Ever had this happen?
You have a great idea, you’re on a tear, you’re particular inspired by a tear-jerking movie, you’re drunk (ahem) or just delirious because this is the third day you’ve gotten less than 4 hours sleep. You go to your computer and write something at breakneck speed, and you’re convinced this is the greatest thing you have ever produced. You finish the piece, sigh happily and hit Print, then go (back) to bed to revel in that feeling, that joy, that knowledge: You Are A Great Writer.
Oh, the pain of the mornings.
Now imagine a slightly different scenario. You’ve labored on something for days/weeks/months/YEARS and you know it’s the best thing you can do. You’ve gone through it dozens of times, found typos, found inconsistencies, realized that perhaps this line where Kaylee screams “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!” (a) reads like she’s a psycho or (b) is perhaps a tad on the melodramatic side or (c) is a placeholder you wrote because that is in fact what she’s looking for but you planned to come back later and make it a little less like an infodump/less freakishly awful. And then you forgot about it and on the seventh re-read you found it.
And suddenly you think, “What else have I left in there that I forgot about?” If you have a long piece, you just can’t remember all the places you do something like that.
What to do?
Beta readers. Readers are incredibly important. And make sure it’s someone who won’t smile and say, “I loved it!” Because as good as that little ego stroking may feel, ultimately it doesn’t help. I assure you, agents and editors will not smile and say “I loved it!” when they come upon someone shrieking, “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!”
Now, it’s also a big favor to ask, having someone read a completed 100,000-word manuscript. Friends will often do it for several reasons: they’ve heard you talk about this piece for days/weeks/months/YEARS and they’re curious. They’d like to write, but never have. They’re good readers. Or perhaps they have nothing else to do. But nine times out of ten, their feedback isn’t going to be that great. Why? Simply because they don’t do this very often.
A better option is to have people reading what you’re writing as you go. It’s less painful to read six pages, rather than two hundred fifty. The reader can also pay closer attention to little things. It’s hard for your readers to get the big picture (actually, nigh on impossible) but…because you have also read their submissions as the weeks go by, they wn’t be as offended when you ask them to read the whole thing in a big gulp.
I will talk more about the writing groups I’ve been part of…later.