Happy New Years!
It’s been a while, my last post being the end of August and a year after I started this website. With 2019 here, I thought an update was in order. I would have done it sooner but it has taken me a while to get back up (a nod to the post’s title). But I’m back on my feet and ready to go. Now the update:
If you recall I had nearly rewritten The Edge of Snow and Dust from beginning to end, and was asking for beta readers to help review the novel from a story perspective before I hired an editor to work on the mechanics. The project would start on September 1st and end on Halloween. From my research, you should give your beta readers a month to read your story, to factor in their own lives. Since my word count was higher than the average (Mine weighing in at 158,000; the average 100,000) I gave them an extra month.
Halloween, that was the mark. If I was going to have time to incorporate the beta readers comments, give it to an editor, and then correct what they noted to release it in time for Black Friday then the 31st of October was the latest I could wait. With that date circled, I sent out the manuscript to everyone whom volunteered to be beta readers. I broke up the novel into three parts. (Three rounds in the ring, that’s all I need.)
The first part was reading the Prologue to Chapter 3. If the first part didn’t catch my beta readers than it was best to know as quickly as possible. I asked for responses by the end of the first week as I was on that tight deadline. Out of the seven, I got four responses. Most didn’t seem to have any problems with the story and were noting specifically the grammatical errors. That was understandable as I noticed them too during my own self-editing. I tried to lean them more towards the character and stories but as my girlfriend noted, sometimes the right grammatical error can take someone out of a story. I took their circling the errors however as a good sign. Bad sticks out, if they aren’t commenting on the characters or story then thumbs up. (Those jabs, they’re strong but I can handle them. Just have to keep my guard up and keep pushing.)
The second stage (Round 2, ding!) was the first half of the novel. Through coincidence or talent (rooting for the latter) the midpoint was a great cliffhanger for the beta readers. On the 7th, a week after starting the beta testing, I sent out the first half. This gave me time to continue refining the second half, most of it technical stuff such as dialogue tags, further descriptions of certain locations or characters, and any plot holes that were in my mind but not on the paper.
Each week I would go over the second half and each week I would hear nothing from my beta readers. No questions on story structure that may be confusing, or characters not quite visually fleshed out, nothing. My girlfriend, Lord bless her, had to hear me every couple of days speculate on what was going on. Was my novel that good? Was it so bad no one wanted to tell me? Did they receive the emails? Then September 30th comes, a full month has passed since I’ve sent out my story and I’ve heard nothing. So I contact the beta readers for a quick check in, just any update on their progress. (What happened, that right hook came out of nowhere. I think I’m cut just above the eye, but I can still see. I’m alright.)
I emailed and messaged all my beta readers and saw notifications that they had seen or read my messages. A full day goes by and no one response. Not a “hey I’ll email you as soon as I can” or “at work, text ya tomorrow”. Just silence. Silence added to the previous weeks of silence. I start to panic: maybe it is terrible! I look over my storyboard, my character notes, plot points, looking for where everyone may have ran into an issue. One month was enough time for most fantasy novels at a 100,000 words. I had given them a month to only read half of mine, so about 80,000. They should have been done with the first half, or close anyway.
It isn’t until I inform them that I’ll look for more beta readers, that the originals respond. I learn from some that they haven’t read the 5th Chapter. They had covered the first three in a week and then over the course of a month barely read the forth? The others say their reading it but nothing more than that. Still no feedback, not even an “Hey, Anila is a cool name”. I scramble to find more beta readers, anyone willing to take on the crunched deadline of only 30 days instead of 60. (I’ve taken some serious blows, a few good shots to the gut. My legs are jelly and my hearings muffled but I’m still standing waiting for the bell. There it is. Round 3 let’s go.)
By mid October only two had made it to the last step, the second half of the manuscript. I keep being told by everyone else they are going to make the deadline. I offer them bailouts: just tell me where you are now, answer the questionnaire based on that and I’ll take it from there. They all say the same, they don’t need a bailout, they’ll make the deadline, they still had however many days left to get there. But the analytical side of my mind just kept running the numbers. If you couldn’t read 80,000 in 30 days, how are you going to cover that in two weeks, now one week, now a few days? What I kept hearing was “just been busy”. (That jab known as ‘busy’ is keeping me at a distance and yet I keep eating them).
I just needed feedback, any kind from any where. Maybe everyone stumbled at the same point. One chapter, one section of track missing or broken. If I could just fix it. Keep the train rolling, make the deadline. I just needed someone to point me in the right direction, hell, any direction. (That cut’s bleeding pretty bad. I can’t see out my left anymore, don’t panic. Breathe, keep those nerves in check.)
Halloween comes. Midnight goes. Wait! I said they had two months. Halloween is still October. Still within two months. November 1st, 11:59 pm, that’s the true deadline.
11:59. . . midnight. 12:01 . . . 12:30 . . . 1am. (I think my rib broke, I can’t catch my breath)
Nothing from anyone.
My girlfriend comes into the living room and sees me staring at my story searching for a truth somewhere. People mentioned it was good, good is not great. Some mentioned it was great, but they would finish great.
(I’ve taken too many blows, can’t hear my corner anymore, what do I do, where do I go?)
She tells me her sister is on the last few pages. That’s right! I begged her sister to read it three weeks ago. She was one of the two that asked for the second half. My girlfriend tells me she will give me her feedback the next day, including filling out the questionnaire. The news catches me like the ropes of a boxing ring. I lean back against it, let it catch me. With it I can find my footing a push forward. (Hold on a few days, there’s still a few seconds left in the round, I can win this fight.)
The next day comes and my girlfriend tells me she just forwarded her sister’s email. (Here we go, just as coach taught me. Square your feet and press into the ball of your foot. Twist at the waist, generate the power there. Keep your punch in alignment) I open the email and two key points stick out among the well thought out review, “First half is boring, the second half feels rushed”. (I never even saw the punch. It lands square against my temple and everything goes dark. Boring. The second punch comes in so fast I barely register it. A deep blow to the gut. Rushed.)
Those two words are the death blows of a book. You never want it rushed and certainly not boring. The review drops me to the mat. My girlfriend tries to catch me. She tries to match up what her sister says with points in the story, trying to triage the damage. But each wound she finds has already compromised another vital part. Each filled out answer is like a referee counting me out. I take a day to process the information.
My girlfriend comes in and sees I have spread all my material across the table, a huge six by four folding table my dad and I built. My storyboard, my plot graph, my reference material, and the pictures of the main characters, only one item is missing from the table: the manuscript. When I looked at it I saw that fight, that boxing match. On it was my blood and sweat from five years of working on it. But it failed me. Each blow I took not just from the beta readers, but from all those before I had given a portion or section of the book to and they failed to read it, compounded into a devastation defeat. I was going to miss my deadline. Even if I spent every waking moment revising and restructuring the story, I would not make it.
In boxing, a Standing Eight Count, is a rule in place to give a boxer a moment to collect themselves before continuing. It doesn’t matter if you get up the moment you drop, or take a knee and rest for a moment, you have to wait eight seconds. Those eight seconds would put me pass the deadline. At 5,000 words a day it would be possible to at least get it done by mid December but with an editor taking two to four weeks, Christmas was impossible. For context, 5,000 words a day is twice the rate of Steven King who has a lifetime of experience. This is my first novel.
So I took those gloves, that manuscript, and hung them up. It’s done. I zipped the file and sent it to my backup drive. I put the paper copies in a box and carried it down to the storage unit. David Mamet, a playwright, said you can’t get good at writing unless you are willing to create something, put it out there, and fail. And fail I did.
I gave myself a week to come to terms with that failure. And to be honest with you, I still haven’t, not entirely. But that’s for another entry and maybe I’ll post it for you. After that week I stripped my backboard of all my notes and started with a single note card: Act-1 Scene-1. I started from the beginning with no strings attached to the past. I gathered up all my old notes and put them in a box and dropped it right beside the manuscript. I adopted a whole new style to writing, from plot gardening to character creating to prose styling. Like moving to a new gym, I started fresh with no connection to the old form. And it’s worked out.
I have written better and faster than ever before. I covered more in three weeks than I had the whole year. My characters can breathe, they react more naturally, the story flows more naturally. I cannot give you a deadline because I do not have one. What I can tell you is I plan on not only publishing it in 2019 but a second book as well. And that is just the start. With this new approach I have the ground work for several more books, including romance, drama, sci-fi. I can promise you they will be written and published. As long as I stick to this new “training regimen”. So stay tune readers, I may have lost the first fight but I’ll be back in the ring soon with stronger and tighter book.