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 

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