The Opinions, Critiques, and Reviews of Advance Readers

I already had this thought bouncing in my head when I logged on this morning. It’s why I logged on to make a post. Before I wrote it down, though, I had to go peek at the headlines of the other blogs I follow, and thought it was funny that Time of Nervous Waiting was sitting out there approaching this from a very different perspective. It’s not really a parallel, more like a perpendicular. (And that, folks, is about all the geometry I know).

Anyway…as I started writing this, I realized it needed to be two posts – one rife with opinion, and the other more advice-based. This is the advice half – you’ll need to hop over to my personal blog to read the opinion half.

When I first get a story idea – when it’s bouncing around in my skull and begging to be listened to – it’s in the format I want it to be in. It’s the story I want to hear, and it’s got the characters I want it to have. Frequently it even makes it into first draft form that way. And if I was only writing for me, it would stay that way forever. To say that I dislike revising my work would be a gross understatement.

But I’m not just writing it for me. I want other people to see my work. I want it to speak to them the way the original idea spoke to me, and I want to evoke emotions and build worlds that allow them to escape, even if it’s only for a little while. That, and I love the rush that comes from seeing my name in print.

That means during the revision process, I have to make changes and tweaks so the story appeals to other readers. I have to clarify things that make sense to me only because it’s my world. I have to edit, refine, define characters, and pour depth into the original thought. I don’t think like other people – everyone thinks differently, I’m not unique in that regard – so that means I need help figuring out what components are missing, convoluted, unneeded, you get the point.

If you’ve ever heard that you should have people read your work and give their opinions before you submit it, it’s true. That’s not advice you can ignore. I envy those writers who have a wide enough circle of friends that they can get honest feedback from people they know in real life. That doesn’t mean mom tells you it’s wonderful and gives you another piece of apple pie. It means George in accounting spends the bus ride home pouring over your words and then says, “Why did your protagonist jump? Where’s the passion in your relationship? And by the way, I absolutely loved your spy agency; it was so real to me.”

Even though George in accounting doesn’t care one way or the other for my angels, I’m fortunate enough to belong to two online critique groups that do exactly that for me. I don’t always agree with their opinions, but I wouldn’t be what I am today without them. Two and a half years ago when I first ‘met’ some of them, I thought my work was ready to go to press tomorrow. Yeah…it wasn’t. I would have gone through rounds and rounds of rejections from publishers and agents and never known why if I hadn’t learned to listen to them, and trust my own instinct about which advice to take and when.

I guess the point is – even if you’re the next George Orwell, William Shakespeare, or Danielle Steele – don’t believe it until you can find opinions you trust to confirm it. It may take some digging, but there are people out there who want to read and give advice on what you’ve written. If there weren’t, you wouldn’t have a market for your story, right? After all, that first draft is for you, the final draft is for everyone else.

Where do you go for opinions, reviews, and critique of your writing?

Write. Send. Repeat. The ‘Just Hit Send’ Formula

In response to my first-ever post here at WRA, our fearless leader Rebecca Laffar-Smith brought up a very important point: “If you don’t sit in your chair and put words to the page you’ll get nowhere as a freelance writer.”

Not only do you need to write to make a living as a writer, you must submit your work to editors, post it on blogs, or otherwise get it out there into paying markets. (I’m not going to address, here, people who write purely for the joy of it. While I respect that demographic for that decision, it’s not what I do.)

Sending off your finished work to editors – clicking the mouse over the send button on an email or, in rare cases, dropping a query letter or article in the mailbox — is not easy.  It is, in fact, the different between a professionally-published writer and a dilettante.

You’ll find all manner of advice about a freelance writing career on the Internet. My three basic tips can get beginners started.  But there’s more, too.

Writers must learn about market research, how to conduct interviews, how to stick to a writing schedule of some sort and – depending on your tolerance for disorder – even learn how to organize your work environment for maximum productivity. But none of those things, alone, will build a freelance writing career.

A writer could wake up at 6 AM every morning, research her dream publications over coffee and eggs, move to her clean desk in her Feng Shui’d office, and follow the plans on her daily calendar every single day for a year. A year later, unless those plans included writing an article and sending it off to an editor, this writer would still be unpublished and struggling.

At some point, that writer has to ask, “What’s keeping me from hitting send?” And we can look around our clean offices, immaculate homes, and piles of magazines neatly organized by genre and date, and realize we did all this as “productive procrastination.” (Doing something distasteful or scary to avoid doing something even MORE distasteful or scary.)

Hitting “send “is often the scariest part of our job. We may do anything to avoid it. We’ll re-read, proofread, re-write, proofread again. We’ll wash the floors. Scoop the cat box. Call friends. Find another source, interview them, and re-write our article again.

Sometimes writers need a helping hand. Sometimes, we need a friend to literally click the mouse button for us. Other times, we need a virtual kick in the butt to do it ourselves.

There’s a very supportive forum over at www.absolutewrite.com, where writers do exactly this for each other. We gravitate toward a thread called JHS, which stands for “Just Hit Send.”

I’m sure there are others. A friend just invited me to join a writers network called She Writes. I’m excited to see the possibilities there.

My point is, wherever you find inspiration and support – it’s important to have it! And the best writers’ network will remind you of the formula to build a successful freelance writing career.

Here it is. Read carefully.

“Write. Send. Repeat.”

In the JHS thread at Absolute Write, we check back frequently to let our colleagues know we did it and celebrations abound. We come back later, still, and share the outcome (an acceptance or a rejection). Rejections result in JHSing that idea to another editor, and a new, different idea to the first editor, again with the support of our writing pals.

If you’re serious about building a freelance writing career, I ask you:

Did you JHS today? If not, what’s holding you back?