Noobie Writing: Thanks For All the Terror

Last time I updated about progress on the book, I mentioned that it was out being beta-read, and that the comments I was getting back were very positive. They were, and I was excited.

But I noticed something about the comments I was getting back. They seemed to fall largely into one of two camps. In the first, were those who did not wish to be mean, and hoped to be supportive of what I was doing. They were great to get, and confidence building, but not always super-helpful in identifying problem areas in the book.

The second camp were the Terrors. These folks tended to be either writers or academics who realized that you can’t improve a work without finding the flaws, and identifying them. Often stridently. Occasionally sarcastically. And every so often, downright brutally.

Now, I had expected this to be a humbling experience. I figured that I would need to run away for a few days, lick my wounds, and come back to the criticism, before I could appreciate it. This turned out not to be the case.

The Terrors were my godsends. Here were people who cared enough about me to take a week or two out of their lives, read my manuscript, and to be honest enough about it to truly affect the work in a positive way. It was an amazing gift. And it gave me the strength to go back to some of the previous camp and really question them, turning them by degrees into Terrors of their own.

My favorite criticisms were the one that left me either saying, “Oh my god, I never thought of that!” rather than the ones that merely confirmed what I thought about my own stupidity. (Heh.) But all of this input had an unexpected, and happy side-effect.

They say that every writer’s first book is crap. (Some say their first million words, but I have been writing far longer than that, so I’m sticking with the book measure.) Truth to tell, I myself had noticed that the second half of the book was getting noticeably better than the first half had been. I had considered going back and rewriting the whole thing. But that sounded preposterous.

Then… the Terrors. They pointed out so many ways in which I could make my story better, that eventually I shrugged, cackled a bit, and tossed the whole thing over my shoulder, and started again. My first book would be my second, as I would write it twice!

It was my intention to do a lot of copy/pasting, adding in the parts I felt I needed, and leaving behind what I did not. That turned out not to be at all what happened. I wrote histories, a thirty page summary, and an enormous “character bible” that gave me deeper insight into my people than I had ever had. It was, in short, kinda beautiful.

I liked what I had written before. It was funny, actiony, and even occasionally scary. But what I’m writing now, is all of that and much more. I liked what I had written then, but I love what I’m writing now.

(P.S. A note to my beta readers: Whichever camp you feel you fell into, I want you to know how much I appreciate what you have given to me. Whether your role was pointing out the problems, of giving me the confidence to tackle them, you were an invaluable member of the process, and I do, humbly, thank you for it.)

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