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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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It’s that time of the week (or two weeks later than that time because I just plum forgot this post twice in a row) when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: How many beta readers do you use, on average?

A: Unless a project has something in it that I feel requires an expert touch or I’m feeling insecure about an element I don’t think is working, I generally don’t employ betas. The last time I had someone beta something it was the scenes that took place in the Bahamas for Second Chance because I wanted to make sure the dialect was right. Usually, I write the book and do a second draft, then send it to my editor. I do the edits she asked for, and she reads it again and gives me more edits. I do those edits and send the book to a second editor, who proofs the copy. Then it comes back to me and I do the proofs. Then I set it aside for a couple of days, read it again to try to catch any other mistakes. Then I publish it and usually within one or two hours of it going live, seven or eight people email me to tell me about typos and I go and cry under my desk.


Q: I know through previous blog posts that you have had difficulties with your writing/book group in the past. Even with your previous negative experiences, do you think that a writing group is generally beneficial? What is the most easy way to start a writing group?

A: Just to clarify here, I didn’t have difficulties with my writing group so much as one person became difficult after we all got published. And even then, her writing advice was solid. Without that group, I would have never been published; I would have either not finished my book, or finished it and put it in a drawer somewhere. So I definitely recommend a group.

But join a good one. Once, someone invited me to their writing group. All the writers sat around talking about their own writing, not in a “can you help me brainstorm this,” or “if my protagonist does this, is he redeemable,” kind of way that’s productive. It was literally just two hours of these people talking about how serious and important their writing is, how much more literary and deep than everyone else’s, and how they were unappreciated geniuses. One of them asked me if I was published, then went on a five-minute rant about how no one who’s a true writer ends up published, as publishing only wants mediocre material because the average reader can’t handle anything over a third-grade reading level. Do not, I repeat, do not join a group like this.

As for how to start a group…man, I’m way too socially awkward to answer that question effectively. I guess the easiest way to start a writing group is to do it with people you like a level beyond writing, so you know you click. If you’ve got friends who are interested in writing, form up with them. Online friends? Set up a weekly Skype date or something. Anything to get together with other writers. Check out your local library to see if any groups meet there that are open to people to join.

Writing groups aren’t essential to success, but they really do help you stick to your goals and you all end up teaching each other stuff.


Bonus Question: If I bought you a book I think you’d be great at snarking at would you?

A: I’m not snarking books right now at the moment. Recent mental health challenges have made keeping up with the blog difficult enough, so starting a new project would be setting myself up for stress and failure. But thank you so much for the offer! I love how much you guys love snark!


Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

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  1. Mike

    I fully respect your choice not to snark any more, but if you ever change your mind I’ll be delighted to buy you a copy of Tyra Banks’s Modelland. 🙂

    But these weekly writing advice columns are a great weekly read too!

    June 1, 2017
    • Ilex

      I read all of Modelland and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads! I never intended to read the whole thing, but it was way less awful than I expected, even if it was 200 pages too long.

      I’m not saying I’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t care about its Tyra Banks connection. But to be fair, I think she did write the whole thing herself, and it was at least as good as quite a few other YA magical/paranormal/chosen one-type books that came out around the same time and weren’t by celebrity writers.

      Not that I think Tyra would care about being skewered here, but I vote for keeping the snark for authors who are primarily writers so that critiquing their plotting, sentence structure, characterization, etc., actually has some point to it.

      June 2, 2017
      • Mike

        Respectfully, I disagree. The characters were flatter than actual paper, the plot had holes that you could pilot an Imperial Star Destroyer through, and the protagonist, Tookie, was unintentionally unsympathetic. And the world-building was super inconsistent. Characters get new super powers as the plot demands, and act like idiots for no reason.
        Basically, Tyra keeps introducing new characters and plot elements without thinking through how they’re supposed to mesh with the rest of the world of the novel.

        I don’t have space to go into detail, so I’ll leave only one example of what I mean: Tookie is a master of languages, and has learned every language on Earth by reading about them in books. But she’s still worried that she’s going to be sold to a factory by her mother who doesn’t want to feed her anymore. This makes no sense–why wouldn’t Tookie just tell her mother about her language skills, to convince her to keep her and let her earn her keep as the world’s greatest translator? It seems like Tyra didn’t actually think this through properly.

        I could go on, but seriously, that book committed almost every beginner’s mistake of writing that I’ve ever heard of. You name a page of the book, I’ll name a mistake that’s made on that page. (That’s mostly rhetorical, but if somebody actually does name a page then I’ll take you up on it.)

        June 3, 2017
  2. Jana

    I asked because I really, really want you to snark Bella Aurora’s RAW!

    June 5, 2017
  3. Hanna

    I care way less about the fact she had sex with a dude than that she had sex with literally the first dude she ever met. That criticism aside, though, I loved the movie. It was very imperfect, but still awesome. Diana was inspiring.

    July 14, 2017
    • Hanna

      Er, I meant to comment on a different entry. Dang.

      July 14, 2017

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