Beta Readers! Where are you, Beta Readers?

An alpha reader or beta reader, also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption. Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.
Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.
— From Wikipedia, retrieved March 13, 2016

I have no pride – I ask friends and strangers alike for their time and energy and insight and ideas. I learned early to ask for help, and I'm really glad.

They offer me help in spades. It's humbling, really. You see, in some ways, writing is a solitary, lonely art. And in other ways (especially since the invention of the interwebs), writers connect with each other and create quite a community. Which can help keep us sane. (I wish I was an artist, and could include a line drawing selfie of me, at the computer, pulling my hair out. Alas, no fine visuals.)

In February I finished my most substantive rewrite of my manuscript. I reduced its volume by nearly 30% at the urging of two professional editors who helped me make wise choices about who to include, which story lines mattered, and how to make hard decisions. 

Then, following some great workshops at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, I was empowered to learn about writing The Hero’s Journey.

Which gets me back to beta-readers. After I finished my edit, and bragged about it on Facebook, I asked for help. Many friends and strangers said maybe, and a few said yes, and now I await their feedback.

A very strange flower and seed on a beautiful plant - a Japonica I loved. May its new gardener like it as much I did. And take really good care of it.

A very strange flower and seed on a beautiful plant - a Japonica I loved.
May its new gardener like it as much I did.
And take really good care of it.

What did I ask them?

  • To tell me where they got confused or frustrated in the story. And why.
  • Where they got bored.
  • When did they put the story down?
  • Was the ending satisfying? Believable?

And finally (because I, like all writers, have bad habits that I can’t see myself)

  • Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?

I remember what it felt like when I sent my last two kids to kindergarten. I was terrified at what people would think, but at the very least they were darned cute.

My manuscript doesn’t have cute to fall back on.

I hope the generous people who read the story for me are honest, brutal and truthful in their critique. Because that’s the only way my writing (and the story) improves.

Next steps?

Waiting to hear from the beta readers. Then to copy-editing, cover design, formatting…and e-publishing.

Learning more about publishing…from friends and strangers. This life is nothing if not an adventure.

And thank you, everyone who has agreed to read and critique my manuscript. 

Even if I die a little inside when I push "send" and let it loose. Because more than anything, it's REALLY important that I know the truth.

"Avoid Cliques, Gangs, Groups"

6.     Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

From Zadie Smith’s “10 Rules of Writing”, which was linked to BrainPickings last weekend. Resolutions. Wisdom. 

I have visited and worked in prisons for a lot of years, and have the privilege of holding many stories in my soul. Stories of hurt. Of hurting. Of moving forward, making some sense of the twists and turns, the mortality and the pain. And of connection, and healing, and joy.

The lines blur between the hurt of those most affected by crime – the incarcerated and those harmed. I'm still trying to tease out why some do not go on to rain pain on others. I feel wonder at the souls inside who get up each day and do their work. How we can encourage “No More Victims”. And the stories stacked up in my brain.

I got lots of writing done at Point No Point this year, inspired by the beach walks

I got lots of writing done at Point No Point this year, inspired by the beach walks

From those stories, this one rose up. A place where honesty and safety meant freedom – and vulnerability. Where authenticity and a great setting have led writing coaches to ask “Does that place exist in Canada?” Only in my imagination…so far.

Well, a week ago my writing group gave me their all, from within the walls of a medium security prison. Offered a vulnerability from their stories, and opened a path for me that enriches this story. And last night they gave me more.

Walking from my car after an amazing night, I was humbled. Awed. That 15 years later, I continue to work to bring this story to life. It was a gift to me a long time ago, and life played out so that sometimes there were years I didn't look at it, but the story persisted. I'm privileged that they are willing to give so much.

Sometimes I can't believe it is happening...almost finished. The support and space for doing this is amazing. I'm not feeling oppressive stress, just some self-imposed tension to get it out...soon.

Because good enough is enough.
The story deserves to be read.

This year. This year Beth’s story will be done – and published.

Because of my clique, group, gang.

So while I agree with Zadie Smith in principle, some cliques, groups and gangs have definitely improved my writing, my storytelling.

And those men and women deserve a big piece of the credit for helping me to both discern and articulate the truth in the story.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.


PS Find yourself a writer’s group that offers feedback, and encourages your craft. Truly. It’s been a game-changer for me.

Imagine Justice...

The Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC link) encouraged artists to Imagine Justice during Restorative Justice Week (November, 2015). Their website says that in recognition of the Tenth Anniversary of the Justice Storytelling Quilt, they launched the Imagine Justice Art Exhibition call for submissions.  The call for submissions asked people across Canada to submit pieces of art thematically connected to restorative justice.  The submitted works are displayed in on online gallery. They also said “CCJC will be appointing a volunteer jury to award contestants for the highest judged submissions.”

Imagine Justice, credit

I entered this contest, both to receive feedback on my writing and to share a piece of my upcoming novel. CCJC chose to post all of the artwork anonymously, so there is no clear evidence it is me, so you’ll have to believe me! Their Manager tells me “We decided not to include names on the art gallery because many of the pieces were submitted anonymously, or people expressed a preference not to have their names published. It is our hope that by focusing on the works’ titles and artist statements, the gallery serves its purpose of presenting new ideas about justice even if artists are not named.”

So, I share with you my submission, which is two of my upcoming chapters (with some narrative to link them together). Yes, they are mine. (And a part of this blog is to keep the evidence clear that they are.) I hope you enjoy my work, and especially the work of the other artists.

I look forward to the results of the adjudication as well, and in the interim, welcome your feedback!

I’m half-way through this current rewrite. I expect to publish the completed novel in 2016.

Now I’m off to WRITE!

This Day We WRITE!

Welcome to Just Living, a fictional half-way house that occupies much of my creative juice. I've been figuring out how to tell the story for more than ten years, and it's getting better. 

That's what I'm striving for...better...until it's good enough.  And then I'll be publishing it, and sharing it.

First blush of spring in Mission by me.

First blush of spring in Mission by me.

It's the story of Beth, a reluctant seminarian who is seeking a meaningful life. Harsh judgement about the church she grew up in, her father, a minister, and institutions of authority leave her feeling both superior and incompetent all at the same time.
She learns about life, and being real and being honest from the ex-prisoners she works with, who have experienced great harms and have hurt others.

And along the way, she hopes she makes a difference.

It's a story about restorative justice, and spirituality, about becoming, and compassion. Tragedy. Love.
All about humanity.

And it's exciting. I hope some of you creative writers out there will join me, and share your tricks of the trade, and what keeps you writing.

What are you curious about?