I’ve just sent off my most recent novella, An Inconvenient Gamble, to the editor. She’ll read the manuscript, take notes and in a week or two send me suggestions on how to improve it.
I like that part of the writing process, the collaboration with someone who learns my story well. The arguing about plot ideas and words invigorates and often makes me laugh.
But my editor will not be the first person to read the manuscript. I get through the writing life with a little help from my friends because no woman is an island and we need each other.
Cliches aside, writers need people to help them present their best work to editors. Here’s an overview of how, why and who helped me–and perhaps this will spur you to enlist helpful others in your writing career.
The obvious: computer tools.
I always feel triumphant if I don’t have any grammar errors. They just underline your errors without comment–very helpful.
Thank you, Microsoft Word spell and grammar check!
The first and closest reader of An Inconvenient Gamble was my personal patron of the arts, Robert. He sat next to me at his own computer as I wrote and he listened cheerfully–always laughing at the right spots–as I read each chapter aloud to him. He helped with the occasional plot points–not necessarily with his specific idea, but in allowing me to talk out my ideas and thus work through what I wanted to say.
He also took me out to dinner several times.
Experts in your story’s subject matter.
My niece, a veterinarian, answered detailed questions about livestock and corrected several significant errors I planned for my story. An Inconvenient Gamble takes place on a horse farm and I needed pertinent details about the delivery of a foal.
Maura not only sent me an entire page of “ways horses can get sick and die,” but she also corrected a major mistake. “No one in their right mind breeds a horse to give birth in November. That would be the last month anyone would use.”
Bummer. That event needed to take place in November. “How about a cow?”
“Cows can be born year round. That would work.”
A practitioner of your lead character’s passion.
Mandi has a degree in English from Sonoma State University, loves to read, and posts photos of her horse on Facebook all the time. I asked her to read the story and correct any horsemanship errors.
I had several. Here’s what she said about one:
“‘Carried away, she urged Caesar on and when they reached the paddock fence, he jumped it in effortless flight.’ I love this sentence, but it needs slight altering. Any horseback rider knows one of the top rules is to never run a horse home/to the barn. For one things, you should be cooling the horse down, but the main reason for this rule is because it teaches the horse bad habits.”
I didn’t know that, but it’s now been changed in the story line. Thanks, Mandi.
Someone who can read your story without a bias (or who won’t overlook yours).
I sent an early draft of the story to a reader friend who actually doesn’t like the genre. She’s a former English teacher, however, and I can count on her to catch any major writing errors and to comment on the story’s logic.
I went back and read through all the references to the “no-good traitor” dog, who was lazy, dragged herself off the porch, didn’t protect the heroine, and never came when called.
I’d meant to be ironic, but I could see Linda’s point. I rewrote sections so that Sal the dog improved over the course of the story and was a good farm dog by the end. Talk about needing a character arc!
Readers in your target audience/age group.
Other readers included my daughter Carolyn who thought the plot went “really fast;” Kim who enjoyed all the references to Morgan’s Men and thought they added depth to the story; Leah who described it as “cute;” and Rachel who just loved it.
The affirmation helped. Thanks, ladies!
Sitting at the computer for long hours to write the story is a solitary pursuit, but we need friends to point out our errors, make us rethink our plot, challenge us on tone, and cheer us on.
How have your friends helped you?
Did I miss anybody?