Am I published anywhere? Amazon. Some books are in Booksamillion and in tons of libraries.
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]
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.
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]
You are never so open as when you are being creative.
There is something of a more wily enemy writers fear or confront aside from writer’s block. It is the monster of self-doubt. There is a source one accesses, even taps into, when you take the idea you are rolling around your head and convert all those thoughts to a document for someone else to read. In this area where you are most powerful, you are exponentially more vulnerable. Here is where the war begins.
You must get what is in your head–out. This is all writing is, boiled down to base component. All the words you know, all the words you were taught, all the dialects and experiences–writing allows you to get all these things from head to hand.
Self-doubt as a writer is the roommate that doesn’t pay rent, wrecks parties, and says inappropriate things in front of your friends. Self-doubt is the bastard son of all creativity. And the more you feed it, the larger it gets–an the more unmanageable it becomes.
Self-doubt is a permanent roommate for every writer or creative person. As soon as you accept this, and realize this, the faster you can put your earplugs in when they play loud music late at night.
The easiest why to shut up self-doubt is to do the very thing you are afraid to do: write. Write scared. Write when you’re frustrated. Write when you’re mad. Write when you’re happy. But write.
The more you write, the faster self-doubt loses weight, the quieter its voice gets, and the doubt is replaced by confidence.
That self-doubt may never go away, but you can always shut it up.
Jennifer P. Harris
Founder, Shekinah Glory Writing Services
I won’t lie to you…writing is hard.
Writing can make you question your sanity, any talent and your grasp of any language!
However, I implore you to remember why you do what you do, and how well you do it. This is what I call, ‘The Why’.
Among all the noise, distractions and deterrents on the planet, only you know why it is you do what you do. Only you know why you write. Remember that, above all else, no matter how great or small the project, remember The Why. Moreover, remember your why.
The Why is powered by a great many things, from a great many resources. Remember what it is that has pushed to you to create. What drives you to language? What inspires you? What have you started which you are consumed or driven to finish?
Only you can determine this.
Nikki Giovanni says you know you’re a writer because you keep writing. Toni Morrison said the reason she wrote, and finished, The Bluest Eye was because she wanted to read it. Ernest Hemingway said to write is pretty easy: just sit at a typewriter and bleed.
If you have not found The Why or Your Why, don’t fret. You have time. This concept is two-fold:
- This is the overall motivation for any writer. This is the drive, the force, the fuel that allow us to create, and conquer realms of creativity. This is the force which compels you to declare you are a writer.
- This is or can be any specific motivation for a project or story. This can have varying degrees and depth. This may be the motivation to finish a work, a poem or a even a novel.
The Why or Your Why are portions of your tool kits also! Don’t be afraid to examine them. Don’t be afraid to examine the motivation of why it is you do what you do as you do.
Be confident. The first reader of every work is you–The Why can only, will only help you achieve and do better.
Jennifer P. Harris
Founder, Shekinah Glory Writing Services
[Image from Google]
In Stephen King’s book, On Writing*, he makes mention of a secret tool of writing a novel–the tool was actually given by his wife, Tabitha. I believe that he was writing his book Desperation. With Tabitha being his sounding board and beta reader, she made mention of a part of the story she wasn’t really concerned about because it took away from the main story. Stephen King calls this, ‘murder your darlings.’
The darling of a story is something of a side quest. The darling is something of the story that you add, it could be history, backstory or even perspective, which can almost take over a story–leading your reader down a path the original story was never supposed to have.
This happens often, more often than you may believe! However, as a writer, you must be ruthless when it comes to telling your story. It is you who guides the reader down the path you want them on. The darling of the story, unless you want to make this an object of a story later, you will have to kill–for the sake of the story.
In killing this darling, remember these keys:
- Keep in mind the story you are writing (Genre, especially)
- Plot (What is going on and where is everyone going?)
- Conclusion (Where are we ending up?)
Remember, you are in control of the written worlds you create. In crafting a story, you must understand that it is you whom dictates the sway of your reader. Tell us where to go, what to do and where to go next. If all else fails, write a trilogy.
Jennifer P. Harris
Founder, Shekinah Glory Writing Services
*-On Writing is a book written by Stephen King in 1999. I rarely throw my entire weight behind a book, but this is one of those books. As a writer, this book is a reference material in my career, and an anchor as I continue writing. In writing, it is often lonely and frustrating–this book is a beautiful reminder of that; as well as the awesomeness being a writer holds.
[image from Google/Pintrest]
There is a madness in writing that is not found in any other profession.
The profession by nature is madness! You take what is in your head, a thing unseen or unknown to other people, and translate it to words. This at times, in the effort of being honest, is hard.
It’s hard because thoughts are fluid, they are invisible, they exist only in the mind of the person that has them. Which is made crazier when you have to make these thoughts relevant to other people–who aren’t or will never be in your head.
What’s to do, right?
Ignore this screaming ideas in your head?
Write them down. Let the thoughts out. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense to you at present. Don’t worry about syntax, spelling and cohesion just yet.
The goal in times like this is to release the thought into words. This is how you overcome what I like to call the stutter.
The Stutter is what every writer experiences one time or another. It’s the feeling that doesn’t let what is in your head get to your hand. It’s not a crisis of confidence, it’s translating.
The cure? Writing!
You cure the stutter by writing! You free write, you write drafts, you edit, but by no means do you surrender to the stutter. You take it hostage and make the stutter into story. You write it into submission!
Go forth and write…no more stuttering!
[image from Google]
I have never been afraid of a blank page or the secession of them. I wanted to fill the blank pages the I had. The best therapy for me is, and still is, school supply shopping. I love having a supply of blank pages. A fresh notebook is the sexiest writing item.
However, I understand the intimidation of blank pages–I get it. What I want to remind you of one thing: you are in control.
As a writer, you are in control.
The worlds you create must bend to your will and talent. They must! Here is motivation for how to continue to make the pages to your will:
Confidence. The story, before it is ever seen by anyone else, belongs to you. You must know every idea, personality or plot belongs to you. Because you are the Alpha and Omega to your own story, act like it.
Confront the Hang-Ups. This happens more often than you think. When you write as particular genre, like erotica, you may be constructing a scene which may be beyond your personal comfort zone. First, this is okay. You have the right to feel uncomfortable. Embrace that. After you embrace it–push past it. The story you write should be complete! If you are anxious to see what happens next, so will the people who read the story. So, tell it.
Show your work. Just like in math classes, when you write, show your work. If you choose to have your first draft in the traditional pen and paper format, keep the draft. Make your notes on the pages or margins.
For me, there are some works just begin on paper so I can see what I’m working on. It allows me to see in my own head–which is sometimes chaotic as the heads of most writers are. Writing down what my mind sees hasn’t been a problem. I allow myself to feel, to see and to write.
To you dear one, I offer the same advice. Scratch through the ideas that don’t work or make sense. Spell things in corners or on back pages. You are the master of your work. Master it.
I believe in you and all your pages hold. Go forth and fill them!
[Image taken from Google]
The scariest thing sometimes is to create a story. The next scariest thing is to decide to revise something you may have had to push through to finish. The thing which hinders writers to revise is anxiety. Namely, the dynamic duo of fear and doubt.
The fear tells the writer, “How can you do it?” Doubt says, “I don’t think I can, I don’t see how I can, and I can’t. I can’t. I can’t!” These voices will always haunt writers. We coexist with fear and doubt. From idea conception to publishing, we wax and wane between the highs and lows brought about through, by creativity.
In conquering these bickering, quibbling voices, try these steps:
1.) Be forgiving of yourself.
Writing is hard! Let no one tell you different. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to forgive yourself for doubting the quality of your work, or leaving a work or draft believing it is not worth rewriting. Audre Lorde notes there are times that writers don’t in fact write! And indeed this is heartbreaking. However, in forgiving yourself, you allow the gift, the talent to return without hindrance.
2.) Be honest.
What are you writing to write?
What are you trying to say?
Don’t think about what other people will think when they read it, you must first write the book you want to read. From there, you are able, will be able to write and revise as you desire.
3.) Be consistent.
We know that scheduling writing time can be a thing of miracles. However, if you desire to finish or revise a work, you will have to push through doubt by way of discipline and consistency.
If you set out to make Wednesdays your revision/writing days? Do that. Let nothing hinder you from that work, and developing that discipline.
Discipline helps to silence doubt, and stifle fear. It proves to your talent and giftings they are under control, subject to your demand, and are subject to exercising. You can write because you can write.
4.) Be confident.
This is your story. You are its writer. These people, these worlds you create, are subject to your control and the limited only by your imagination. Write as if know one is looking. The only one who is will be you. So give your audience something to see.
Jennifer P. Harris
Editor/Founder-Shekinah Glory Writing Services