeing as He is the giver of all good gifts. In that process, in the beginning of the becoming and faith in its end, I believe a portion of my legacy will be left to treasure in letter and voice.

See mom, I am still writing.

When The Paper Is Empty

Think of writing as an ocean, ebbing and flowing. There are times where there is a lull in writing. There is a time where the words aren’t coming or won’t come.

The paper or screen lays there like a blank, whitewashed catacomb. It is the scariest thing to a writer. It’s not writer’s block. It’s a quiet, the lull…the ocean moving away from the shore.

The ocean is your talent, gift, the ability to create with pen and paper. The shore is the connection of idea, talent and availability. Creativity flows in cycles be seasons. There are times when the flow is seamless and writing is easy.

The tidal waves are what I live for! The ideas that flow and crash. The ideas that come out of nowhere and everywhere! There is the calm, soothing waves after you finish a work.

But the lulls? As hard as that is, they are scary and quiet. They are these desolate places where you try and push back to the shore. And if enough time has passed, you look for the shore. You look for anything that has life to it or shows life on that shore.

The scarier part still, during this lull, you think you may never get back to it.

Fight the lulls! You do that with rest, time and learning to swim, as it were. Not everything is a novel, or a blog post. Some things are just meant to be noted. Recorded. What you catch during the lulls crafts your ship, which will always take you back to shore.

Sometimes, you have to tread water…even in the ocean. What you catch will keep you afloat.

[Image screenshot from YouTube Channel, BioGraphics]

Empty Pages & Empty Pens

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There is a fate worse than writer’s block. It’s empty pages–and having nothing to say.

It is this  feeling that everything is still. Everything is quiet. There is nothing in your imagination that is stirring. That stillness is disquieting.

Audre Lorde said that this time comes for all writers. This lull, this disquiet,  where the the words don’t come–when writing is like breathing she says. I make mention of this in my book, WriteLife. Click here to get a copy.

Writing is a demanding mistress, beloved.

To chase it with power and passion, there will come the still moments. The moments when touching the gift seems further than it ever was. You have to know this, prepare for this.

The duration for this is unique for every writer. For me, it came after a traumatic breakup. The lull was three years and more. It was only when I was in a healthy place again did the words return.

Image result for audre lorde writing quotes

I believe this is the secret fear all writers have. It’s different than the recovery you need, or give yourself after completing a book. It’s beyond writer’s block. It’s not a block at all–that’s just it. It’s a barrenness. Having everything and nothing. Having the desire to say–nothing. Yet, as a writer–you wanna say everything!

Madness.

I wish that I could tell you a tip or tool to get through this certain scary part of your writing career. Yet, I don’t.

What I will tell you is this, which is scary in itself:  embrace the lull.

That’s right–EMBRACE the lull. It will come. I don’t know any writer–whether they be a newbie, practicing amateur, indie author or a NYT Best Seller–whom hasn’t had a lull. They happen.

What you can do is enjoy the time you aren’t writing. Catch up on your sleep. Learn to garden. Take more walks. As a writer, you are called to record the world. This means every now and then you have to live, to develop, your life beyond creating the lives you create for the people in your head.

 

[images from Quotefancy and Google]

The Intangible: The Belief In You

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In all the encouragement you have found this month, the one thing you need to remember is this. There is no magic ingredient for success, no key, no secrets to tell. The only secret I can give you is to look in a mirror. You are the secret ingredient.

You are the key.

You are the magic.

You are it.

 

The rescue you want is in your reflection and fingertips. You are the intangible. You are the hero of this story. Always remember this.

As a writer, you will have bouts of self-doubt to the point of it crippling you. The doubt reaches into the innermost parts of you and sets every thing you know your talent can bring you on fire–and makes you watch.

Remember your why.

 

Only you know why you write, and you have all the power you need inside of yourself. Unless you believe you can write, you never will. Unless you believe you can write, and determine that you will write, there is no inspirational book or blog which can help you. There must be the inner belief that resonates, catches fire in order for you to continue on this grind. You can do it if you believe you can.

 

If you believe you can, you’re right.

If you believe you can’t, you’re right.

 

It’s a process. Everything you do towards your writing, if this is what you want, determines the width and breadth of what you demand of yourself. If you want to write, you’ll write. If you don’t, you won’t.

The crux is what do you want to do more:  quit or keep going?

 

 

[image from Google]