Friday, August 8, 2014

Before you read this...

Now that I'm done writing the first draft of my novel, I'm faced with temptation.

It's such a burning temptation, that it's difficult not to give in.

Oh, the pain!

Here it is...

I want someone to read my story.

Earth shattering, I know. Of course, I want someone to read it. That's why writers write, so that we can have people read our stuff, tell us it's not nearly as crappy as we thought, bolster our very fragile egos, and tell all their friends about this amazing story they just read from us. That's what we do, right?

So, I understand the temptation to write something, and then immediately give it to a few trusted individuals to read and give us their feedback (and by feedback, I mean compliments and constructive criticism, not a scathing review, thank you very much).

But, STOP!

Don't do it!

I implore you to fight against the temptation to give anyone your very first draft to read.


Well, honestly, it's probably still full of crap. If you have learned how to write and furious, and to ignore your internal editor until you have your first draft done and on the page, then you've been flinging crappy writing around. That's okay! That's what you were supposed to do!  But, that doesn't mean you're ready to share it with anyone.

I teach kids how to write, and the biggest struggle for them is writing something down, believing they just threaded together sentences that sparkle like diamonds, and then feel that they they're done. Here! Read my three paragraph story that I wrote in 10 minutes. It's awesome!

I've learned over my 10+ years of teaching that the first thing anyone writes is never, EVER awesome. Parts of it may be awesome. Much of it may aspire to awesomeness. But, the whole piece is never, ever, EVER awesome.

Again you ask, Why?

Because it's the first stinkin' draft, that's why!

It's supposed to be crappy. It may exist in various shades of crappiness from incredibly, mind-blowingly crappy, to only mildly crappy, but it will be crappy nonetheless.

I have no desire to force my crappy writing on anyone. I'm sure you don't either.

So, what should I do? I hear you ask. Well, I think you should be your very first reader. You should probably be the second reader, too. And the third. In fact, I think you should be the only reader until you have revised the crap right out of that story, and have absolutely no idea how you can possibly make it any better. Then, and only then, do you share it with a critique group, a friend, a family member, whomever you are looking to for feedback.

I think it's imperitive that you do this.

Why? (You love that question just as much as my two-year-old daughter, I see.)

Because frankly, I don't want to read crap. I love reading! But, I only want to read the very best that my students can create. That doesn't mean it has to be perfect. It can still need lots of work, that's fine. But, I insist that my students have made their draft the very best that they know how to make, before it ever is read by anyone else.

I expect them to read their story aloud. (You should, too! You'll be amazed by what you find.)
I expect them to correct spelling and grammar mistakes.
I expect them to constantly ask themselves "Does this make sense?".
I expect them to check for continuity.
I expect them to be able to outline the main characters, problem, and resolution.
I expect that the very first draft looks vastly different from the draft they hand to me.
In short, I expect them have done their very best work before a peer reader, or their teacher, ever sets eyes on it.

I expect this of myself, as well.

I have the advantage of age and experience over my students, but that doesn't mean that I turn out nuggets of gold everytime my fingers start typing. I have to hold myself to the same standards that I hold them to, so before I ever show anyone my writing, I make sure that I've gone over it again and again (and again, and again, and again, and again, and again and again) before I ask someone else to read it.

I'll admit, I've given in to the temptation a few times. I've dashed off something, believed it to be the prose of a genius, and given it to friends to read. And then, I've always faced the shame and embarrassment of having them point out typos in my story.


When I give a story to someone to read, I don't want them to be fixated on typos! I want them to be pulled into the story and help me find key elements that need to be changed in order to make my story stronger. Is the theme evident? Are the characters believable? Is the plot intriguing?

Not - Did I spell this right? Is this the proper use of commas and colons? Are my verb tenses mixed up?

So, I urge you, writer, to be your very first beta reader, and your second reader, and your third, and so on until you've taken out as much crap as possible, and filled it with your amazing writing. Then, feel free to share it with your critiquers for advice and help.

Just don't be surprised when they find crap that you missed.

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