The Other Side.

Hi. Jill’s husband here.  Jill asked that I do a post for her on her birthday!  So I’ve sent her to bed and am writing this in her stead. I think this will be useful but first you have to step into my world for just a second.

I love games. In particular, I voraciously play a certain card game that involves two players, each with a deck of cards. Many people become attached to their deck, and see it as an extension of their persona. It has been carefully crafted.  It is their tool for defeating opponents. It contains rare cards that they own. In short, people want to play with their deck. So it came as a surprise to my opponent at a tournament yesterday when I asked if we could switch decks (during a non tournament game).

The reason I do this is to lean how my deck operates from the opponent’s perspective. Some cards may not seem powerful, but when played against you are quite brutal and visa versa. This made me realize that I was a good person to talk about living with a writer and focus on the other side.

Time

actually i just needed an embaressing picture

Being stranded on a park bench in a flooded lake may hinder writing time…

Living with a writer is an interesting study in the use of time. There is never enough to go around. I take way more time in our relationship, and with more immediate specter of income, we both agree that my career time constraints have priority over Jill’s. I thought that her time writing could be truly flexible, but it has come to my attention that she is more productive at certain times of the day or has a routine that she prefers to work within. I don’t always realize when I’ve disrupted that routine.

Alpha/Beta Reading

Usually I have the role of reading material as it is generated. Or at the very least ideas are reviewed off me. In many instances I am just awed at what Jill can produce. I am not a writer nor do I enjoy the process, but I have read quite a bit. To quote that one guy: “I may not know much about [writing], but I know what I like.” My comments are often like that. I may have a minor complain about a character or how the story is laid out, or I may just express my love of how similar situations were treated in my favorite books. Jill is the one who has to mold that whimsical desire into her storyline in a literarily appropriate manner. In a similar vein, some of my proudest moments come from giving ideas to her stories that actually come to fruition.

Moral Support

yep, they're cute alright!

Moral support is about all they can do to help…

The biggest influence I think I have on Jill as a writer is as moral support. Full disclosure here: sometimes I think that all this writing stuff is useless unless its getting a paycheck. But then I realize that my schooling and unpaid internships are generating just as much money. And I truly believe in the skills my wife possesses and the material she produces. I think it is amazing and people should pay to read her work. Besides, even if her current novel fails to every publish it is still not a “failure”. It’s a piece of good writing, of value for her, and to all who do read it.  Is a painting useless is if no one buys it? No. Writing is clearly an art, and there is something beautiful and inspiring about the creating of art. There is not a way to really put a price on that.

Other Other Side

I just want to end my note here by reiterating my example of the card game. In the game, there is always a single clear opponent. From what I gather of the writing business there are a number of people who have an important opinion of what a writer does. The spouse is at the bottom of that list in many ways. I think this blog has many examples of how to gain the perspective of the agents, readers, publishers, editors, and reviewers.

I hope we can all get a little more understanding of each other by “switching decks” as often as possible.

Thank you Jill for being so wonderful, and happy birthday!
Hubby

Usin’ and Abusin’

I have long and loud lauded the glories and contributions of beta readers. Beta readers get a sneak peak at our baby before it’s left on some agent’s front porch, and they tell us what makes it a lovely and/or ugly little baby. Then we can beautify our babe a bit more in the hope that someone will pick that little darling up and take it in out of the cold.

But for some of us, that’s not enough. We need even more hand-holding than that. And those long suffering hand-holders are more like our doulas, helping us push that ugly newborn out in the first place.

That’s right, I’m talking about alpha readers. Not every writer needs them. But for those of us who do, they are an absolute god-send. My half-formed protolizard fetal story ideas would probably never make it into first draft form without my alpha reader. (She also is my best friend and we constantly make each other’s husbands jealous. My cousin thinks we are secretly lesbian lovers. This relationship has all sorts of benefits.)

Alpha readers are different from beta readers in that they get the blow-by-blow of the writing process. Alpha readers hang with their writers every step of the way, offering suggestions, asking insightful questions, and kicking your rear into gear when you slack off. And then when you’re all done with that first draft, they usually double up as a beta reader, too. All alpha readers have their own style, but here are the uses I make of my literary slave best buddy who I’d never ever abuse.

Brainstorming There is something about pinging ideas off of a like-minded buddy that just gets my creative juices flowing. She’s pretty much my muse. I usually come into these sessions with something I’m excited about. If I can get her excited about it, too, I know we may be onto something.

Outlining/Story-boarding Or however you do it. I tend to write out a long-winded list of points that my alpha reader then tears into like a shark into a tuna. This is where having an alpha reader is most beneficial for me. She chews that outline to bits and then spits it back at me, demanding more. She wants the details. And heaven help me, I don’t have them. So I’d better get them. Before my fingers ever touch the keyboard, she makes me think through every subplot, every relationship, every side character, and every motivation and reaction. Which saves me huge amounts of fuss and worry later on when I start writing.

Researching I have seriously dragged my alpha reader out into the woods with me in full elfy-garb to cook slabs of raw meat over an open fire that we built without the benefit of a hatchet. I also made her slap me. Not all alpha readers will spend the night shivering with you in your bishop’s tree house. But my alpha reader is pretty much the cat’s meow.

Writing Alpha reader involvement varies from person to person. My alpha is with me every step of the way. We write together daily (or mostly daily, anyway- I have a really pathetic internet connection) and so we know exactly what the other is working on at all times. That really keeps my nose to the grindstone. If I’m bored writing, I know my alpha reader is bored hearing about it. And my beta readers will be bored reading about it. And agents won’t get past the first sentence.

Fixing the Cheesy/Boring/Cliche/Etc. Poop You’ve Just Written Just because you’ve written it doesn’t mean you know how to fix it. Or even that you can recognize it. Probably about every week, if not more, my poor alpha reader gets some whiny message about how So-and-so’s golden hair sparkling in the sunshine just isn’t working out and I don’t know why, and then she has to pull my butt out of the emo chair and help me shovel the poo. (Actually, my issues are more along the lines of “Should I KILL So-and-so in such-and-such a way, or some other way?” Because So-and-so must die.) This isn’t usually something that happens in the end. This is a boots-on-the-ground emergency clean-up crew. Whatever I wrote yesterday was plain garbage, so it’s the alpha reader’s job to talk me through the fixin’s today. I don’t know how many emails I’ve sent my beta reader titled “Is this weird?” Or stupid. Or boring. Or whatever the adjective of the day is. And I can always count on her giving me her honest reaction.

Then and only then do my beta readers get a steaming hot mess shoveled out into their inboxes. (Now all my beta readers are wondering what the heck my poor alpha reader has to put up with.)

So how does one pick up a suitable alpha reader? Just poke around! Make friends on the internet. Meet other writers in your community. Join a critique group and sort through the pickin’s there. I found my alpha reader at church. It’s important to have an alpha reader that you can be completely honest with (because things will get messy) and who can be completely honest with you (because things will get messy).

Once you have a solid working relationship with your alpha reader, it’s like having a second brain rattling around your skull. And, I don’t care what the doctors say, that can only be a good thing.