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.
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!