Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Put Down the Phone Before You Crash

by Elizabeth

I was headed to yoga a few weeks ago when a woman in the next lane nearly veered into my car. Only my reflexes saved us from what would have been at the very least a very ugly alteration to both our vehicles

Being me, I took a gander at the offender when we were alongside each other a minute later. Sure enough, she was texting. Still texting. While driving in a 40 mph zone, a spot where three lanes slim to two, mere seconds after almost sideswiping me. I thought about honking to get her attention, maybe waving my own phone at her so she'd know why, but I didn't. For one thing, I would have had to dig my phone out of my purse, which would make me nearly as inattentive as her. For another, it wouldn't make a difference. She's going to keep on texting behind the wheel until her car actually goes thunk. And maybe after that.

Since I was using the time in the car to think about my WIP instead of inviting a friend to lunch, and since I'm getting ready to send that baby off to beta readers, my mind turned to what they would say and what I would do when they did. Meaning, if they tell me to cut out this scene or storyline or even character because it's just not serving the story, will I? I have to admit, the first time I queried, I got the same comments from pretty much everyone who read the manuscript, but did I do it? Not until I'd queried just about every agent on my list, only to get full requests turned into no thanks, it just isn't working for me comments.

A couple of months ago, my son tested for his second level of black belt at Tae Kwon Do. He's been taking classes for something like five years now, and he would be the first to admit that for the first few years, he sort of went to class, but didn't really apply himself. Sometime in junior high, that changed, and he started really working, and it showed. He achieved his black belt, and when I went and watched him test that day, I was blown away by his ability. The day for his second level test, he was asked to break a stack of boards with a kick. The first one missed, and his Master leaned in (okay, up, do you see how tall that kid is?) and said something in his ear. The next kick, the boards broke neatly in two, and the grin on his face (mostly) made up for sitting on that tiny uncomfortable chair for two hours.

Here's what these three scenarios have in common: she isn't going to change until the reality that what she's doing wrong literally slams into her. I didn't take some very good advice, and I didn't get published. My son listened, and succeeded.

This time, I'm going to listen.

It's hard. I know there's a good chance readers will tell me that something I love needs to go. Will they be right? Maybe not--but if three or four people tell me the same thing, it's probably right. I've already done a lot of pulling out stuff that I realized was good writing, fun to read, but ultimately words that don't serve the manuscript.

This has been said here before, and likely it's been said on every writing blog out there, in nearly every writer's guide, and shouted at many a critique group, but it bears repeating: listen to what your beta readers say. If you've chosen them with care and trust them, trust them. They want the best for you, for your manuscript, and if that great character you love shouldn't be in the story, well, the character needs to go. Put down the phone. Listen to those who would help you. And revel in the success you might find.


  1. You're not alone, Elizabeth. It only took me 4 years and !*&%$@! rejections to kill (or, unkill, rather) a character who was not serving my story. You're gonna get it right this time.

  2. Well, here's a good question, Elizabeth. Is there something you already know needs to go before you even send this to your betas? You seem to be thinking about this a lot and I wonder because of that. If so, what are you waiting for? Do it now! :) You also know a lot more than you did a few years ago. Trust what you've learned, and you'll start the critique process another step ahead.

    1. That's what I've been doing the past few months! Making sure I don't send out stuff that will be universally recommended as a nixer before I get it in front of the first readers. Which does not, of course, mean they won't find stuff they find extraneous, and I am prepared for that. More importantly, I am prepared to listen to that, especially if it's coming from more than one quarter. A single beta reader's opinion, varying from mine, may or may not be right. But if three or four people and then agents tell you the same thing? It's way past time to listen.

      And thank you, and yes, I think I do know a lot more than I did. I hope the MS I am working on is the one to fly! I feel good about it, and that's something.


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