Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The devil you know

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know" This was a saying my mother used a lot; at least, I remember her saying it to me, a lot. I don't remember her living by that saying. And I certainly don't, nor did I ever.

She used it, to emphasize her recommendation to stay in a job I didn't like, rather than move to a new one. 

Another of her sayings meant pretty much the same thing, "Out of the frying pan into the fire." Essentially a warning to be cautious. There are many other sayings along the same vein. 

She was selective in her use, I know this because she didn't trot these sayings out when I told her I was going to work in London, I was eighteen years old. I don't know how she felt about it, but she drove me to the boat, gave me ten Irish pounds and waved goodbye. She didn't say it years later, when I told her I was breaking up with my then husband. I suspect she wondered why I stayed so long in that particular frying pan. 

She didn't say it when I decided, in my late forties, to emigrate to the USA. I suspect she believed it was a mistake on my part and I would return quickly. Probably, at that stage in her life, having raised six children and spent the best years of her life battling her own disastrous marriage, she had decided we should be left to make our own decisions. Or perhaps she agreed with me that there was no reason for me to stay in Ireland at that point. And, at the time, it was the right decision. Almost twenty-nine years later there are so many things I regret about leaving, but I would do it again, even with all that hindsight. There is always a price to pay. Some things are worth the price.

If I could change anything it would be to have been able to achieve all that I did in the last 28 years, without leaving Ireland—but then I remember, the weather. I chose to come to Texas to escape the constant gray skies, perpetual drizzling rain and, though it was rarely freezing cold, it was equally rarely very warm. To quote my husband's favorite saying, "wish in one hand..."

So, no regrets

Of these five, I can honestly say I don't entertain any of them. I stayed in touch with the friends who mattered to me. And I worked hard for a number of years, by choice, to achieve the life I now enjoy. And by facing the devil I didn't know—and jumping out of the frying pan, I achieved 1, 3 and 5. I know that I would not have otherwise. My advice to myself, and anyone who cares to listen  has always been, "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained". It still is.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Beta Readers and Code Reviews

When I retired, at the end of May 2021, I was very nervous about be set adrift. My entire professional life was a series of unreasonable deadlines, and working crazy hours to meet them. I had been attempting to keep writing during my free time, but free time was pretty much a pipe dream, especially while working for Amazon. It was not unusual to work seventy hour weeks, between unreasonable deadlines, insufficient staffing, last minute changes in requirements and of course, the dreaded on-call rotation. Despite complaining about these demands, I was aware that I thrived in achieving all this and then some. I believe I mentioned before that I am very competitive. I saw each challenge as a test to be overcome and achieved. But I had little or no time to pursue my own interests. What little time I had was spent with family, naturally.

So, with retirement looming I had to make plans to fill those seventy hours per week with something, other than watching television, which I can't stand, or playing solitaire or candy crush, or reading which I do love, but I can never relax for long and usually read while on the treadmill. 

I had my embroidery, and I quickly discovered that a woman can have way too many t-shirts with smart ass comments on (mentioned in a previous blog post); and I had my writing. I would finally have the time to write my book. Yes, once upon a time I self published a book. A memoir. That was a number of essays, written over a period of about 13 years, as a therapy rather than a writing exercise. It certainly wasn't a best seller, nor was it ever expected to be. I gave a number of copies out as gifts and made zero attempt to market it; mainly because I didn't expect anyone to be interested in reading it. Surprisingly a few people did purchase it and I got some good feedback. 

This time my plan was to write a novel. I spent the first few months writing blog posts. Partly as a distraction, partly as a therapy—the circumstances of my retirement were quite traumatic; but mainly to get my brain in gear and get some writing practice. Over the first year I had a series of failed attempts at the novel. I discovered that I had a major hurdle to cross. If I made up a fictional story, I felt that I was telling lies. I mean, it wasn't true so therefore it was a lie, right? I struggled with that for a while and finally was able to let it go, after all, a painting is not a photograph, but it can still be a work of art...I think.

A few more attempts left me with a number of mediocre short stories, one of which I actually tried to publish—sending it out into the world to be met with a resounding silence, when I eventually did receive a response, a rejection but nonetheless a response, I can't tell you how excited I was. Finally, I hit on an idea that just might lend itself to more than three thousand words. During this time I had signed up for Masterclass and had listened to every writer class multiple times. As no new writer classes were added I searched for some other way to hone a skill I was still not sure I had in the first place. I found one website that was extremely proud of itself, charging up to four figures for the occasional courses offered. I didn't indulge myself there. 

In October 2021 I stumbled across NaNoWriMo and signed up. I didn't attempt to compete that year but promised myself that in 2022, I would be ready. I continued fiddling with my story idea, writing five chapters before asking my alpha reading to give it a once over. Reading between the lines of her extremely thoughtful and very kind response, I realized that what I had written was the backstory for my novel. I wasn't exactly back to square one, because the backstory is essential, just not part of the front story. I started again. 

I returned to NaNoWriMo and on that website I found a discounted, membership to The Writing Mastery Academy (WMA)—a website doing exactly what the name suggests. I signed up, even without the discount it was reasonably priced. I discovered a massive amount of courses, webinars and a community of supportive writers in various stages of perfecting their craft. I also signed up for NaNoWriMo 2022 along with a large number of the writers in the WMA community. A daunting task, committing myself to writing approximately two thousand words per day for thirty days; one thousand six hundred and sixty seven words per day to be exact. I did it. on 27th November I hit the fifty-thousand word mark. 

During the first week of December I read my 'novel' and deleted at least five thousand words. I went back and in the course of completing my first real draft, as opposed to madly writing whatever crap came into my head to fill the word count, I added back almost five thousand words. Still not exactly enough to make a novel, but enough to send to my alpha reader. After all, if she says it is mostly crap or backstory, I am going to have to start again anyway. However, I am hopeful that won't happen. I already have two definite beta readers lined up. My hope is that my alpha reader will give me enough feedback to direct me to where I can actually increase my word count. I already know that I have a tendency to be short on descriptions of locations and characters; this is because I have read some great stories where I skim over pages of flowery descriptions to get to the meat of the story. I am fairly sure this has made me hesitant to bore my potential readers in the same way, erring on the side of not enough as a result.

The beauty of having been a programmer in my previous profession, the idea of a beta reader doesn't intimidate me in the least. As a programmer, your code is subjected to review by your peers. That is, at least one other coder combs through your work and points out flaws in logic, areas for improvement and generally helps to make sure your program is the best it can be. 

I fully expect at least two months of work to incorporate my alpha reader's comments and suggestions, my first draft will be hitting her desk tomorrow and I plan to concentrate on family, Christmas and my blog until it comes back to me, hopefully sometime in early January. If this is the case, my beta readers should get hit with their drafts at the beginning of March. The hardest part of that wait is going to be avoiding making any changes to the draft. Already I am thinking of places where I can, and should, fill in gaps; already I have possibly another three thousand words in my head, to add. I am making notes of these but I am determined to not change the draft in any way until I get my alpha feedback.

So, when will you be able to buy it. Ha! that is the big question.

I do plan to attempt to find an agent. Here again, WMA has a number of helpful courses on how to go about that. Naturally, the book has to be good enough, and I have to hit the right agent, but assuming that all falls into place, my understanding is it might be up to two years before the book is sold to a publisher, revised and ready for the market. I have yet to decide how long I will tolerate silence and, or rejections before looking at self publishing. Rest assured, you will all hear about it as it unfolds.

For now, I am still trying to come up with a decent title. Perhaps my beta readers will be able to help there, once they read the story.

Below are websites I referenced, in case you are interested.



Writing Mastery Academy

Alpha Readers

Beta Readers

Previous blogs: 



Why I chose to retire 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

A just like that November is over

It is December and with it NaNoWriMo comes to a close. For the entire month I ignored this blog, something I have done before but for different reasons, and not very often. During November I concentrated on drafting my novel—and ensuring that I wrote more than 1667 words per day, every day. That is the requirement to be a winner in the eyes of NaNoWriMo. And, if you are among the probably tens of thousands of winners, you can buy a t-shirt that declares you a winner. Actually, you can also buy that t-shirt if you are not a winner, probably even if you are not a writer. But that isn't the point besides I do not need any more t-shirts! While I have ignored my other hobby, embroidery throughout November, that can only be considered a good thing. I have way too many shirts with smart ass comments on.

The point of the event is for writers to write. And believe me, that is not as easy as it sounds. All the while you are sitting alone, always the best start if you want to get anything done, but with so many distractions there are some days I will write half a dozen words and with deep focus play dozens of games of Solitaire or even Candy Crush! Convincing myself that I am thinking about my story. To be fair, I am thinking about it, all the time. I even dream about it but I was not writing it down, well—not much anyway. Put a competition in front of me however and I am pulling on the bit. I have mentioned in a couple of other posts, I am very competitive. I am not a bad loser but I am a very good winner. And so, yes I can declare myself a NaNoWriMo winner. On 27th November I surpassed 50K words. I freely admit many of those words will have to be deleted during the editing phase, but more will be added...I hope.

When I started the story, actually I started it multiple times. In fact, I wrote at least three mediocre short stories before finally getting the germ of an idea that might be able to grow into a novel. I mentioned in my last post, announcing my intention to do NaNoWriMo, that I had already written a five chapter back story. That was helpful in so far as I had started to get to know my characters fairly well. It was difficult to accept that most of what I had written would never be in the final draft, but it was very necessary for me to have the information in my head, as I discovered when I started writing in earnest on November 1st. At first I thought that my idea was dumb and no one would like it. As I got into the story however, I started to enjoy it. 

I mentioned before that I had been doing Masterclasses on writing. Many of the writers I listened to talked about their characters as though they were real people, even going so far as to say they did and said things that surprised the author—their creator, the person who was actually writing the surprising words and actions. I thought that was a bit far fetched when I heard it but then it started happening to me. Another thing that happened was new people, a.k.a characters, arrived. I seriously was not expecting them and I had to get to know them. I don't think I would have experienced that had I not been frantically writing in order to win. If you are old enough you will remember the slogan, Let Your Fingers do the Walking. Same thing, well kind of. I pretty much let my fingers do the typing and let the words spill out. As I said, much of it will have to go but I do have more than the bare bones of a story I like and that is a start.

What next? Well, 50K words do not a novel make. So I have to expand that somewhat. As I read through and clean up I am removing much of the drivel, but so far I have added more than I have removed so I am hopeful. Next I will have to go through it and edit the hell out of it. Then I need some good friends to be Beta Readers. I already have my very first one lined up and willing. I have a few more in mind and have yet to approach them. I do know of some writers who asked for review and feedback only to get offended when they got it. So, what they were asking for was not feedback nor review, they were looking for praise and admiration

"A beta reader is a test reader of an unreleased work of literature or other writing, who gives feedback from the point of view of an average reader to the author. A beta reader provides advice and comments in the opinions of an average reader." - Wiki

It feels like such an imposition. Asking someone to read a novel, that is not yet a novel, that takes up a lot of time, but then ask that they read it with a critical eye, and finally that they give you a fair and thoughtful critique of that novel. To many, that is like asking them to tell you if your baby is ugly. They just won't do it. Of course they can't be sure you really mean, tell the truth. I am not looking for praise at this point, I do want to make it better. Better is good. Naturally, you can't make an ugly baby beautiful, but with help, you can make a good, bad or indifferent novel better, with the right feedback and before publication.

And there is the big hurdle. Publication. I have decided that I will try to find an agent, and if I am lucky enough to find one, then I will attempt to be published the traditional way. If this effort fails, I will go ahead and self publish. Many writers have gone this route and had great success. But those writers have also put a lot of money and effort into marketing that book, and themselves. Not something I have the  skillset, nor the inclination for. So, if I don't find an agent and do go the self publishing route, I will post on Facebook and give gifts of my book to many of my family and friends and let it go at that. I am not looking for fame and fortune. I just like to write.

First on the agenda is at least another 20K words that make sense and improve the story. Thankfully I am retired and I don't have to squeeze my writing time into a working day. 

By the way, sorry for complaining so much about being retired, I wrote many posts on that subject. I do still miss work, and more especially coding and my wonderful team mates, but I am not bored.

Links to posts I referenced above 

I will ban bossy - mentions my competitive nature

Online Dating - ditto 

My First NaNoWriMo - the title gives it away

Why I chose to retire  - retirement

Getting used to retirement - ditto

Retirement week 12 - ditto

...and many more on retirement that I won't bore you with.