Why You Gotta Have Friends

You’re a stereotypical brooding artist. You like large sweaters, tattoos, and latte flavors that no one else can pronounce. You spend more time avoiding people than you do in actual solitude, but you like it that way because nothing worth doing is ever easy. You specifically plan your creative spurts for when everyone else is out of the house, and your mom’s “Whatcha’ doin’?”’s might just be the end of your career.

You are an introvert.

Of course, this is all egregiously stereotypical, but as my grandma always said, stereotypes do exist for a reason. Writing a book requires copious amounts of time, effort, and concentration, and it should go without saying that those things can be diverted in the demands of a colorful social life. There are those wizard-magicians who manage to burb the baby, host a Tupperware party, and look fabulous all over Instagram, but finding those types of people among writing types of people (the Fitzgeralds aside) can be quite a feat. If you are truly committed to your craft, having a social life can be more of a bane than a boon.

So why do it at all? Writing a book is a solo task (Unless you’re coauthoring—yes, I know.), and you really don’t need your friends poking their noses around your unfinished manuscript.

If you’re an author, do you really need friends?

Please note that this isn’t a “yes, but actually no” article. There is no ambiguity, hesitation, or double meaning when I answer this question.

Yes.

Your writing group merits an entire post of its own, so for now, we’re going to dabble into the necessities of CP’s and beta readers. Perhaps you’ve heard these monikers but have no idea what they mean. Perhaps you know what they mean, but are too shy to employ them. Perhaps you have employed them, but they’ve sucked and have left you doubting the goodness of humanity.

Whatever the case, I can offer cursory explanations of CP’s and betas, but I sure as heck can’t wrangle them for you. That, my introverted friend, is your job.

CP: Meet Your New Best Friend

A CP, or a “critique partner,” is one of the best presents you can ever give yourself. Think of your CP as your “writing best friend”—someone to share all of your ideas, secrets, woes, and triumphs. Your CP will question you just as much as he agrees with you, and chances are, he’s going to critique just as much as he raves.

“CP” means something different for every author, but to give you a better picture of the relationship, let me introduce you to Matt.

Matt is an author who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and writes young adult fantasy. Matt gets to see my work before anyone else does. In fact, I often send him outlines of the plot before I write the book. If I’m having trouble hashing something out (plot detail, character development, dialogue snippet, etc.), I shoot Matt a sniveling email describing my frustrations. Inevitably, Matt replies with some sort of revelation, reminder, or brilliant idea, and then nudges me back on my way.

Matt knows my characters. He reads my books carefully, and he knows my writing style. If something is amiss, he’s the first one to call it out. “Hey, Hannah, would Patel really say something like this? Do you honestly think your audience is going to buy ninja nuns with chainsaw mittens?”

As ruffled and self-defensive as I get, he is also the first one to tell me when my work is not up to par. Matt has read my best, and he certainly knows when my writing isn’t at that level. He is never mean, nor is he disparaging. As my CP, he sends me that gingerly worded email telling me, “‘A’ for effort. Try again.”

Matt’s got my back.

You need a CP not only to preview and to improve your writing, but also to encourage you when you need it. As writers, we get other writers. We know what it’s like to struggle—to query, stare at blank pages, and then slog through thousands upon thousands of words just to have everything collapse with a critique. You are going to have bad days with your work, and when those days come, you need someone to remind you of the good days.

Your CP should be your fiercest critic, then your ultimate cheerleader. When the rubber meets the road, you need someone to believe in you.

Take it from this famous scene in Gurren Lagann:

When looking for a CP, you should try to find someone as good as, if not better than you. If that person sucks at writing their own book, how can you expect them to give you good feedback on yours? A CP relationship is a two-way street, so here’s to hoping that person feels the same about you. As much time and effort as he puts into your work, you should be returning to his.

Now, I’ve never heard of any “CP Contracts” stipulating how, when, and how much your critique partner is obligated to do for you, but like any relationship, it’s bound to be lopsided most of the time. There are times when I really need Matt’s help, then times when he really needs mine. Sometimes, those times coincide; other times, we’ll just be emailing funny videos back-and-forth for two solid weeks.

The journey of a writer is a tumultuous one. As a CP, it’s your job to be there when your partner needs you.

BETA READERS

When you think your work is ready for human eyes, it’s time to enlist some betas readers. Beta readers, or “pre-readers,” are those brave souls who dare to read your manuscript before it is edited, polished, and published. They can be as shallow as telling you, “Yea, that really wasn’t a piece of poo…” or as detailed as grammatical edits, but that depends on how much time and effort they are willing to spend with your book.

If you want a specific kind of feedback (line edits, grammar, plot structure, etc.), be sure to specify that to your beta before you give her the book. Again, you have to look at this as a relationship: If you don’t define your expectations, how is the other person supposed to know what your expectations are?

And trust me when I say that nothing kills a relationship like poor communication.

If you want detailed feedback, ask for it. If you’re just looking for a little colosseum thumb judgement, then say so. Understand that not everyone is going to want to pick apart your 120k, unedited manuscript line by line, and they have every right not to do so.

No matter how much someone gushes about being “honored” to read your unedited book, he or she is doing you a favor by doing so. Period.

Most of the time, betas should be out for the basics: flow, likability, plot holes, and egregious grammar mistakes. They are probably going to be reading your draft on their computer, so give them time, patience, and space; and for the love of Lichtenstein do not send angry emails back to them if you disagree with their feedback. Again, these people are doing you a favor. If you think their opinions are out of whack, politely thank them for their time and promptly ignore them.

As an author, your number one job is to be gracious. End of story.

It’s not a bad idea to look for different types of betas. Of course, you should send the book out to members of your target audience, but don’t be afraid to get diversified opinions, too. Often, you can find other authors who are also looking for beta readers and can proffer up an exchange of manuscripts. The more feedback you get, the better the book is going to be. Before I sent Patel out for querying, I recruited at least ten beta readers to look over the manuscript for me.

When you get your feedback, I recommend sitting on it for at least three days before responding. If I changed everything based on every single comment I’ve received, I wouldn’t have a book it all. It is also important to consider where the feedback is coming from. For instance, a twelve-year-old boy read my book and said he loved the action and the magic. My aunt read the same book and told me the writing was wonderful, but that she wasn’t a fan of the plot.

Let’s take a step back: My aunt is a New York businesswoman. The boy is a junior high student.

My book is a middle grade fantasy. I could take my aunt’s comments to heart (“Oh, woe is me! She hated the plot! It’s never going to sell! Blah, blah, blah…”), but then I have to consider that my aunt is not my audience. She has fantastic feedback, but she is not going to be the person who buys this book.

When assessing feedback from betas, it is just as important to listen to their comments as it is to question those comments.

So there you have it. Yes, I know you hate people. Yes, I know you work alone. However, you really have to trust me when I say that you are missing out on the sumptuous riches of feedback and friendship if you stick to total isolation.

Throughout my journey, I’ve found that writers tend to be pretty chill people. Most of them are gracious beyond belief, and even a New York Times Best Seller won’t mind sitting down for a Starbucks to discuss marketing strategies.[1] The coolest thing about the writing community is that it’s always open and always exciting. If you keep your manuscript to yourself, you’re going to miss all of that.

When tackling this subject, I like to take it from Hermey the Elf. You want to be independent? Then “let’s be independent together!”

 

[1] Yes, I had coffee with Elise Kova, author of the Air Awakens Series. Get on my level.

h.kates

H. Kates is a war gamer turned author. Her middle grade fantasy, PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY, debuts October of 2018.

4 comments

  • Nice article. I’d be pretty surprised if anyone ever produced a really tremendous piece of fiction without having friends in some form or another. Besides what you describe above, the practical side of things as a writer, it also can’t be understated that without social interactions the chances of creating realistic characters and dialogue become slimmer. I wonder if the latest series of the Walking Dead is some sort of avant garde attempt at writing fiction as if you’d never once seen people interact with one another…

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  • Thanks for the shout out, Hannah!!!

    This is definitely true as true gets. As a self-proclaimed “loner,” I never would’ve imagined having even as tiny a social life as I do could ever be a boon. But the help I have recieved from you, Hannah (CPs forever!) and my other writing pals has been beyond invaluable. I can’t thank you all enough!

    To any introverted writers who might read this… listen to this woman. She speaks the truth! As hard as it is to get out of your cave and make acquaintences, it is for the benefit of your writing. And we definitely are a super laid-back (if a bit crazy) subculture, so you’re sure to feel welcome. 🙂

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  • Hi Hannah,
    This is Lindsay (Matt’s sister) and I would just like to say a heartfelt “Thank you” for the sweet things you wrote about Matthew and to tell you he does that stuff not just for his writing friends, he’s just really good at bouncing ideas off of and listening. Must come from being raised around me and my mom.
    I know he thinks the world of you as well so I’m happy that you guys are friends! I’m an introvert too and I know first hand how hard it can be to find people who understand. Matthew always tells me we’d really like each other so hopefully I’ll get to meet you if you ever get back to the states.
    Anyway, thanks again for being such an awesome friend to my little brother😅. And congratulations on the book! Can’t wait to read it when it’s done.

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    • Lindsay,

      So great to hear from you! Matt has told me all about you, and I truly believe we’re best friends who just haven’t met. 🙂 Everything in this article is completely true, so there’s really no need to thank me for anything. I needed a perfect illustration, and Matt was it. He fits the bill of ideal CP, talented writer, and all-around great friend just by being himself.

      I’ll be back up in JAX when I get back to the states. (Have to hit up Black Sheep for my next tattoo!) Come out for burgers with us! It would be an honor to meet you. And thank you so very much for the kind words about Patel. I hope you like magical sushi-go-rounds.

      Sante!

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