Trimming Our Tails, er, Tales

Years ago, we went to visit the ranch. Don, my husband, remarked how he could always tell we were up north by the calves with froze off tails. If the babies come too early and a storm blows in, they sometimes freeze off the tips of their tails.

My step-dad responded, “Yeah, guess we’re going to have to wholesale them because we can’t retail them.”

Part of the birthing process for our writing is timing. It’s good to hit a market that is looking for exactly what you are getting ready to send out. Sometimes we hit a storm and unfortunate things happen, like losing the tip of a tail.

Most often, we fall somewhere in the middle and a well-written book makes its own luck. Part of that “luck” process is a whole lot of hard work in the background. Writing, editing, revising, revising more, smoothing, beta reading, revising more and then smoothing one last time before we send it out into the cruel world.

Part of being a writer is sharing. We share our ideas, advice, compassion, experiences and often our work. After struggling through all the labor of birthing the work, we dry it off, snuggle it to our breast and then tentatively offer it to our trusted friends to imprint.

The coo at our child and smile then, if they are really good friends, they point out all the flaws.

“Did you notice Junior has eleven toes? We need to remove the extra one, it isn’t necessary to a perfect baby.”

We cry out and reach for our darling, but it’s too late. They already remolded the baby with ten toes. Then, we admit, well, yes, he probably didn’t need eleven toes or the third eye or the gills or even the tail, but that’s what made him unique.

“Unique for unique only makes a freak, not a fully functioning darling.”

Then, they go into the birthing process, dry off their pride and joy and tenderly hand it to us. We put on our inspection goggles and start looking for ways to improve Little Lord Font-Leroy.

This process is imperative for a few reasons. We are the proud mamas and papas and we only see our labor of love. We don’t see the tail and gills and all the other defects.

The added bonus is we get to read some really remarkable stories. We’re supposed to be working, but often we get so caught up in the adventure we spend all afternoon at the playground having fun and then we have to remind ourselves to go back and look for the warts. In searching other works for warts we develop a keener eye to them and, sooner or later, we start noticing them in our own darlings. “Hmmm, that’s the fifth em dash I’ve used in this paragraph.”

I recently finished reading a middle grade fantasy and it was so much fun I had to force myself to put it down. I’m reading two other fantasies now and they are equally troublemaking. Just when I think I get to a point I can stop reading, the author tosses another lion in the pit and I have to see how the poor hero is going to get out of this one.

Beta reading is one of those perks that make me love being a writer. I feel bad because I don’t have time to do more, but I love having these precious darlings entrusted to my care. Even more so when I realize they are so close to being sent out into the real world and I can’t wait to see what the world thinks of our darlings.


  1. In a lonely and often isolated calling, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who works this way, and it’s also nice to know I’m not the only sicko who loves to read other writers work in an effort to find the warts.

    For me, a timely and excellently stated post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. BT,

    I am so inspired by what other people are writing and honored to be included in that select circle who share in the birthing process. It’s always been a twofold blessing to me.

    I learn things that improve my own writing both by omission and commission.

    Thank you for stopping by.


  3. Lotusgirl,

    I hear you. I am not good at technical issues. I can only tell when something sounds off or a rudimentary offering of grammar issues.

    However, I think any honest advice we give helps in the process.

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