Fresh eyes. As performers, we all need them.
I remember years ago when it was radical for rodeo performers to have someone videotape their rides or runs so they could critique them later and see what they were doing wrong and what they were doing right and needed to strengthen and keep doing right.
When my oldest son was in high school, he was competing in all three roughstock events, barebacks, bulls and saddle broncs. Regardless of his other shortcomings, I had always admired my ex-husband’s toughness. It also drove me nuts because there were a lot of times he should have stayed home when he was sick or hurt or gone to the doctor, but he refused, insisting he could just tough it out. As tough as he was and is, Brandon is tougher and that isn’t always a good thing. He took some terrible beatings and refused to give up. Suffered terrible injuries and refused to go to the doctor. I almost lost him after one episode when a bull had trampled him and blown out the back wall of both intestines and he refused to go to the hospital. I took him four hours later and it was very nearly too late.
In this process, we decided to take him to a Sankey Rodeo School and help him since he was determined to keep going. It takes more than being tough. The great thing about a good rodeo school is they gear the lessons to the student’s level. Beginners get easy practice stock that just kind of hop out there and a lot of ground work. More advanced students get rougher stock and the ground work geared to establishing a habit of doing things right. They all get experienced, professional cowboys and instructors who critique their rides. They show them how to do it right and then go over the taped rides and point out the highlights and the things that need improvement. By seeing this, it ingrains it in the student’s mind. If you do it enough, their performance starts becoming automatic. Shift your hips, lean forward, keep your arm out, move to the middle. You concentrate on the things until they become natural.
So it goes with writing. Just as it takes more than being tough to rodeo, it takes more than sitting down at a computer, typewriter or notebook to be a writer. You can slog through the process, tough it out as it were, but at some point, you have to refine it and make it perfect.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find two beta readers who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I’ve been hammered about “as”, “when”, and “that” so much the words terrify me, but I’m still a work in progress. I’m on the final pass for FAR RIDER. It’s been written numerous times. It’s been gutted and reconstructed. Favorite scenes have been sliced out, perhaps never to see the light of day again. Characters have been deleted. Plotlines have disappeared. Words have disappeared, oh, my goodness, have words disappeared.
Part of this radical reconstruction was due to an agent’s minions who read the manuscript and made suggestions. I revised and re-sent. The second minion noted the initial problems had been fixed, but made more suggestions. More revising. The agent made suggestions. More revising.
I took some Margie Lawson courses. More revising. Margie Lawson is wonderful if you haven’t looked into her writing courses, but be prepared to start rewriting…and adding words Oh, dear.
I did the scene on a card exercise to see if I could cut some scenes and make sure the scenes I do have are pulling their weight.
Writing is hard.
The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone, nor should you. You have to find a support system. You need good beta readers. They are like the instructors in the rodeo school. Ideally, they should be good writers themselves who complement your weaknesses. I say writers for two reasons. They understand the process and they know what is needed. They should be able to give you suggestions about how to fix the holes. Most importantly, they have to be brutally honest. You don’t need a cheerleading section, although a good beta reader will also tell you when you’re doing something right. Remember the rodeo school? Reinforce the right actions and correct the mistakes.
When it’s all said and done, you also need fresh eyes. You need someone who can read it objectively with a new outlook. You have read it so many times you’re reading what you think is there. You may be to the point, or past it, that you hate your baby. Your beta readers are also very close to it, maybe too close at this point. The last layer, in my opinion, has to be those fresh eyes. They need to read from the point of view as a reader.
Anyone who thinks you can just write a book, do a spell check and ship it off to an agent or slap it up on a self-publishing site is doing themself a disservice. If you believe in your work, it’s worth the extra time to watch the tapes, listen to the advice, shift you your hips, move your arm and get fresh eyes.
One thing I have read several times about authors and agents, is that agents like to have a story revised to their idea how it should be told. In some ways that may actually ruin the creativity of the writer and what they had originally intended. But to get published authors tend to follow the advice of the agent and work on revisions.
That’s certainly possible, but in my experience the agent suggestions were pure gold. I am eternally grateful these minions took the time to read so carefully and make such great suggestions. If the agent really “gets” you, they don’t want to change your voice, they want to improve it. Sort of like the mentors on The Voice.