I pecked at each letter with an unnatural purpose, leaving just enough pause between each tap to prolong the moment. With all the sustain I could wrangle out of the plastic keyboard, I watched the final period come onto the screen. Rolling for Coal had been well over two years in the making, much of the rewrite and revision work done at 30,000 feet over the course of a few hundred thousand miles. Though I knew I still had quite a bit to learn through the Beta Read process, at that moment, part of me believed I was finished. It was an amazing feeling.
That was then.
Truth is, through the Beta Read process, I now know I have a long way to go. No, it’s not another two years. But it’s more than a few edits. To be totally candid, I was crushed by this realization. Not because I’m afraid to do the work, it’s just that I am ready to move on.
I am ready for the end so that I can be back at the beginning.
The good: my Beta Readers were kind: all but one finished the book; without exception I received helpful and constructive feedback (use a questionnaire). My Readers seemed to agree that both the story and writing got better – much better – as it went along.
It was amazing to hear my readers talk about my characters – to say their names, discuss their personalities and desires, even question their actions, motivations, or shortcomings. It was as if they knew them (or had an idea of how they wanted them to be), and as a first time novelist, it was gratifying to hear their names. Prior to this process, my characters were just that: mine. Even if critical, my beta readers put air into their lungs, gave them a pulse and I was able to watch fictitious friends come alive. If I wasn’t totally hooked on writing fiction, I am now.
The not-so-good: It was evident that the harder I tried, the harder it became for my readers to enjoy the story. This was particularly true in the first half of the book, where my prose was thick; chunky metaphors and long-winded descriptions derailed the pace.
At first, this actually surprised me. I had spent considerably more time on the first half and I actually thought my writing was more refined. I even tried to bend the rules. The problem was my labor was obvious. I didn’t hide behind the words, I stood in front of them. On each page, I was a distraction, and I didn’t disappear until the second half.
Truth is, as hard as it is to take, not many people would get past the first half as it stands: reading with someone over your shoulder is incredibly irritating, especially if it’s the author.
The take-away: My writing improved as the story went along, and for most, the story stuck. I can be happy with that. I’ve learned that there is probably more than just a little room for improvement, but I’m willing to put the effort in to fix prose, trim fat, and kill a few darlings. I can even take myself out of the story. And once I do, there is still a big part of me that knows I might just have something to go with here.
Bottom line, instead of writing “the end,” I should have confessed “to be continued.” Stay tuned, if you want to come along for the ride (I wish I had a Delorean).