Writing Resources: Hardcopy Textbooks, Old-school style

I like Googling things. Sometimes, I’m told that I should Google things rather than ask questions. I don’t always agree with this. But Google is treated as a library, encyclopedia, professor and research assistant. Like it or not, you gotta get with the times, kiddo. However, Googling only gets me so far. In my opinion, nothing beats a good, educational book. AKA: a textbook.

Why read textbooks when you can just read novels? I’ve frequently heard that the best way to learn to write is to read a lot of novels, then slyly steal styles and techniques. I guess that’s one way of doing it, but I also like to read books on how to write alongside works by other authors, so I better understand the tools they are employing. Then I can make mental notes on how they use them effectively. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then how can you take it and use it?

Incidentally, over a year ago (pre-Covid, I should say) I sat next to someone on the train to university reading a writing textbook. It was called Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress. Intrigued, I tried to read it next to them without them noticing me peering over their shoulder.

Write Great Fiction - Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by [Nancy Kress]
Get it here

What I noticed is that this book had practice exercises. I like exercises and drills, more than I like Googling things. What can I say? The grade school mentality never left me.

Even more intrigued, I looked up the book on Amazon. I went through the previews on my phone next to the man reading Kress’ book, but he seemed too engrossed to care. The reviews seemed good, so I bought the book and finished it.

Overall, I’d say this book is great if you’re trying to improve how to write characters, aren’t sure what you’re doing wrong and/or how to fix it, or even if you want to refine techniques. Kress lays out the basics clearly and succinctly. She also does an excellent job of explaining how to show rather than tell characters’ thoughts, feelings, and emotions (that relentless phrase we’re all sick of hearing). She provides numerous examples to support her instructions, which I found helpful in understanding the concepts she presents.

And really, what’s wrong with running through the basics? I do it all the time in martial arts; you must perfect the basics to build up to the tougher stuff. Like Kress notes in her book, if you’re struggling with the basics, editors and agents may be less likely to work with you. So get in there and read it, even if you think you have it all figured out!

This isn’t to say that online resources aren’t helpful, either. I learned a lot from podcasts, Limyaael’s Rants, and the r/writing subreddit. Still, reading this book was immensely helpful. I recommend it if you’re struggling to understand concepts like showing rather than telling emotions, or want to write stronger, more complex characters and utilize various viewpoints effectively.

Any thoughts? Want more details on the book? Have links to good resources? Disagree with me entirely? I’m happy to hear either way, just leave a comment below.

Hiring Beta Readers

A detailed account of my experience using Fiver to hire beta readers

I tried to make this post as informative and helpful as I could. Just be forewarned that it’s long. If you want the TL;DR, skip to the high-level lists. The rest is background that might be helpful if you’re like me – a relatively new (and perhaps anxious) author seeking outside feedback for the first time.

If anyone wants the names of the beta readers I hired, email me. I won’t write them in the post or in the comments. If you have any other questions, ask! I want to help others as much as I can. And if I got anything wrong, please point it out. I don’t want to accidentally mislead anyone.

*I should also note that I read that authors shouldn’t pay for beta readers, and that the service you’re getting on Fiver is actually classified as a “critique.” I’ve seen people call Fiver contractors “beta readers” despite this, and that’s how they marketed their services, so I’m going to refer to them as such throughout this write-up.

Why I Paid

My novel is … different. It’s a fantasy novel, but it’s a similar style to Kings of the Wyld (pointed out by one of my beta readers, best compliment I got, thank you!) in that there’s comedy, character development, and action/politics. I would classify it broadly as fantasy, but it doesn’t fit in with the classic genre novels, done so intentionally.

Suffice to say takes some risks, and yeah, I know I’m stepping into a genre that has readers with set expectations in mind when they pick up a fantasy novel. I also have no formal creative writing training. I’ve never participated in writing circles and this is the first I’ve shared anything outside my friends and family.

I saw Fiver as an opportunity to hire beta readers that were committed to the cause, had some expertise, and could give me constructive, critical, unbiased feedback. I did worry that the fear of getting a negative review could influence them. I wondered, “will they say nice things because they’re afraid to say otherwise, even if my novel sucks?” But I learned that a good beta reader won’t do this, they’ll tell you the truth, even if it stings, but they will do so constructively, and you will thank them for it.

Fiver: What I Wish I’d Known

Maybe this is common knowledge, and I will admit that I technology is not my forte, in addition to the app-based gig economy eluding me at times. Whatever you may think of it, here’s my list of lessons learned:

1. Sellers set the delivery deadline, but they can extend it as many times as they like.

You can choose to accept or deny an extension. Accepting gives the seller more time. Denying awards you a refund, except…

2. You don’t actually get a refund.

You get a Fiver credit. Wish I’d known this, you’ll find out why below. I didn’t try to argue this with Fiver but maybe I could have. If anyone has any advice on that, let me know.

3. You get asked if you want to tip.

Where I live, it is expected that you tip at restaurants, coffee shops, when you get your hair done, etc. I was a waitress for three years and let me tell you, the only thing that made that back-breaking job bearable was the tips.

So in no way am I resentful for tipping my beta readers. I would encourage you to include it in your budget, because really, they don’t charge that much for the work they do and I’m sure they appreciate it. I will acknowledge that I can afford to tip, and I know this isn’t the case for everyone. Just be aware of it when you’re calculating your costs.

4. If a seller offers you a refund/requests to cancel, and you accept it, you can’t publicly review their services.

If anyone knows a way around this, please tell me and I’ll update the post. I will also note I don’t know what happens if you don’t accept their offer to cancel. Maybe you can rip them a new one for all to see?

5. You have three days to accept the order when it’s finished, otherwise it will automatically be accepted. After you accept it, you’ll be asked to provide a review immediately.

I didn’t realize I’d be asked to immediately review the services. So when I saw the option to give them a review, I said, “I’ll do it later after I read what their report.” I didn’t get the chance to do it again. Maybe there’s a way around this (again, open to feedback here). I wanted to give the person 5 stars and feel bad that I didn’t get the chance.

Lessons Learned

I tried to pick people from varied backgrounds that I could picture reading (but not necessarily liking) my book. Of the four people I chose, three were superb. One was not. More on that throughout this section.

1. Follow-up questions should be welcomed and free.

You should be able to ask follow-up questions after you receive your report. All the decent beta readers I worked with were all open to these, and when I did ask questions, they went out of their way to give me extended advice. They also didn’t charge me for this.

One person had it set as an option when I ordered initially, charging extra for “follow up questions.” He ended up being the most problematic of the four. I don’t know enough to say whether this was a red flag, but maybe someone else can speak to that.

2. Expect live comments in your manuscript.

Again, maybe this isn’t normal and I just got super lucky with the three amazing beta readers I hired, but they all provided these as part of their service and I loved reading them.

3. Go for sellers who are established with lots of buyer reviews, especially if you’re on a budget.

Might be obvious, but I didn’t do this for one of my choices and suffered the consequences. Not only do a lot of positive buyer reviews mean sellers are good at what they do, it also means they finished their orders.

I took a risk and picked someone with only a few reviews, because a) I wanted some gender balance; b) he came across as a fantasy snob, the exact type of person I wanted to read my manuscript because I wanted to know what their reaction would be to it; and c) he was cheap. I came to regret this choice.

4. Yeah, you get what you pay for, but sometimes you get a little more.

I hired two expensive beta readers and two inexpensive ones. One lower-cost beta reader I hired turned out to be professional, quick, and super nice. But the cheapest option? He had very few reviews and he was less money on average than the established sellers.

5. It can take time, so plan ahead if you’re on a schedule.

The fastest timeline I got was two weeks. The longest was four, but she finished ahead of schedule. All in all, I waited close to a month to get everything back.

6. Prepare a list of areas you want them to focus on.

They should ask you what you want specific feedback on and provide it to you in the report. I asked for plot, characters, dialogue, etc. If you want a full list of what I asked, DM me.

Overall Thoughts

The Good

I loved reading the critiques and the live comments. Seeing people laugh at things I tried to make funny and talk about how shook they were by the ending was rewarding. Hearing things like “I want to read more,” and “I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even when I was doing other things,” or even “I was so angry at [insert character name] I slammed my laptop closed” was worth every agonizing moment I spent on this novel.

Reading their analysis of my characters, saying they love them and feel connected to them (or that they hated them for the reasons I wanted them to hate them), has probably been the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I don’t really have words to describe the feeling it gave me. But I would say that it felt exactly like I imagined it would, and then some.

I want to make it clear: there was constructive criticism, as there should be, because no novel is perfect and that’s the point of beta readers. One report went into an in-depth analysis of the problems. It was a bit overwhelming, but damn, it was helpful and well thought-out, and I appreciated it as much as I treasured the compliments. I think it will help me make my novel better, but also show me how to be a stronger writer overall.

The Bad

The cheapest reader I hired was the most unprofessional of the four. He sent a plethora of excuses (the details of which I won’t get into) and numerous requests to extend his deadline, only to cancel abruptly. This, coupled with the fact that I didn’t get a cash refund and couldn’t leave a review to warn others, was a bit frustrating. Oh well, the Fiver credit turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I used it to tip the others.

Moving Forward

What now? I’m going to polish this sucker up and make it better, maybe do a rewrite. Keep working, that’s what I’ll do, because that’s what I do best.

For anyone else out there like me, anxious to share your work out of fear of an anticipated accosting, don’t let haters influence you! Do what you want and take risks. Seek feedback and learn from it, but don’t let the fear of shitheads stop you from putting your work out there. Like me, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by what people have to say.

Writing Resource: Improving Dialogue

Happy Sunday! I was browsing r/writing as always, and stumbled upon a great article regarding writing believable dialogue. It’s appropriately called 10 Tips to Help You Write Realistic Dialogue.

I found all of these tips relevant and useful. I especially liked the tip about not using corny lines during fight scenes, and how the author uses real life experience to describe what actually goes through someone’s mind during a scrap. You don’t have time to think of witty lines or insults, nor would you ever say them. You tend to be too focused on not getting hit, keeping up, and not letting exhaustion stop you from defending/attacking. I’m also speaking from real life experience here – believe it or not, martial arts happens to be one of my favourite pass times next to writing.

Another point I liked was that feelings can be conveyed through actions or descriptions. Iglesias correctly states that “…if the character is constantly telling us how s/he feels, we stop caring.” Something I’ve been working on a lot in my writing is using body language to show (not tell) how my character is feeling. In re-reading my drafts, it adds much more depth and lets the reader infer what the person is thinking, rather than cramming it down their throats through the character’s dialogue.

I think another great point to keep in mind is avoiding heavy-handed dialogue. Something that irks me (even in television) is when a character explains why someone is making a decision. I see it all the time in the Hundred. One of the characters will do something, and before I can ponder why, a different character will shout “I know you regret your previous actions, but doing this won’t change the past!” It makes me roll my eyes and irritates me. Let your readers come to their own conclusions about the character’s behaviour. It will make your story more gripping.

Another tactic I employ is acting out some of my scenes between characters. I’m no actress, but hearing things out loud  helps make things sound more realistic. If you’re stuttering or stammering, or having to pause to try and understand what you’re conveying, chances are it needs a rework. This is also kind of fun and provides some entertainment while working on a draft (for me, anyways).

Hope this helps! Share your tips/thoughts below. I would love to hear them!

Writing Podcasts: Mythcreants Podcast

I’m a Luddite at heart. While I enjoy technology, I despise social media and I’ve been resistant to the societal changes it’s brought about. I refused to get a new phone for five years, but recently I had no choice and succumbed. I’m basically an 83-year-old in a 27-year-old’s body.

Doubtless, it would be difficult to make my way as an Indie Author without social media. So I’ve decided to create some pages on Instagram and Twitter, and will be making a Facebook account soon enough. I also frequently post on Reddit, but I don’t really consider that social media. It might be the only platform besides WordPress I don’t use begrudgingly.

That all aside, another aspect of technology I’ve avoided has been Podcasts. Why, might you ask?

  1. I didn’t understand what they were, and I didn’t care to find out;
  2. I didn’t like the name “podcast” (yes, I’m ridiculous);
  3. I thought you had to have an Iphone to get them (continuing on the ridiculous train);
  4. I didn’t know any good ones, and I couldn’t be bothered to look into it (do I need to say it again?);
  5. I hate Apple, and I associated Podcasts with this company for the longest time.

However, my thirst for knowledge overpowered my stubbornness, and I invested some time in researching good podcasts (is the word a proper noun?) for writing. One that came up was the Mythcreants Podcast.

I started listening to it while I was stuck in the filing room. It was a long, boring week at work, and I got relegated there to do someone a favour. During that time, I listened to at least 10 of their shows. The verdict? These guys are fantastic.

Oren and Chris really know their stuff. Both of them are  intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to writing and creating. The topics covered on their podcast include a wide range of subjects, such as “Describing the Environment;” “The Important of Character Likability;” and many other areas of writing I didn’t even think of.

Even if you aren’t writing SciFi or fantasy, check them out, they have a wealth of knowledge to share: https://mythcreants.com/ Seriously, check it out!

The First Rewrite

Oh Gosh. Long time no post. To all three of my readers, I apologize.

Sarcasm aside, I’ve been tits-deep in my rewrite and it’s been sucking the life out of me. I spent a good part of the year procrastinating, but I finally started a few months ago. And now I’m almost done!! This post won’t be my best writing because I’m totally gassed, but I want to share regardless.

The thought of having to do a second rewrite is jarring, but I think it’s necessary. I’ve learned an immense amount throughout this process  Moreover, I’ve fallen in love with my work again. I was dreading tackling my draft because I knew it was flawed, and part of me was worried I’d say screw it and scrap the whole thing. But the opposite happened. As Dolores would say, I chose to see the beauty in that draft. And, I used what I have learned over the last little while about writing to make it better than before.

Do I have any wisdom to pass on? Hmm. Let’s see

1. Just do it.

If you’re anxious about rewriting your novel because of the inevitable self-criticism that will follow, dwelling instead of writing will only make it worse. Sit down and get started, no matter how painful it is. You might struggle in the beginning. I know I did. I kicked and screamed and metaphorically bit myself as I sat in front of my computer preparing to start. But as time goes on and you spend more time on your rewrite, it will get easier, less painful, and you’ll find splendour in your work

2. But wait a little bit first…

I had to throw in some juxtaposition . Steven King suggests that you leave your draft alone for a little while, so when you pick it up again you can look at with fresh eyes. I have to agree with this advice. When you’re in the depths of your novel, it’s hard to spot mistakes. Just like with a toxic relationship (I’m on a roll with the dark humour), taking a step back and giving yourself some time to process what you’ve written will allow you look at your draft from a new perspective, giving you the ability to spot flaws, and edit accordingly

3. Be critical, but not mean.

I use the comment tool in Microsoft Word when I’m rewriting like self-administering morphine after surgery, ripping apart my own work with criticism. I poke holes without mercy because I know others will, but I do so with the goal of making my draft stronger, not with the aim of putting myself down. Sometimes I cringe as I do, thinking, wow, Ava, can’t believe you missed this, as I cringe and wonder why I even bother.  But I push forward despite these thoughts, remembering that acknowledging flaws will only serve to make my story better

4. Re-read, re-read, re-read.

I’m lucky in that I like reading my own writing (anyone else feel the same, or am I totally self-indulgent?). So I can reread the same part over and over, until I hate it, then I put it down and re-read it again. By doing so, I continually make my writing better. Throughout this rewrite, I’ve probably read some of my problematic chapters 10-15 times each, editing each time. It’s only served to make my work better, so I recommend trying it.

5. Be brutal with removing unnecessary words and sentences.

I noticed that I when I am pounding out my draft, I tend to write the same thing but in two different ways. During my rewrite, I was often forced to make a choice and cut out one of the sentences. However, by doing so, I cleaned up my work and made it much less wordy.

The general rule is draft – 10%. My second draft is longer than my first draft (about 20% longer), but only because I wrote in description and added items that are necessary to the plot. I actually cut out a tonne of my old work because it was redundant, poorly written, or just unnecessary. It’s hard sometimes, but essential for improvement.

6. Read out loud.

Especially the dialogue. If it sounds weird, or you think “would someone actually say that?” then switch it up, then read it out loud again, over and over, until it sounds smooth. This is a critical step. I used to do this for all my university papers, as well (and not to brag, but I aced almost all of them).

7. Adverbs should be avoided but are not the devil.

Sorry y’all, but I don’t hate them. The truth is, most readers don’t care about the occasional adverb because they don’t realize they are considered poor form. I didn’t care about them until I read On Writing. Adverbs don’t ruin your writing if they are used sparingly (see what I did there). I think they give my writing character, actually. Just sayin’.

8. Don’t get sucked into the oppressive world of rules.

I found that the more I tried to learn about writing by reading blogs, listening to podcasts, posting on Reddit, etc., the more I found myself feeling constrained and bound to a set of norms. This hurt my ability to be creative and it sucked the life from my writing, especially in the rewrite phase. Truth be told, the more I rewrote my work to adhere to these rules, the less I liked it.

Don’t get me wrong – these rules helped me improve my writing, too. I’m just saying moderation is key here. If breaking the occasional rule gives your writing a unique and endearing voice, embrace it I say. Otherwise we’ll all just sound the same.

9. Avoid the copy and paste method.

I’ll admit that there were times (quite a few times) I was lazy and I would copy and paste from my old draft into my new one instead of actually, you know, rewriting it. Occasionally it worked, because the work I’d done previously was good. However, my writing was much stronger when I sat down and made the effort to retype my story line by line. New ideas would form, things would come out better, and over all, the rewritten work was stronger than the what I had copy and pasted, then edited.

10. Embrace change.

It’s hard to let go of our creations. But if something isn’t sitting right in your gut, or if you know part of your plot doesn’t make sense, take the plunge, change it and make it better. I was afraid of change, another reason why I delayed my rewrite. But once I got started, I saw how much it improved my work and was inspired to keep going. It’s funny how many times I’ve been terrified of the idea of doing something, only to find out that I actually love it. Change was one of these things.


Maybe some of you will read these bits of wisdom and say, “None of that applies to me, I can’t WAIT to rewrite my work and change is a beautiful, unthreatening thing!” How I envy you. For me, it was a grueling process, but like any challenge I am glad I overcame it. Next steps for me are to repeat the above process, then look at getting an editor. I’m sure that will be an adventure in itself.

In the meantime, I’ll keep updating this blog, because I miss posting here!

Anyone else rewriting their draft? Care to share some thoughts? Rants are just as welcome.