Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The B-Team - Part 2

And lo, the writers were countless, like the grains
of sand on the beach, like the stars in the heavens

For every writer there is a process, and for every process there are a thousand iterations.  Millions and millions of authors slave over keyboards, half-drunk glasses at their elbow, and the air mixed with frustration and excitement.  There is no one right way to write (heh, that was clever), but we shouldn’t just learn by doing—we should let the wisdom of those who went before us act as a guide.

For example, twenty-odd years ago I was in a science fiction and fantasy class taught by in part by Jack Williamson.  He liked to relate a story about a famous scifi author whose name I can never recall.  Dr. Williamson, the grandmaster of science fiction, knew them all, so it could have been Heinlein or Pohl or Zelazny or Asimov.  What he said struck me as foolish at the time.  This author, this great luminary in the skies of speculative fiction, told Dr. Williamson that he’d burned 100,000 words.  For those of my non-author readers, that’s a novel’s worth.

Don't burn me, bro!
Can you imagine it?  A novel, by one of the greats, gone.  Just gone.

It’s like hearing that Michelangelo decided the Sistine Chapel wasn’t worthwhile, and spray painted over the entire ceiling.

Dr. Williamson’s remark: “I figure that was probably a good thing.”

Flash forward to two years ago.  I decided to get behind the controls of a serious book and really write it.  I dabbled with a fantasy story for decades, the story that I really wanted to write.  In the meantime, I’d started a half-dozen other novels, completed two, and kept trying to turn a manuscript, conceived in the brain of a fifteen year old, into a gem.

Not disturbing.  Not.  At.  All.
Well, you can put lipstick on a pig, but my manuscript was still crap.

Complete and utter crap.

I had heroes who couldn’t be beaten.  I have villains of every cliché.  I had tired plot lines that were forced for the sake of what I considered to be awesome.  They weren’t.

I took Dr. Williamson’s twenty year old advice, tossed the manuscript away and started over.

But not immediately.  The one problem I seem to always run into is stopping a quarter or half-way through writing.  I wanted help.  I wanted support.  I wanted people I could trust who could tell me if what I was writing was worthwhile, or more of the same crap I’d toiled over for twenty-five years.

Early draft.
I asked a couple of friends if they would be willing to read for me.  I wanted their brutal honesty.  I wanted to know where I’d made logical errors, or when things were unclear, or even just stupid.  I wanted them to tear apart every paragraph and see if I had anything.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was asking for a beta team.

Writers don’t write in a vacuum.  You don’t need a full beta team to read each chapter as you finish it (although this is what I do).  Even if it’s just to bounce ideas off, or to commiserate with—much less ask how many times musketeers could shoot and reload their weapons—having support is what’s going to carry you through to the end.

It’s important to find those resources—friends or acquaintances or even strangers—at the start, and use them throughout the process.  Listen to them, don’t argue.  Thank them for their effort at reading, and their effort at feedback.  If you can, buy them drinks, lots of drinks.  If your beta team contains writers, offer to do the same in return.

Because, as I said in a short article I wrote almost a year ago:

If you have a manuscript
If you need readers
And if you can find them
Maybe, just maybe you can hire . . . The B-Team

Take it from me.  They’ll make the difference.

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