May 2018: What Quiets the Mind

Courtesy of mohamed_hassan @ pixabay.com

Hey, everybody! K. A. Parker here with another monthly update full of thoughts and musings.

Ready? Here we go.

My First Beta Readers

I’d like to begin this post by talking about beta readers for two reasons–the first being that I got my beta reader report back for my novel, and the second being that this is my first time using a beta reader service as a writer period which is bringing up interesting thoughts and feelings in my brain.

For those that don’t know, the term beta reader is the information technology and software equivalent of a beta tester–just for books. A beta reader’s job, much like an alpha reader’s job, is to “break” the book at weak spots so it can be put back together again before it goes out into the public. Most of the time, beta readers focus on macro issues of plot, character, and setting. Some might feel inclined to look at style and grammatical errors as well. For the most part, they act like the reader who has just picked up a book off the shelf before it’s on actual shelves.

For my three beta readers, I went with Entrada Publishing’s service, and as a first-time purchaser, I was quite pleased. The readers were prompt, thorough, and varied in their responses toward my work-in-progress. And with that variation in response, I’ve come to learn quite a few things about readers and writing in general.

1. You can’t please everyone, and that’s okay.

Anyone who’s ever thought about writing as a career or taken any sort of writing class has probably felt at some point that they have to please everyone that critiques them. If Johnny tells you he wished there were more vampires in chapters 8, 9, and 11 and he makes a compelling case to do so, you’re going to upset Sally. Writing requires readers, and some of those readers just won’t get your work. So, the first reader of your work that you should aim to please is you.

2. Don’t dismiss all criticism.

That said, no writer should dismiss every little bit of criticism that comes their way. If Sally makes a fair point about the zombies that happens to counter Johnny’s opinion, who thought the zombies were fine, take Sally’s opinion into your revision and don’t worry about Johnny too much. If Sally gets what you’re trying to do with the zombies and Johnny doesn’t, listen to her. Having beta readers showed me that I am allowed to pick and choose what makes sense for revision and what doesn’t. Easier said than done, yes, but it’s necessary.

3. Criticism will reveal your Achilles’ heel.

When receiving any kind of criticism from multiple readers, pay attention to the areas that they agree on. If Johnny, Sally, and Theodore all say that there’s something wrong with your protagonist, then there is probably something wrong with your protagonist. All three of my beta readers mentioned how the pacing of my novel felt “fast,” meaning that I should greatly consider slowing things down and stretching things out to avoid any ensuing confusion. How much I stretch things out and what I change ultimately depends on me, but it would behoove me to heed their advice.

4. Wash, rinse, and repeat in context.

At the same time, I need to remember to take their comments in context. Since I’m writing a fantasy novel, my beta readers are likely to expect something more leisurely, meaning the pace would be slower. Defying the convention, therefore, could be to my advantage or my disadvantage. But if that defying of convention ruins my story, all bets are off. Likewise for Writer X’s equivalent of Johnny, Sally, and Theodore, they shouldn’t take criticism at face value. Writer X should really weigh the beta reader’s critiques and the explanations behind them.

So, yeah. Things are going good with the novel. Of course, I say all these things I’ve learned about having beta readers, but putting it all into practice is easier said than done. I fear that the extent of the edits I need to do for this novel will likely push the publication date for Karetu later in the year instead of June. But I won’t give up. I can’t. I’m far too close to getting my foot in the door. And if you’ve got your own project going on, you’re close, too. You can do it!

And speaking of projects…

I’m kind of starting another one on the side.

Building a D&D Campaign

So, I’m a DM in a D&D campaign, and we just finished up the free adventure module, which means that it’s now up to me to come up with maps and adventures. 70% of me is excited, 20% of me is scared I’m going to ruin everything, and the other 10% is thinking, “Why is my mind so quiet? Where is the crippling self-doubt? Where are the irrational stories? Is this who I really am?”

Like, I don’t know about you guys, but for as long as I can remember, my mind has always been firing at all cylinders–telling me messages that I would somehow hear but couldn’t decipher, making me doubt my choices, making me small and insignificant. Writing is one of the things that’s able to shut it up and let me have some peace and quiet to myself, but now I’ve discovered that D&D is another one of those things. There’s a writing aspect to it as well, but there’s also the social aspect, the memorization of rules, and the fact that week after week, I get to essentially move with my anxiety instead of away from it.

I’m not used to things being quiet and certain. Part of me wants to wait for the other shoe to drop, but that’s just buying into another false, rigid narrative. Like all things, there needs to be balance, but if anything, D&D is the perfect compliment to my solitary writing mode. It helps me think on my feet, and it lets me be creative and daring with an audience.

Maybe this quiet mind I have now is a good thing. Now, I can finally hear my own voice.

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