A Novelist’s Special Team

A team of people can range in number and style for the needs of a project. I learned early on, like most of us in this world, in school you can’t get any class project done without your teammates. For most of my class work projects that consisted of two to four other classmates, I was shunned by the small group. Because of this, I nearly failed a few projects in History, Science and Social Studies.

I worked best by myself after that. Finding I learned faster on my own and completed projects, when mostly done by yourself anyway, I excelled at the project put before me.

As I began writing my first manuscript from September 1995 to May 1, 1996 I worked alone, of course. I continued to work alone for my second, third and fourth manuscripts that followed. I thought I learned all that I could with all the ‘how to write fiction’ books at my disposal and all the YouTube videos of fellow writers teaching what they learned along the way. I thought I had it all figured out. That I didn’t quite need a team.

I wasn’t exactly wrong, per se. More like I was afraid of being shunned again by fellow writers of the adult age group. I didn’t want to go through the shunning experience again. Yet, it finally came to it that I needed someone to help me critique my work.

My three beta readers are part of that ever growing team that were the starting off point. A few years later, Mike found me on Reddit and the rest is history at this point. He’s one teammate so far in my writing journey for the technical part at this stage of Draft 3 book 1. Critique Partners are so vital to find the developmental problems in a story that the author can’t see for all the words on the pages.

The thing is, all the writing classes in school over the years, English classes, how to writing books and YouTube videos about the process of writing and revision (reshoots I call it), none of them call the Critique Partner, Beta Reader, Editor and Literary Agent and Publisher the following – Quality Control.

Quality Control is when a team works together to check each other’s work on a project. Every nook and cranny of nuts, bolts, panels, electrical wiring, windows, sealant, carpet, etc has to be checked and double checked. Only until the airplane has gone through hundreds of quality control checks and signed by each team manager and that area’s quality control manager, can the airplane go down the next line of manufacturing. Any mistakes found, the process of that section of mistakes starts over again until it is all checked out correctly and signed. I learned this while working for a short time at Boeing.

The same rigorous quality control must take place down the line for a book. No matter how many passes through quality control team members take the manuscript until it is finally ready for publication. Without quality control, which seems to be lacking in the publishing world on all fronts, reading a book can and will bother its target audience. The reader will pull it apart finding basic or crazy mistakes in continuity, grammar, pacing, etc. This will aggravate them to no end because they were hoping to have a nearly flawless prose to read to their heart’s content.

Here’s what I learned at each early to current stage of my writing process.

Early Years – From September 1995 to May 1, 1996 I hand wrote in three black lined notebooks in school during study period, lunch and after my work was done for any said class. I even wrote in the school library sometimes. And when I had time to myself in my bedroom when I got home to write. During this time, once I thought it was ready, I type it all up on the school computers in Computer Class onto hard floppy disks and printed it out at the library.

I wouldn’t go back to this first manuscript again until 2005. I picked up where it left off on chapter 18 but typed it up instead of the painful hand written prose from years before. Once reading it through and giving it to my mother and a friend to read, beta readers to be exact, they both told me the harsh truth that I needed – Mom said, “Honey, I can’t go any further.” She had read up to 150 out of 350. “There’s nothing going on. I can’t even tell if there is a story here or not.”…Then my friend said, “How old were you when you wrote this?” he had read up to page 50. Replied, “Sixteen.” He said in return, “Oh, that’s just as bad as if you were writing it while drunk.”…Shortly after that, I gathered the typed edition and three notebooks and trunked it. I knew even by myself it wasn’t to be edited through. This manuscript was a test to see if I could tell the story to myself while writing it. I am now, however, able to salvage a few chapters for later.

New Stage Early Years – October 2009 to December 2015 was busy and full of turmoil with family and an abusive marriage. Here, I had an affair. Someone to touch. Someone to hold. Someone to talk my grievances to while I cried myself to sleep most nights in my marriage bed. The affair only lasted a few months, but to me that was enough. It was during this time, shortly before the affair started, that I had a slight story concept.

The first character that came to mind was David Geraci, but I had put him up as Ynycornus from years ago from the first manuscript and from the confines of my subconscious trying to comprehend the abuses I endured for most of my life. Something in me saw a story about my ‘spirit guide’. If he was once alive, if at all, what was his life like? What did he go through? In my mind he kept telling me, “Are you sure you want to know?” I hammered him for more. I wanted to know. I wanted to understand his side of the story that lay far out of reach to me.

He told me all he could as I wrote it down as fast as I could in notes here and there in three hard bound black book of shadows. In this process the concept took shape. Even sketching him when he was at first Ynycornus from manuscript one I drew him as best I could. Slowly, with each chapter, the story of Vivian’s journey to the ‘other side’ with the imposter Ynycornus taking her on a road trip across the country to his home in Lowell, Massachusetts. It all began to take shape.

The first draft was 24 chapters and 140,000 word count. With some help from a friend, who had originally read the first manuscript a few years prior, he helped me widdle it down to 120,000 words. For his help, it was mostly brainstorming ideas when I was stuck. Little did I realize until the fourth draft of manuscript 2, that he had convinced me to put him into the story. Since then, going back to an original draft three level for this part, I’ve erased him from the story. It had no purpose to the story what so ever. Slowing things down and all.

March 2013 I filed for divorce from my abusive husband. I then had to make a horrible choice since I had no other place to go – move back to Tennessee to live with my elder parents and brother. I won’t get into that nightmare of a situation of two years, but I will at least say this – got that second manuscript published for a one year contract in 2014.

Oh, the lessons learned from that small publisher. Damn. Won’t go into details, but when she gave me an editor and this editor pointed out problems in the first chapter and then said, “Look through what I edited in the first chapter. Go through the manuscript and find similar issues and fix them. Once you’re done, get back to me.”…Uh, what? I half assed my efforts cause I didn’t know any better, but at the same time, I thought an editor was to help you along the way? Not leave you to the wolves like that. The book was published, but there were loads of mistakes which now I have cleaned up greatly and cut nearly half the book apart to flow better. I was under an unrealistic deadline with that publisher to get the edits done in a month. That’s not how traditional publishing works. Overall, it was an experience and I sold fifty copies at least digital and paperback. I have three paperback copies myself. One of which is full editing marks in pencil and pen as study for future full on edits.

In December 2015 I dropped the contract. By then I had moved back to Washington state in late September 2015 by train. All I had on me was one very full roll duffel bag, one large roll luggage bag and one small roll luggage bag. All inside the bags were the most precious of belongings – manuscript one printed copy, two of the black notebooks of the original handwritten, how to write fiction books as many as could fit, watercolor art supplies and paints and some cloths. Along with mailing my art portfolio bag of art, Robert Forbear unicorn poster and the antique oval mirror. I was panicking when about to leave my family behind. Being threatened to be killed due to my mother’s delusional mental illness and my brother’s mental illness of threatening the same to me, I had to leave.

Midway Years – From January 2016 to 2019 I was ready to continue the story of the Geraci mansion and Vivian’s adventure of facing her pain. I had added many more characters in the now third manuscript. Before I had left Tennessee in fall 2015, I was in the early stages of at least five chapters into the third manuscript. I kept getting interrupted from my family. It was like I was the adult in the house having to maintain three adult children with childish behaviors and demands due to mental illness, Alzheimer’s Disease (my mother), alcoholism (my dad and brother) and drug use (my brother). I was the truth telling; amateur psychology doctor maintaining a mini asylum. All the while trying to write a new manuscript to continue the story.

I had come back to Washington state a mental mess. My mild PTSD, mild anxiety and mild depression running rapid in me like it dialed up to level 10 at least. Thankfully my psychiatrist Dr. K. back in TN was able to help me figure things out before I left. I was at his office at least every week to every other week depending when he had an opening. Knowing of my own mental illness, which is far more manageable than what I could dare say about my father, brother and mother (which they need far more help then I, which should have been given to them way before I was ever born)…Since I could not concentrate on my love for writing, I had to at least take a break for almost two years.

By late summer 2016 I started working more on the third manuscript. I found my zone in my writing. This third manuscript took maybe six months tops. I then dived into the fourth manuscript in the spring of 2017. I at least got 68,000 words down for manuscript three and 40,000 word count for manuscript four. Both needed far more details fleshed out and I knew this would take time. Both these manuscripts, not to mention manuscript two were FAR, FAR from being looked at by a critique partner. I at least gave these two manuscripts to three Beta Readers in 2017 since one of them had bought the first publication of Soul’s Little Lie when it was in print back in 2015. Having these three Beta Readers helped me set up an editing (reshoot) mindset later on.

Current Phase of Writing – 2020…Oh, my God. It started out just fine. I was rolling along for draft 3 of manuscript three and four nearly at the same time here and there. Mostly was working on manuscript three from January to early March. Then, all shit hit the fan for the world. Covid-19 virus.

Concentration went out the window. Concentration took her bags, jumped out of my soul and heart, leaving my brain in shock and flew the coupe! I was a mess like everyone else who had a hard time looking into working on their current or near future projects in writing, painting, animation, music, etc. We all halted to a stand still in shock.

I tried. Damn did I try to get the motor running in my manuscript editing work. I even started cataloging my writing process of what parts I was working on and how many hours worked in a bullet journal since January 2020. I was set and ready to tackle all three manuscripts to Soul’s Little Lie books. I was pumped, but ya know, 2020 year was a dumpster fire times a million percent!

I set up my bullet journal like a basic calendar that would last me a whole decade of logging. Had to do this since my favorite writing log app WriteOMeter on GooglePlay had up and disappeared no longer with updates to it. It was a sad day for everyone who used that app. It was the best.

After months of fiddling about with chapters here for edits and chapters there and note taking and author bible fixes and updates, I bit the bullet in early October. I posted my need for a critique partner on Reddit. All I was looking for was POV issues. What Mike, my critique partner, found was so much more. He’s currently on chapter 13 of manuscript three and has two more chapters to go.

What Mike found was astounding. I had already suspected as much of shifting chapters and character pieces over to manuscript four, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. My suspicions continued to be correct by Mike’s findings that with one character’s story arch shifted over to the other manuscript, it made the whole new first book flow much better. This then lead me to break down manuscript two even further to find it needed to be at the end of manuscript three which bulked up areas that were flat or missing completely.

This now made the new book one a total word count of 138,000. I can chop that down nicely since I already went through the first publication attempt knowing exactly what to eliminate. Then I saw the problems with manuscript four and how the shifted character arch to be placed at the beginning of this manuscript. This too, made its story bulkier and more connected to the drama in the story with a new location for scenes. It kept two characters closer together to complete both their story arches.

All I have to do now is fill in the blank areas of Vivian’s abuses of her husband in Act I that blends into Act II. Act III, which is manuscript two, will have to be cut a lot to make it fit, but I think I can do it. It will make four books turn into three books instead. A trilogy which is far easier to put together. Once all these ‘reshoots’ are done on my end, I go back to finding a new pair of eyes and fresh mind for a second Critique Partner – teammate #5 to the group.

In retrospect, if I hadn’t gone about swallowing my foolish pride in finding a Critique Partner, I would have sent off the manuscript 3 to querying prematurely. This would have caused set backs due to rejections. With each stage of development in the ever changing Quality Control tactics, I’ve learned far more than ever since only ten years ago. In such a short time of three months, I’ve learned exactly how Developmental Edits are done. Why that first critical step in edits, no matter how daunting it may look at first, is far more important than the piddly edits I attempted on my own.

To have teamwork to build a project as complex as a novel will propel you further toward your writing career and dream coming true for publication than you ever thought possible.

So far, 5 Beta Readers and 1 Critique Partner. The team is growing and will keep growing as the Quality Control moves along down the conveyer belt of production for future publication.