Why CPs and Beta Readers Are So Important

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I started writing my own books when I was about 13/14 years old (it could have been before then because my memory is terrible sometimes). Back then, no one saw my writing apart from my best friend at the time and even then, she never offered a critique of my work. She just told me it was good or that she enjoyed it. Of course, I was practising, and I wasn’t as serious about publishing as I am now.

During my time at school, I wrote 3 completed novels, but I never edited them. Another idea always popped up to drag my attention away. There were also a number of ideas I started and never finished. When I completed my 4th novel in March of 2018, I thought that was the one. I started revising it, but then I got the idea for my dragon book. I couldn’t ignore this one because everything about it felt so right. I could see the world, the characters and where I wanted the story to go. I finished the first draft in 4 months and managed to find an incredible critique partner who has helped me along the way and become such an amazing friend in the process.

Working with A CP

My CP, Noelle, started reading my chapters while I was still writing, so she has literally been there since the beginning and has seen the messier stuff. I’ve sent chapters to her with little apologies and emails saying, ‘this is probably trash but here we go!’ However, she normally lets me know those doubts are just in my head and that for a first draft, it was pretty good. I suppose that’s the perfectionist in me making sure I get it mostly right the first time, even though I don’t outline. Don’t worry, I don’t understand it either.

Noelle has shown me when I use ‘and’ and ‘that’ too much, which I am slowly fixing as I go through my third draft and has been so supportive. She knows when I can do better, urging me on with comments along the lines of, ‘use your descriptive powers, show me what it feels like’ because I can admit that description is one of my strong suits when writing. When it comes to sentencing structure and pacing, her advice is invaluable in helping me improve. She is also my biggest supporter. She will scream in the comments when a plot twist occurs and tell me how much she loves my characters, so much so that she wants me to promise I won’t hurt them (which I can’t do, unfortunately – sorry Noelle).

Of course, there are things I need to work on, like all writers, but having a CP who looks at a story beyond the words on the surface is invaluable. All the advice she has given me sticks in my brain and has made my second and then third drafts even better. A CP also helps when there’s a plot point that you’re stuck on. Noelle helped me smooth out the kinks with the backstory of the enemy in my story and notified me when things might get tricky for a reader to understand. After all, I want this story to be as smooth as possible when I send it to agents for querying. They will want to know I can put in the work before I ever had an agent and that I’m taking this seriously.

While Noelle was my first CP, one of my beta readers has become another CP as her comments are so detailed and helpful. The more eyes on my manuscript, the better. However, when it comes to choosing a CP, make sure they are people you trust and who have similar views and tastes as you. It will make the process a lot smoother.

Taking It Up A Notch with Beta Readers

After smoothing things out in the second draft with the help of Noelle, I knew it was time to get other people to look at my words. This is when the beta readers come in. Personally, I chose four (making it 6 people in total who are helping me). For me, four is the perfect number as some of them don’t make a lot of comments, whereas others do. It also allows me to know when there is truly a problem with the book. If only one person picks up on something, it’s likely to just be their opinion, but if three of my betas pick up on something, I know it needs changing. However, that isn’t always the case. I had one beta reader let me know why my beginning might not make sense and suggested a way to change it (which I loved), but I wanted to run it by my other betas. They agreed, saying they hadn’t thought of it before and instead of sending them the second half after reading the first, I wanted to do a third draft so they could see if it flowed well. Two of my betas also suggested altering the character of Afira slightly, as well as having more of her voice in the story, and it made me realise it’s what I always wanted her to be like.

Another reason having beta readers is great is because it allows you to know when you’ve done something right. There have been certain scenes and sentences where all my beta comments were along the same lines. Whether that is telling me it shows great character or made them emotional, it lets me know I’m doing something right. On the days where I’m feeling down about my writing, I simply open up the document with their comments on and read it. Seeing those positive comments does so much for me mentally and gives me the drive to keep on going.

I know with the help of my betas I will be ready for querying in the summer, hopefully before I hit the first anniversary of working on this book (which is in June). I trust them all and listen to their comments. Criticism wasn’t something I dealt with well when I was younger (something my mum likes to remind me of), but I’ve grown a lot recently. Sometimes I get that ‘oh no, they hate it and think it’s terrible’ feeling when I see the comments, but after a little time, I realise they only say it because they want to help. Because they believe in me and this story and want to make it better. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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If you’re a writer and you’re at the point where you think you need some more eyes on the draft, go for it! Choose friends and people you trust who will be able to give both praise and criticism. It’s a great way to prepare you for if you do get an agent because it’s likely they’ll want you to rewrite parts or cut whole sections.

I’m happy to have found people who will hopefully stick around for all my other magical ideas!

How I’m Staying Motivated While Revising My Novel

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Back at the beginning of June, on the 8th to be exact, I got an idea for a YA Fantasy story about dragons, which is now called Beneath the Empty. I won’t go into too much detail because there’s been a lot of plagiarism lately, but it’s about a princess who has the ability to shift between her human and dragon form. With her dragon guardian by her side, she goes against her mother’s wishes and ventures into enemy territory to figure out why her kind are being killed. Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s how it gets started.

I finished the first draft in October and the second draft in February, but my work wasn’t done there. In that time, I got an amazing critique partner (CP) and several beta readers who have helped me so much. Their help has been invaluable, but I’ll go into detail about why you need a CP and beta readers in another blog post. With their detailed notes, I have started writing the third draft of my book, which is currently sitting at 54,000 words (it was 109,000 at the end of the second draft). So far, they have only read the first half as I was writing the second half while they read it, but after this round of revisions, they will be able to read it all, which makes me slightly nervous.

I’ve lost count on the number of times I have read through my book, but I know it so well and the changes I am making have made it much stronger. However, it hasn’t always been easy to stay motivated, especially when new ideas start to pop into my head (which happened a couple of weeks ago).

Creating an Outline

A few of my betas suggested big changes which would have meant rewriting most of the first act, which was daunting in itself. However, I embraced the changes because I knew it would make the story better and improve character development. One of the ways I managed to stay on track was creating a detailed outline for all the changes I would be making. It’s hard to keep your mind focused when you’re jumping around from document to document, so having everything in one place helped.

I started by going through all my beta readers notes, jotting down all the changes I needed to make, before visualizing what the story needed to be, what I wanted it to be. I wrote down where I needed to expand on details or cut any info-dumping, as well as drafting completely new chapters that hadn’t been there before. The outline I made helped keep me on track instead of feeling like I was losing my mind trying to sort it out.

Setting a Goal

This may not work for everyone, but I am a very goal-oriented person. When I set myself a goal, most of the time I am able to achieve it. When I was first drafting my book, I set myself a target of writing at least 1,000 words a day, which I suppose is the reason I was able to complete the 92,000-word draft within 4 months. Of course, I didn’t always write that much because life gets in the way sometimes and I also went through a low period when I was made redundant at my previous job. But it worked and I decided to set myself a similar goal for this draft.

If I want to finish this draft by the end of March, I need to be writing at least 2,500 words a day. Recently, I’ve been writing more than that because I am at the point in my revision where I can copy and paste certain pieces into the new draft as they don’t need any changes. This will be the case for the second half as I don’t have any beta notes for it, only a few CP ones, but some of the earlier changes will echo through the later chapters, causing dialogue and descriptions to change. At this point, I feel confident I will be able to send the new and improved document to my betas by the end of the month.

Listening to a Playlist

Unfortunately, I can’t write all day, not when I have a job to do and an art commission to finish. Even when I’m not writing, I am still thinking about my characters and the world, and having a playlist dedicated to my book helps a lot. The one I created for Beneath the Empty is full of haunting and cinematic songs which represent the book perfectly. Some songs make me feel emotional and others have me wanting to ride into battle on a dragon. Some have provided a lot of inspiration for certain scenes which wouldn’t have happened without it.

On the days where I’m feeling a little unmotivated to sit down in front of my laptop, I simply pop my headphones in and listen to the playlist. It’s amazing how much my mood can change by doing that and before I know it, I’m typing away. I don’t listen to it while I’m writing (I need to be able to hear the characters in my head, which doesn’t sound creepy at all) but I do when I’m stuck on something.

Rewarding Myself

When I finished the first and second draft of Beneath the Empty, I rewarded myself with my favorite meals, a bottle of wine and a new book. I’ll probably do something similar when I finish this draft, but in between, I give myself smaller rewards. When I reach the end of a chapter, I allow myself to indulge in my favorite treat or watch my favorite TV show. It helps keep me motivated, especially if I’m addicted to what I’m watching. Everyone loves to be rewarded, so don’t be afraid to do it for yourself when you’re writing.

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That’s all I have at the moment and so far, they have been working. I feel so excited every day when I finish work to get home and improve on this story. Before my current manuscript, I never edited a book, ever. I always got better ideas, but Beneath the Empty has my heart and I cannot wait until I can start querying it.

Wrapping Up The Week (25th June – 1st July)

I feel like this week has been one of the longest ever. It’s been a bit all over the place as I was ill, my boyfriend was ill, I was working from home for one of the days, and now I am ill again as my boyfriend has given me his cough/chest infection thing. Saying that, I have done quite a bit this week and I definitely managed to blog a lot more than I have been doing recently.

This weekend has gone by super quick and I only wish that I had done more reading. Although, I did have my friend over for a couple of hours yesterday, which was great. It was so good to talk about everything we had been up to as we worked out it was almost a year since we last hung out. I find that since she went off to uni and I stayed put working, we fell out of touch, but now that she is home we can hopefully she each other more. Especially as she lives literally ten minutes away in the next village.

Books I read and reviewed…

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Earlier on in the week I got around to writing my review for Thunderhead, which I can say is probably one of my favourite books of the year. If you haven’t read Scythe, then go pick that up first because this series only gets better. It’s one of those books that I can’t get enough of and it’s going to kill me to have to wait until next year for the final one. If you’re interested in reading my thoughts, then check out the review here. It’s a very long one because there is so much to talk about and I pretty much love everything about Thunderhead.

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I haven’t written a review yet, but I finished An Ember in the Ashes last night and it was amazing! So much was being said about this series and how great it is, so of course I had to give it a try and I am so happy I did. I love the Roman influence on the Empire and Blackcliff, as well as the two main characters whose perspectives tell the story. It’s hard to say who I loved more because I looked forward to reading about both of them. I can’t wait to tell you all about my views on the book in my upcoming review.

I am currently reading…

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Finally, I am starting this trilogy. So many people love these books (and I think they prefer them to ToG) and as it is Sarah J. Maas my expectations are pretty high for this one. It’s not too long at just over 400 pages, so I am hoping I can finish it before next weekend. I am starting to get into books about the Fae more now and can’t wait to see Maas’ take on them.

Posts from the week…

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Series I Gave Up On

WWW Wednesday – An Explanation

A pretty simple week with a couple of blog posts going out. Next week will be different as there will be my June wrap ups and July TBR lists which I can’t wait to get to. So many amazing books to read over the summer that I just can’t choose!

My WIP…

As I haven’t been feeling my best, I haven’t done a lot of writing over the last week. However, I am about 800 words away from reaching 30,000 words on my dragon WIP and I am so excited. I am just about the start getting into the exciting stuff, but I need to get some more planning done so I have a clear focus.

I used to be one of those writers that just winged it, but with this book I can’t. Mainly because there are so many moving parts to the story and I want to keep the plot holes to a minimum, so that it is easier to get through the second draft. As I’m reaching the end of the first act (of three) I am going to go back and read through what I’ve got written so far, just to jot down important information that I can relate back to later on in the story. Fingers crossed it all goes well because I would love to have this written and finished before #pitchwars in September (which is on Twitter).

Other Fun Stuff…

Well, I already talked about meeting up with my friend, but I also started a new TV show which is The Shannara Chronicles. So far, so good. It’s not the best show I have ever seen (mainly because I find the dialogue a little stiff) but the action is pretty good and I love the story elements to it. I’m over halfway through season 1 already and I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the week.

Something I don’t talk about too much on my blog is my artwork and drawing ability. I took art at school from year 7 up until year 13 for sixth form (although I began drawing at a much younger age, probably for as long as I can remember). However, with work and all my other hobbies, it fell to the side four years ago and up until recently I hadn’t touched my drawing equipment in a while. However, I changed that this weekend and started working on a piece from over a year ago, which is pictured below.

I made quite a bit of progress on the horse yesterday and by the end of the two hour session, my hand was aching from shading in the dark section. I had forgotten how enjoyable and relaxing it was to just put on some music and get lost in the drawing. You can probably expect to see more of my artwork on the blog from now on.

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So, there we have it. My week in a nutshell, which now I think about it, has been quite busy. I’m just praying that my throat and cough don’t get much worse, but unfortunately I have terrible luck when it comes to being ill.

What have you all been up to this week? Let me know in the comments below!

I Finished My Book!

That was something I wasn’t expecting to write yet, but I have finally completed my first draft of my novel. I even got a bottle of Moet to celebrate with.

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More than a year ago I started the first few chapters, without having any idea of where I wanted to go with it. I didn’t even know what kind of genre it would be. I forgot about it, left on my documents with the name “New Book”, until the end of September, 2017. I had just gotten back into reading again and I was loving the Young Adult Fantasy books I was catching up on. Then the idea hit me. That was exactly what I wanted to write and so I opened up that untitled document and started writing. I created a world with a unique magic system, a dark cult that was threatening the existence of the Kingdoms and a girl who was so much more than she thought she could be.

It hasn’t been easy and there’s been times where I was unmotivated, hit writers block and genuinely had no idea what I was doing. But I made it through the tough times and with a target of writing 1,000 words every day, I made progress. Finally, I have finished the first draft and I am over the moon. Standing at 100,405 words and 36 chapters so far, it is complete. I am still unsure of the name yet, however, I have a few ideas of what will fit.

My little book about self-discovery, romance, magic, danger and darkness may be finished, but I am far from being done with it. There is a lot of polishing to do, some plot holes to fill and changes to be made, but I am ready for it all. Here’s to all the editing that’s about to take place.

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How I Manage to Write 1,000 Words a Day

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There are a lot of authors/writers, some aspiring and some established, who have to work part time or full time to have a regular income. We all know that publishing is never the easiest to navigate when it comes to making money. Sometimes people get very lucky and they are able to live off of just their writing, and some aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with that at all and more people probably do it than you realise.

Whenever I am scrolling through Twitter, I see a lot of people wondering how it’s possible to write every day and how they struggle to write even a hundred words. Whenever I’ve posted about my writing I’ve had people wondering how I manage to write 1,000 words a day, especially when I work full time. My job actually incorporates content writing for websites, as I am a Search Engine Marketing Associate, so I am lucky to love my job. Of course, what I really want to do is to be an author and live off of the books I write.

Until my dream comes true, I have to try and fit my creative writing in my everyday life. I’m going to start by saying that it isn’t easy and sometimes even I fail, although when I do I try to remember that I am only human and I cannot do everything (as much as I would like to). It all comes down to getting in to the habit of sitting down for at least an hour and churning out the thoughts in my head. On average I can write 1,000 words during my lunch break at work because it lasts an hour.

Why my lunch break? It’s the only time where I find myself able to commit to the story and my brain isn’t fried from a day of working. In the evenings I find myself too tired and that, for me, is the worst time to write. It’s different on the weekends because I am fully rested and most times I can write way over my 1,000 word limit (which always makes me happy).

At the end of the day, it is all about dedication. I have to be dedicated if I want to succeed and try to fit in my writing whenever I can. Funnily enough, I actually concentrate better when I’m at work because there’s too many distractions at home. You don’t have to set yourself 1,000 words. It could 700 or even 500, but once you get into the habit it will be so much easier to complete your novel.

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I hope you enjoyed my little post and maybe it will help you with your writing ventures. Let me know in the comments about how you manage to find the time to write during your busy lives.