Do I Really Need a Beta Reader or Critique Partner?

Short answer: YES! Beta readers and critique partners are essential for your revision process.

But, before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s define these people.

Beta Reader: these are people who read your manuscript as a reader first (not a writer). They will give you their reactions as a reader and give basic feedback, but not critique specific writing elements.

Critique Partner: these are people who critique your work as a writer. They will dive into elements such as character development, plot, story structure, pace, tone, and so forth. And note the ‘partner’ here–it’s usually a reciprocal relationship where you exchange manuscripts or chapters and critique each other’s work.

So, now that we’ve got the definitions down, why did I put such an emphatic, bolded, underlined YES? Well, let’s imagine you have a finished manuscript. First of all, WELL DONE. You’ve written a book! That’s a huge achievement. Maybe you’ve done some revisions. Maybe you’re ready to throw it in front of an agent’s eyes.

Wait! Before you do that, throw it in front of someone else’s eyes, say, like a beta reader or a critique partner. So far, only you have read your manuscript. You know all the ins and outs, you know the characters as well as you know yourself. And that’s part of the problem. You need an outside perspective to lay some eyes on those pages. You are too close to your plot and characters that you may completely miss something that is unclear or makes no sense outside the author’s brain.

I would suggest finding critique partners and beta readers. First, critique partners to really break down technical parts (flow, tone, structure, character arc) that might need to be reviewed. And how does one find a critique partner? I found some of mine at a writing group in Los Angeles. I’ve found others at writing conferences (which are frequent and across the globe, virtual now because of COVID, but in-person pre and post pandemic!). I know some have found their critique partners on Twitter! Your friends might even be writers and you don’t even know it. Keep in mind that this partnership is almost always reciprocal, so expect to critique their chapters and/or entire manuscript while they do yours.

After critique partners come beta readers (though there’s no written rule on which come first). Again, these are people who are reading your manuscript as a READER, not a WRITER. They can point out parts that are slow, or what was confusing or unclear, whether the emotional sections hit right, and overall if they were satisfied with the story.

I’ve found both types of readers invaluable. I say to you honestly I have no idea where I’d be without my critique partners and beta readers (thank you if you’re reading this!). Having one critique partner or beta reader is good, but I would suggest aiming for three different sets of eyes on your story. Everyone comes with a different background and different experience and that diversity is valuable. Someone might catch what a different critique partner missed. Remember, if we want our books to be read by the masses, it’s good to get more than one opinion on your novel before it goes in front of an agent.

All in all, having someone else read and even critique your work can elevate your manuscript to the next level. It’s worth the time, effort, and social interaction. I promise.

Do you have beta readers and/or critique partners? How has your experience been?


Write It Once

I have a habit of overwriting. Like, a nasty habit of it. To prove this habit, I have thus far cut 90,000 words from my novel. Yes, that’s a novel I’ve cut out of a novel. Like I said–nasty habit. It’s a habit I’m trying to quit and break out of. I’ve found some luck through revision and editing and especially through my critique partners in my writing group. I’ve started to learn the trick of not overwriting: write it once.

What do I mean by, “write it once?” I mean, use one phrase, description, dialog piece to capture what you’re saying–not all three. It can feel like it’s flowing out of you, that one descriptor naturally leads to another, but know that you only need to say it in one way. It is much more powerful to do so.

For example:

“I can’t go on,” Koyta panted. The fatigue dripped from her like the sweat rolling down her cheek. She was tired. 

See how I said the same thing in three different ways? What if I just chose one and refined it so that it said exactly what I wanted to say? Then, it wouldn’t be muddled between other sentences trying to say the same thing.

It takes time to recognize this in your work, but once you do, you can start editing it out. You can decide what works best and what the strongest way to say something is. Really, this is the lesson of trusting the reader. Trust that the reader will get what you’re trying to say. You don’t have to literally spell it out for them. Say it one way with good writing–they’ll get that she’s tired.

Writing Groups: Find ‘Em and Join ‘Em

I’m aware that a lot of writers are introverts. I am one of those introverts. It doesn’t mean we don’t like people (well…), it just means that it saps our energy a bit faster. Our alone time is precious to us and helps us refuel. We spend time alone writing, reading, and improving our craft.

However, as an introvert to fellow possible introverts (or anyone), I am encouraging you to go out there and spend time with other people. Not just any people, but writing people! Nine months ago, I joined a local writing group via Meetup. I was so nervous to go. I don’t love meeting new people. What if it was bad? What if I wasn’t good enough? I swiped those worries aside, signed up for the group, and showed up.

Spoiler alert: it ended up being fantastic. I don’t have many writer friends, and few local to me, so this was a rich find. The group was diverse in writing style, genre, people, and more. We met every Sunday, get a tea or coffee, and write for spurts of 45 minutes (3-4 rounds). In between, we would talk about what we were working on, ask questions, and generally feel supported.

It has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my writing “career.” I felt supported, invigorated, and generally got a lot done. I’ve made connections that I will keep even as I leave California. There was a spin-off group from said writing group that focused on revisions which–at my point in my novel writing–has been incredibly fruitful.

tldr? Here are the reasons you should join a writing group:

  • Meet like minds and make connections
  • Feel supported and inspired
  • Be productive and be held accountable for doing something
  • Kindred spirits!
  • Carved out time to solely work on your WIP
  • Growth as a writer and a person

How can you find a writing group? I found mine on–there were actually several on the website to choose from. It all depends on your area. You could also check out local coffee shops, newspapers, and Craiglists for said groups. You could even create one!

So, be brave, put some real clothes on and venture out into the world to find your writing family. I promise you won’t regret it.

#WritingCommunity on Twitter

When I say the word, “Twitter,” what do you think of? Feverish rants? Lethal trolls? Inane hashtags? I mean, you’re not wrong. Twitter has always been my unfiltered social media. Not a lot of my personal friends are on it. It’s where my brain goes to relieve itself. It can be utter nonsense, random thoughts of the day, and so forth. However, recently, Twitter has become a lot more to me than just a brain dumpster.

My dear writers, there is actually a great reason to be on Twitter. And it’s called the #WritingCommunity (other aliases include #WritersCommunity and the infamous #WritingCommmunity–spelling is hard, okay?). It’s a hashtag, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a sprawling, diverse group of writers across the world. And everyone (for the most part) is WELCOMING! Twitter is a scary place but the #WritingCommunity is not. Every day, someone is doing a fellow writer follow thread so that we can all connect.

It’s full of writing prompts, writer woes & frustrations, good news, bad news, and just a real sense of community. And everyone is different, too. Bubbly writers, dark writers, experienced writers, and new ones. I’ve found a lot of writing tips, contests, resources, articles, and help there.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. The act itself is solitary. You may not have writer friends (I know I don’t have many), but you can find a wealth of writer friends on Twitter. If you’re writing, revising, editing, or even thinking of anything like it, I encourage you check out the #WritingCommunity. It’s full of lovely people who can inspire you and commiserate with you. We’re always having fun even if our eyes and brains are bleeding from exhaustion and/or frustration.

Happy Writing! Follow me at @alanathehangry and I’ll follow you back.

NaNoWriMo 2018: Pull Up Your Sleeves

The most terrifying thing about Halloween (October 31st) is that NaNoWriMo comes the very next day, November 1. What is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month. It’s basically a program where you try to write 50k words by the end of November. I’ve written about it before. It was a huge launchpad for me to finish the novel that I’m now currently revising. It’s an incredible habit-creator and enforcer. But you can read about that here.

Though it is amazing, it is very scary and very hard. If you divide 50k by 30 you get 1667 words a day, rounded up. That’s a lot, but it’s doable. You need to be dedicated, disciplined, and thick-skinned. It ain’t gonna be easy. In fact, it’s going to be really hard. You’re going to want to quit. Don’t. Just pump the words out. Even if they’re total garbage. GET. IT. OUT.

What’s my NaNoWriMo idea? Instead of working on a sequel to my current novel or some other ideas I have, I’m going to be pursuing a story about a female vigilante. I originally imagined it as a graphic novel or comic book series, but a novelization won’t hurt. I eventually decided on this idea over the others because honestly, it was the one I could keep to a somewhat shorter length. The first draft of my last novel sat around 740 pages…Yikes.

November is going to be a busy month for me. Not only will I write 1667 words per day, I’ll also have my hands full with work on my already-written novel, which is currently undergoing its fourth revision. I’m going to be sending it out to a slew of beta readers (hi, someone please read it), finishing my fourth revision, and perfecting a query letter. I want my novel along with any accompaniments (like a query letter) to be ready to go by end of month. Terrifying. Not to mention, my full-time day job.

But we got this! Sometimes, the more you have going on, the more momentum you pick up. This is not to say that one should ignore health (mental and physical). You’ll still find me boxing every day and taking time for me, just in a more efficient manner. I’m excited and nervous. I bet this month will fly.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo 2018, what are you planning to write about? Good luck to all my writers out there! Let’s get to WORK!


Revision Woes & Learning How to Cut Words

I am now on my fourth revision of the novel I finished in late April of this year. It has gone through many cuts, re-writes, tweaks, and has certainly been shouted at by yours truly. I cannot convey how much I have struggled and learned throughout this process. I feel like a completely different writer and the way I look at writing has changed fundamentally.

I’ve been using a few tools to get through this revision process. I started out with Janice Hardy’s Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, which I’m still using today as I get through this fourth revision. It’s been instrumental in getting me to where I am today. She accounts for all different kinds of first drafts: incomplete drafts, plot-suffering drafts, and, most relative to me, too-long drafts.  I also read her Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) which completely changed the way I wrote and viewed others’ writing. Despite being a fairly simple topic on the surface, it was an eye-opener and game changer. Her work, in general, has been very helpful to me in becoming a better writer and all the savageries you must tuck under your belt to get there (kill your darlings).

I have cut 25,000 (25k) words from my novel. 55 or so pages, for those of you who think in those terms.I never thought I would be able to do that. I looked at my behemoth and I’m like I CAN’T CUT ANYTHING. But I could and I did. And I should have. The phrase, “kill your darlings,” doesn’t just refer to killing off characters. It means cutting beloved paragraphs, scenes, and entire chapters. It means coming to terms with the fact that although you love this scene, cutting it will probably make your entire body of work stronger. It’s been a very painful learning process, but I’ve come away stronger. I feel less indecision and remorse about cutting scenes because I know that being more concise and true to what it’s about will make the entire novel stronger.

Does it get easier? How do you do it? I think an understanding of why you’re doing it is first and foremost. Like previously stated, cutting all those extraneous bits of my novel made the story stronger. It’s like getting a haircut when you’re overgrown and overrun by split ends. Those split ends aren’t going to lead anywhere, they’re just distracting from what the entirety of your hairdo could be (if you chopped ’em off). Strange metaphor but, eh.

If a scene or chapter is particularly special or meaningful to me, or if I think it may be useful in another part (usually isn’t), I’ll tuck it away into my “Cuts” folder in my Scrivener file. That way, it’s not truly gone forever. It’s a secret way to make it hurt less.

I’m sure my book is still too long at this point. As I type this post, my manuscript is at 188,506 words, which is roughly somewhere between 358-539 pages, according to Scrivener. I’m going to continue with my revisions and continue to pare it down to size until it’s telling the exact message I want it to. I’m still going to be sending off to agents and publishers, because I feel ready, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop revising.

Anyhow, I hope my shared stories of my revision struggles and enlightenment can help you in some way. Please don’t hesitate to comment below with any questions or stories you have. Thanks for reading.

I Did It!

I did it. I finished the first draft of my novel on April 30, 2018–I’m a little late in sharing the news! It was around 11pm as I tip-tapped the last words. When I brought my hands away from the keyboard, re-reading the last sentence for the fifty-seventh time, many different feelings passed through me: elation, anxiety, pride, and nausea to name a few.

I started this book eight years ago (but as I talk about in my prior post, more so wrote it in the past 1.5 years) and I finished it. Sure, it’s just the first draft, but I finished the story. According to Scrivener (the word processor I use and highly recommend), it’s between 628-871 pages long depending on page size. Wow. I mean, look at my Twitter storm after I had finished!

Yeah, maniac, I know. But it was an incredible feeling. The endless days of putting words down on the paper, battling the doubt that nobody would ever want to read this garbage, and making sacrifices so that I could write–all my hard work and discipline actually led me to finishing my book. It still feels weird to say that almost a month later. Sometimes I even feel a little lost since I don’t have my daily word count to hit. But man, I did it!

What are the next steps? Ripping it up. Not literally, but through the wonderful process of editing! I have a list of “early readers” but none of them will be seeing this raw ugly first draft. Someone once said that your first draft is you telling the story to yourself and the next drafts are you telling it to others. I need to chop it up, pretty it up, and make sure there’s enough character and plot development.

First things first, I’m going to be just doing a read-through of my monstrosity to make sure it flows, has a consistent tone, and that it reads right. I’m going to be using Janice Hardy’s Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft along the way after I do my first read-through. I’m scared and excited.

Well, that was my shout-out to the world to declare that I DID IT! Thanks for reading.

How NaNoWriMo Developed My Writing Habit

The story I have been writing has been in my mind for around 8 years now. You might be saying, “That’s a long time, Alana, you haven’t finished it by now?” Well, for one, I am almost finished with the first draft (eeeee!) and two, I wasn’t exactly writing it that whole time.

I distinctly remember jotting down my idea of the story and the world it lived in during a philosophy class my Junior year of college in New York. The world and characters started showing themselves to me and I was desperately trying to write them down in the margins of my notebook. Luckily, I got a little bit more serious than that. For a while, it was just jotting down notes, seeing what was coming out of my head.

Fast forward to me out of college in Boulder, Colorado. I took this novel idea (hehe, get it?) and put something into action. I got The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt and put in a lot of hours to develop my characters, giving them real fears, hopes, and dreams. I see it as a huge foundation to my book as it stands today. Would my characters have been as in-depth if I didn’t use the book? Probably not, I don’t know. Also, spoiler alert, I didn’t finish writing my novel in 90 days. I don’t think I even finished Alan Watt’s book, but it was invaluably helpful to getting into my world and characters. However, I didn’t actually get many words down in my actual novel at this point. I think, perhaps, I had written a few pages (that still remain today), but it was more brainstorms and sketching out all the pieces to my characters.

Progress forward and I find myself back to my hometown of Los Angeles, California, needing a job and lacking clear direction. My novel takes a backseat to a lot of other things. I have too many dreams swirling in my mind and they confuse me so that I chase none. A quote I learned from a philosophy class floats up into my mind…

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” – William James

And ain’t that the truth. I went and listed all of the things I would love to do, that I believe would be fulfilling and also able to help others through it. I had (still have) some very special people in my life who helped me map out my dreams and taught me to allow myself to believe in me. And, very eventually, (maybe two and a half years in?) I decide that I am going to chase that novel. The idea that still sticks with me today that is almost spent in the over 600 pages I’ve now written. That act of decision was so incredibly uplifting and powerful. I felt purpose and direction. Even if nothing was going to come of this, I was still going to write a book.

It was still a struggle, don’t get me wrong. I set writing goals each month and didn’t accomplish them. I still felt distracted while knowing that I needed to focus on it. I inched my way more and more through my story and put fresh (figurative) ink down on the page that had run dry for too long. But still, the story would never be done if I went at such a slow rate. Daily writing wasn’t really a habit. It needed to be more ingrained in me.

I’m not sure how I discovered it, but some time in the fall, I discovered National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. And I was like, yes! A novel-writing month, I should participate in however you participate! The idea of NaNoWriMo is to get participants to write a 50,000 novel by the end of the month. Yeah, it’s a lot and terrifying. Did I finish my novel by the end of the month? Um, no. But did I develop the absolutely beautiful habit of writing 1000+ (1600, to be exact) words a day? YES! And it fundamentally changed my writing life.

I laugh when I look back on my pre-NaNoWriMo goals. For example, one was “2200 words a week.” A week! I can do that in a day now. And it really is in big part to NaNoWriMo. It was a grind, it was a struggle, but those 30 days carved out a beautiful habit of purposeful, daily writing. Pen to paper, finger to keyboard every day, even when inspiration runs flat.

After NaNoWriMo, I continued writing at least 1200 words a day, watching my novel flourish from the beginning to just about the end. It’s a habit, it’s part of me, it’s going to bring me to my goal of finishing this first draft and beyond. Again, even if this book never gets published, I will have written a book!

Of course, other things helped to refine and improve this habit (such as this Udemy course), but to me, NaNoWriMo really kicked me off my trembling feet and helped me run with my writing. So thank you, NaNoWriMo, and I’ll see you again later this year, hopefully with the next of this book series (can that be a thing if even one isn’t published?).

Step One: Start a Writing Blog

Hi there. My name is Alana and I am a writer. Or at least, I’m trying to write a book. I made this blog to put down words (just one more word) in order to sort out messy thoughts tumbling through my head.

What’s up with the title — just one more word? Well, as I’ve been trying to write this book, I usually have a daily word count goal. During the tougher days when all I wanted to do was flee the keyboard, I’d chant to myself, “just one more word” until the story flowed out. It also refers to my incessant desire to say “just one more word” in my musings to you until I drive the point dead. Also who doesn’t have “just one more word” to say? Anyhow…

I’ve had this story (when does something turn into a novel?) in my head for around six years now (yikes) and started developing it five years ago, but only this year did I really start changing words to pages. Many pages, in fact! It’s a novel (?) in the Fantasy genre in a world that I made up. It all focuses on one young woman on an arduous quest to reclaim her spirit and, in the process, find out who she really is.

Writing is scary, but the scariest thing of all is pledging yourself to commitment of actually writing the book. You’re not just spouting out responses to writing prompts here and there, you are writing a book. It’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. It’s scary to admit to myself, to others, to my dog–that I want and am trying to become an author! Yikes. Talk about vulnerability. Thoughts that goes through one’s head:

How dare you presume that you–of all people–can write a book?!

You must be pretty full of yourself to think you’ll succeed when so many have failed. 

What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? 

This is garbage. Please let me light it on fire.

Maybe I can do this.

Why are you here? No clue. What can you expect? Ramblings with no goal and probably won’t go anywhere. However, if you can handle my griping and dramatic musings, we might have a little fun together.