And now I find myself doing the same thing with stories I write. Even after I’ve released a book, I think about things I could have approached from a different angle; be it the way I set a scene, or ended a chapter, or any other of a million details. What I’ve found, though, much as I found with songwriting, is that sometimes your first instincts are right. I remember a teacher telling my class -I think I was in Junior High at the time- that on a multiple choice test, you’re usually better off going with your first answer. It’s when you start second-guessing and over-analyzing that you get yourself in trouble.
So, how to decide when something is “done”? (The quotes on “done” reflect my belief that nothing is ever truly done, but it gets to a point where it’s as done as it’s going to get.) Let someone -or multiple someones- read it. The same principle applies to songwriting; for eight or nine years I ran a workshop where we spent the vast majority of our time critiquing one another’s songs. It’s amazing what a fresh pair of ears -or, in the case of writing stories, eyes- can do. We’re all familiar with the adage, “Opinions are like belly buttons; everybody’s got one”. You’d be amazed, no matter what type of writing you do, how many different ways there are to interpret and relate a situation, a conversation, etc.
As far as getting opinions, a writer has options. You can join a writers’ group and let others read your work, you can submit it to someone (publisher, editor, agent), or you can have beta readers. My problem with writers’ groups is that you can’t go to a meeting with your entire manuscript. You usually would bring a chapter or two, at most. So what about the rest of the book? Who knows? Submitting something to a professional (publisher, editor, agent, etc.) before it’s as good as you can make it is either, A) a mistake (publisher, agent) or, B) not free (editor). If you happen to know an editor and can get a good deal, you can go that route but, personally, my budget isn’t next-to-nothing, it’s nothing. That leaves us with beta readers. A beta reader is someone who will read an advance copy of your book and give feedback. Beta readers are not paid (to my knowledge), nor are they necessarily people you know. Personally, I think it’s more beneficial to get feedback from a stranger than from friends and family anyway.
For my next project (a new collection of short stories), I’m going to give beta readers a try. If you are interested in reading for me, please contact me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll put you on the list to receive a copy once I have some proofs made up. I anticipate that being in late February or early March, but no promises.
Until next week…