Are You A…. Crit Partner or Beta Reader

Which One Are You?

(Please note, this is a repost from our very first sponsor posts of the challenge, Crit Partner or Beta Reader: Which One Are You by Susan Bischoff from March 14, 2011.)

As we near the end of ROW80, I thought I’d give you a post about editing. Here are some things that won’t be covered: proofreading, line-editing, copy-editing. These are all basically the same thing, and are a final phase that comes after the real editing has been completed. The lesson in this paragraph: proofreading does not equal editing.

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk crits and betas. A lot of times you’ll see these terms used interchangeably. I’m not sure there are official definitions or if there’s an actual difference, but in my head I definitely make a distinction between these two characters, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. The difference between beta and crit in the mind of Susan, and how it applies to you.

To me, beta reading is a kindler, gentler art than critique. Beta readers are a small pool of readers with slightly varying tastes and life experiences (because our own life experience often plays into our enjoyment of fiction) who are going to give your book a read-through to see if they like it. While some are more critical than others, beta readers basically want to like your book and generally will. When you send things out to beta readers, you’re often looking for general impressions:

* Did it make sense?
* Did you enjoy the story? How was the pacing?
* Did you like my characters, esp. the mains? Were they relate-able, could you connect?
* Did you feel like there were holes? Was anything confusing?

These are all important things to know. Naturally, you think you’ve handled all this before you let anyone else see the book, but it’s good to get confirmation from fresh eyes and different brains.

Beta reading usually doesn’t take much longer than any other kind of reading, and, while some betas may note some typos for you, ask a few questions, or write a bunch of LOLs within your text, what you usually get back are a few paragraphs with general impressions.

Critique implies criticism, or at least critical thinking. Someone who is critiquing your work is not casual about their reading. They’re thinking like an editor. Unlike the beta who gives you a read-through, wanting to like your work, a crit partner combs your text, line by line, wanting to make sure as many people like it as possible. They’re looking for more than “Do I like this?” I guess the easiest way to describe reading for critique, in the way I think of it, is that a crit partner is looking for things to be wrong.

Which is why finding a good critique partner or editor is really hard. Because not everyone is good at looking for problems objectively, from the mindset of Genre-Reader X. Some people who go looking for mistakes do so because they get personal satisfaction in finding mistakes and pointing them out rather than the in the editorial process itself. Some people involve ego in their crits. Some people aren’t able to step out of their own voice and style and objectively evaluate work that is different from the way they would have written it.

Good critique involves, amongst other things, understanding the voice and style of the author you’re working for, and understanding the genre you’re reading. Because as a crit partner, you’re placing yourself in the character of Genre-Reader X, a picky reader who would be happy to write a scathing, 1-star review on Amazon. You’re undercover as Genre-Reader X, looking for anything that might confuse or pull the reader out of the story, when, in reality, you’re really the person who stands between your author and that 1-star review.

As a crit partner, even though you’re in there looking for mistakes, it’s not because you want to tear your partner down, it’s because your job is to serve and protect your author by helping to find weak spots and flaws that she was too close to see. It’s then up to her to decide, hopefully with the same amount of objectively you brought to the job, whether and how to make changes. You might provide thoughts, guidance, suggestions, but the work is hers, and so are the decisions.

Now you have some understanding of how I think of these two different terms and we can get to my real question: In your own work, are you doing beta or crit?

I see this a lot: “Whew! I finally finished the first draft. Huzzah! Now a quick pass for typos and then it’s off to the betas!”

I’m here to suggest, based on what I’ve seen in rough drafts over the past few years, that you do more than a quick pass for typos. When you’re writing your first draft, it’s important for many people to just write through and not go back and edit the work as you go. There’s value in that. But your readers, even the pre-release readers on your team, deserve more than a pass for typos. In fact, they probably don’t much care about the typos (proof-reading being an entirely DIFFERENT event that comes after this phase).

But, more importantly, part of growing as a writer is learning to be better evaluators of fiction, including our own. It may be especially true for indies, many of whom won’t have the benefit of professional editorial services, or will have to pay for those by the hour, that learning to put yourself in that Genre-Reader X suit and to look at your work objectively will be an invaluable skill. I think that the more you’re able to do this after your draft is written, the more you’ll be able to internalize what works and what doesn’t, and the stronger your first drafts will be going forward.

So what I’m suggesting in this post is to consider becoming a critiquer, as opposed to a beta, of your own work, before anyone else ever sees it. Rather than giving it a quick read-through, and one in which you want to love everything you’ve written, learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and evaluate. Think critically and learn to find your own weak points.

Editing, whether it’s for yourself or a fellow writer, is a skill all its own. Few people are naturally good at all aspects of writing. Learning to analyze what works and what doesn’t in fiction and in your genre, learning to be objective about your work–these things can take time. Probably the hardest thing is learning to see what’s actually on the page, rather than what’s in your head that you meant to be on the page.

Keep practicing your editorial skills, on your own work, and on work you critique for your peers, and they’ll improve like any other skill set in your Writer Arsenal of DOOM.


Susan Bischoff


Breaking Up (Pieces of Success?)

(Please note, this is a repost from our very first sponsor posts of the challenge, Breaking Up Your Goals by Belinda Kroll, from February 21, 2011.)

The thing about writing goals, with any goals, really, is they always seem like some distant, nebulous event that you may or may not ever reach. Which to me, is the inherent problem with goals. Goals aren’t events, meaning once you reach the goal, you might not feel the elation of reaching the goal because you’re already thinking: “What’s next?”

The problem with goals is we often choose goals that are a conglomeration of a lot of little goals. This is what I would like to talk about: the breaking up of a big goal into little goals so that you can actually accomplish your goal.

My goal for this first round is to finish edits and release my short story/poetry anthology, Love or Lack Thereof. Already this has been broken into smaller goals of writing and editing each poem and short story to the best of my ability. With each story, I can break it down into smaller goals still: characterization, motivation, plot twists, conflicts. I know I need to have the pieces done in time to get to my editor for cleaning, and then I have to format the anthology for publication.

Are you having trouble with your goal? Did you make a goal that is now seeming a bit more than you can chew? What to do, what to do?!

Imagine you are the hero in the story of your life. You have a goal in mind for this round of 80 days which requires smaller successes and triumphs to accomplish it. You will have conflicts such as life events that will get in your way. How will you surmount these conflicts? Do you have a plan?

Either way, here’s a hug from me as congratulations for trying this ROW80 out in the first place. Good for you for trying. Now that we’ve gotten that taken care of, take a look at your goal and change it so you CAN accomplish it. Accomplishing something small is better than accomplishing nothing at all. Best of luck!


Belinda Kroll

Writing to the Future (from the past)

(Please note, this is a repost from our very first sponsor posts of the challenge, Writing to the Future by Craig Hansen, from February 14, 2011.)

As I write this, I have no idea where you are in your project as you read this. I have no idea where I’ll be in mine. Because I’m speaking to a future that hasn’t been written yet. A tomorrow that has yet to arrive. In a sense, that’s what writing is really all about. And it reminds me of a story. And that’s good, because as writers, stories are what we live for; or they should be.

Flash back to my college days.

I dropped by the office of my college writing professor who also happens to be my master’s thesis adviser. I was in a Master of Arts program that allowed a creative thesis, meaning a novel, just like the better MFA programs. My professor was a working novelist who, in addition to his university duties, was attempting to tread water in the Publish Or Perish Ocean. In other words, he was working on his novel as I came in.

He looked up, said, “Hi,” and asked me to read a few of his pages. This was not uncommon since I’d earned my undergraduate degree studying under him at the same institution, so we’d known each other several years, since he had first arrived.

As I perused his pages, I noticed he was making reference to the current year in the story; it was a date three years into the future.

“Is this science fiction?” I asked, “maybe speculative?”

“No,” he told me. “It’s just, with the lead times and delays in publishing, if you want a novel to appear fresh when it hits store shelves, you have to set it at least a couple years into the future from the time in which you’re writing it. More if you’re a slow writer.”

“Isn’t that a bit risky?” I asked. “After all, an election could go a different way, or a major event could happen.”

“If something major happens, you’ll have a chance to do revisions,” he told me, “but mostly you play it safe. Assume that for the most part, two or three years from now won’t be dramatically different from the way things are today.”

This exchange taught me a lot about the publishing and novel-writing business of the late 1980s and early 1990s. New York publishing houses ruled most of publishing, with the exception of small regional presses, and things like the Internet and were, by and large, still things that were part of the future. Events that had yet to be written.

While participants in A Round Of Words In 80 Days (ROW80) come from many different backgrounds and points of view, pursuing many different goals and for many different reasons, one thing is likely true of most of us: we’ve all at least considered publishing our work independently on Kindle or a similar eReader as a viable option, once our writing and revision goals are all attained.

It’s an option my old professor never had back then. He operated in a different writing environment, where novels had to be written in ways that allowed for the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the New York publishing world. That included having to write two years or more into the future, and remaining intentionally vague about current events, even in so-called contemporary fiction.

It was a practice in place for a reason. Because even if you had an agent, even if you had a book contract, it could take years from the date of completion of a manuscript until it finally appeared on store shelves.

Here are a few of the steps just to give you an idea: Your novel would be read first my your agent, or at least one of their assistants. If it passes that hurdle, then it gets passed on to the publishing house, where anywhere from one to three levels of editors must read and evaluate the manuscript, making notes on possible changes or concerns. (Not all of them would be targeted to the author; some would be part-and-parcel of publishing house business, such as running certain aspects of the book – the use of celebrity names, or name-brand products, for example – past the company’s legal department, to make sure all libel, trademark and copyright infringement concerns were satisfied.

There would likely be at least one round of requested changes from the publishing house, and more than one round was not uncommon. Eventually, a senior editor would present the novel at a meeting with the publisher, who’d get the final say on whether the book would be scheduled or not.

Even with a green-light at this stage, there would be meetings with the art department, covers commissioned, the marketing team would be called in for their input, and then the book would have to be evaluated for it’s market potential – which would determine how big a promotional effort would be planned for the book.

Then there’s final galleys, final changes, final typesetting and corrections, scheduling printing and distribution, and shipping the book to stores.

If it sounds labyrinthine, it is.

I know most of these steps from my time as an editor at a Minnesota-based small press and my interactions with New York houses. The upshot is, even a book from a top-selling author like Stephen King takes time to go from the author’s “final draft” to the books final “to press” state and it’s journey to book stores and library shelves across the country. Even with everything running smoothly, it’s hard to “rush” a novel to press and still promote it properly. So a writer, very appropriately so, has to be just a little bit – excuse the word – psychic, to write contemporary fiction. Even after a writer mails off a manuscript virtually guaranteed to be accepted, the waiting period until it hits store shelves is usually at least a year out, and likely longer.

In blunt point of fact, that makes it almost impossible to really, honestly, truly ever be “timely” with a novel. If print journalism suffers from being hours old and “played out” on cable news by the time a morning paper arrives, just imagine how difficult it is to appear timely if one writes novels that are supposedly “ripped from today’s headlines,” because ultimately, they were probably ripped from the headlines of two-year-old newspapers, or earlier.

So what’s all this have to do with a ROW80 pep talk?

Merely to remind you of the boundless opportunities living in the age of Kindle and other forms of eBook publishing has blessed us with. While those of us who opt for independent self-publishing carry a heavy burden in terms of promoting our books, and there are still necessary delays to make sure a work of fiction is well-edited, tightly written and as mistake-free as humanly possible, one thing I’m not seeing celebrated quite as much is the shorter time-tables this indie route affords us.

No longer to we have to write “two years ahead,” like an unambitious science fiction scribe who doesn’t want to go out on a limb and predict personal jet packs by 2012. No, depending on our writing speed, we can shorten up those timetables considerably.

The Comedy Central animated cartoon SOUTH PARK made headlines when it was in its early seasons by being able to “react and create quickly” in response to current events, such as the Somali pirates, the Tiger Woods sex scandals and the federal seizure of Elian Gonzales. (Remember that?) They were able to create episodes often within a couple weeks of the actual events they were satirizing because they didn’t ship their animation overseas, but accomplished it electronically, in-house.

I’m not suggesting many of us are interested in writing a novel about the BP oil spill or the massacre of Christians in Egypt or anything like that. But some of us might be. And that’s an exciting part of the age in which we write. Without those two-years-or-more lead-times to worry about, we can write a more reactive brand of fiction, if we so choose. If we are skilled and fast writers with beta-readers and proof-readers in place who also work fast, we now have the ability to write reactive fiction. Stories that could, conceivably, be out to readers within a couple weeks of the actual events inspiring them, rather than years later.

Recently, Stephen King published a collection of novellas called FULL DARK, NO STARS. In it, one of King’s stories – considered the best piece in the collection by some – is called “A Good Marriage.” It is the story of a woman who find out her husband has a secret life, full of unspeakable evils, that she had been blithely unaware of until it was revealed to the world at large. King has admitted this intriguing story was inspired by the capture and trial of Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler, who had a wife and children and was president of his local church – but was also a serial killer for over thirty years.

King’s story, “A Good Marriage,” is the sort of fiction piece I’m talking about. It feels inspired by current events, and that relevancy lends immediacy to the fiction.

But here’s the rub: Rader was captured in February 2005. Almost six years ago. As current as “A Good Marriage” may feel, King’s story is reacting to considerably dated news events. The story was first published in Full Dark, No Stars in fall 2010, so let’s call it five years out of date. Knowing that King  probably wrote it at least a year or two before it reached print, we can guess that he actually wrote the story in perhaps 2008, maybe as early as 2007.

Not accounting for how long the news event may have taken to inspire King, is it being too cheeky to say that, had “A Good Marriage” reached print in 2007, only two years after Rader’s capture, it would have had the appearance of being even more timely? I think that’s fair to suggest.

So, how do we take advantage of this?

Well, in a new publishing reality where, once the final edit and proofing is done, all we have to do to get our fiction to readers is convert a Word file to HTML (filtered), run it through MobiPocket or Calibre, and upload it to DTP, we can cut years off our time-to-print. While it may be difficult to become as timely the creators of SOUTH PARK if we’re dedicated to writing high-quality prose fiction, the truth is that if we find an event that inspires us to write a story, we can write our “ripped from the headlines” story and get it into the hands of readers before the public has completely forgotten the events that inspired us in the first place.

While it’s not everyone’s style of fiction – and even I myself don’t often write in this manner – it is a tool we have in our arsenal today, that wasn’t there for my college writing professor back in 1991. While, in a sense, we are always writing to “the future” to an extent, we can be more current, more timely, than any previous generation of writers.

If that doesn’t get you inspired, well… I’m sure someone else’s pep talk will be closer to your cup of latte.

In the meantime, try this: here’s a headline I pulled off The Drudge Report that’s sure to inspire someone to a creative work of short fiction: As of January 5, 2011, this is an actual headline I found at 1:10 AM CST: “Vulture tagged by Israeli scientists flies into Saudi Arabia – arrested for being a spy!”

I know what the creators of South Park could do with that. The question is, what can you do with it?

First one to upload a short story to DTP inspired by that headline wins… well, a lot of respect from me. And sales, I’m sure. Especially if it’s any good.


Craig Hansen

Why Word Count Might Just Be Overrated

Why Word Count Might Just Be Overrated

Denise D. Young


Okay, so what if word counts just don’t matter as much as we think they do? What if metrics are nice, and they give us the warm fuzzies when we meet them, and they help us meet our deadlines, but maybe they’re way too overrated?

Creative Commons

Because I kinda think they are.

This is something I’ve been pondering for a while now. A while back I drafted a now-shelved novella called Goblins and Grimoires. The characters’ story will eventually be told, but not at all in the way I attempted it.

Don’t get me wrong. Failure isn’t always bad. Usually, failure teaches us.

But when I wrote that draft, I was obsessed with word count. I basically NaNo’d it—wrote a draft of it in a month. Fast drafting, you might say.

Yeah. It was awful.

I mean, not even salvageable. That poor story needs a page-one rewrite.

Now, there are other stories I’ve written in a matter of weeks, and they turned out to be rich, wonderful, layered stories. So, what’s the difference?

Over at Writer Unboxed, Steven James touches on this very phenomenon in his article “From 2000 to 300—Why You’re Writing Too Much.” James writes

Odds are, you’re trying to write too many words a day.

You’ve probably heard that you should write a thousand words per day. Or two thousand. Or five. Or ten.

Or maybe you signed up for a program in which you (supposedly) write a novel in a month. But for whatever reason, you’re trying to hit an arbitrary “word count” each day and if you don’t hit it you end up feeling somehow disappointed in yourself.

I tried that routine for a while.

One day in ten hours I pumped out six thousand words and I felt way ahead. Amazing! So productive! If I could do that every day…

Oh, yeah.

So then the next day I spend the same amount of time writing, and wrote exactly one word.



In ten hours.

Of course, I typed in more words, and then revised, deleted, rewrote, and so on, ending the day just one word further into the book.

That was the last time I tried to hit a certain word count. It was just too depressing and the ups and downs of good days and bad days wasn’t helping motivate me.

He goes on to note that writers are the only creative folks who seem to use such arbitrary metrics to “measure” creative productivity.

I’ve written stories in a night that emerged beautiful and fully formed, needing only minor revisions.

I’ve spent months drafting a novella, each word feeling grueling, but it ended up being one of the best things I ever wrote. If I’d forced myself to meet word count goals instead of allowing the story to unfold gradually, I might’ve ended up with a mess.

I am generally in favor of what I call “slow writing,” but I think a better term for it is “organic.”

Here’s the deal. Writing is hard and uncertain work. So, we want a recipe for success. Someone tells us if we write 1,000 words a day, we’ll be prolific and therefore successful. We figure out that if we write 1,667 words a day, we can pen a novel in a month. That’s a pretty tasty carrot to dangle in front of us. Who can resist?

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with word-count goals, but I think some of us do better with a more organic approach. As in, today I wrote 300 words. Yesterday I wrote 2,000. That’s just the nature of creativity.

My goal, instead, is to show up at the page. My goal is to work hard at my craft. My goal is to write thoughtfully and push myself to grow. I am notoriously bad at meeting word-count goals with any amount of consistency anyway, which is probably why they’re lousy for me in the long run.

So, yes, I’m going slow. And it seems to be working. So, yes, I’m allowing my stories to unfold at a more natural pace, and I’m emerging with better first drafts.

I think people worry if they allow word count goals to fall by the wayside, they’ll slip into laziness, and that is a risk, to be sure.

But what if we just change the metric? What if we vow to show up at the page every day and work hard? That might take us further than writing 2,000 words in the wrong direction.

If word count goals work for you, please, stick with them. I just think we need to realize, as writers, that word counts aren’t the only measure that matters.

What about you? Do you use word counts to track your writing progress? What other ways are there of keeping track of our creative processes?

Round 1 Week 6 Wednesday

cred: Angeleses on Pixabay

Here we are… the halfway point.

My, how time flies!

If you’re anything like me, you’re already taking stock of your progress this round and thinking…  “Eep! I have to get moving on my goals.”

Hopefully you’re not thinking that, but are instead saying…  “Cool, I’ve been doing pretty good this round.  Maybe I could add a bit more to my progress…”

Whatever you may be thinking at this point, let us know at the linky below.  Or if you like, you can leave a comment or add your progress to our Facebook group.

Last but not least… we have some flash fiction for you to enjoy courtesy of Christ Westwater bravely took up our challenge on the 23rd. Please stop over and visit his sci-fi take on our prompt (photo and phrase).  And join us next week for a new challenge.

What Keeps Me Coming…

What keeps me coming back to RoW80

by Elizabeth Mitchell

To my surprise, I realized a few days ago that I have been in RoW80 for six and a half years, having joined for Round Three in 2011. In that time, I have only officially sat out one Round, although, if I am honest, I have been spotty about my accountability in several other Rounds. However, I found that I did not come close to meeting my goals in the Round I sat out, while in the ones where I hung in despite missing check-ins, I got more accomplished than I did on my own.

Therefore, accountability is among the reasons, and perhaps the most immediate one, that I have participated in RoW80 all these years. Having to admit in writing that I spent far too much time bingeing on Netflix or playing video games means that I often will do some writing to avoid the self-inflicted shame.

Flexibility in that accountability is the second reason that I keep returning to RoW80, “the challenge that knows you have a life.” Since July 2011, I have changed day jobs, moved 1,146 miles, rented one house, bought another one, gotten tenure, written four esoteric academic articles, and suffered various slings and arrows of life. The ability to adjust goals when life happens is unusual in many challenges (NaNo, for all its positive values, does not care what life hands one in November), and invaluable to me.

However, the third reason I have remained in RoW80 all these years is the community. When I joined in 2011, I was living in interior northwest Florida, 40 miles away from the nearest RoWer, and more than 100 miles from any local groups of writers. I am lucky now to live in a place with a vibrant and supportive chapter of RWA, a wonderful NaNo group that meets throughout the year, not just in November, and a couple of RoWers who live close enough to meet often. Even so, the online community of Row80 is special to me. I would not have joined NaNo or RWA without my involvement in RoW80. I have made several friends through RoW80, and I am often surprised to realize that I’ve never met them in person. The group is supportive and generous with its time and expertise.  Having a tough time with a plot point or how a piece reads? We have a lot of experts in the group. Send out a hail on the Facebook page or post a link to your blog and you will receive help. In the way that some communities have, RoW80 has its own spirit, its own ethos, that has not changed despite changes in admins and added formats.

Have a day job meltdown or family crisis? No one will chastise you for not meeting your goals, but will cheer you on to start back on them as soon as you are able. Since I have been knocked down by life in the past five years, I can say with experience, don’t undermine yourself by feeling apologetic for not getting enough done, or being laid low by life. Just keep working on it,  knowing you have support, not judgment or negative criticism. Many years ago, I was struck by a statement in a RoWer’s goal post. C. M. Cypriani wrote, “Where before I wrote in solitude, I now write with friends. I enjoy sharing my writing now instead of hiding it, embarrassed, worried no one would like it. The support I’ve gathered has been phenomenal.” I agree wholeheartedly.


Sponsor Post: Are You Ready?

(A gracious thank you to our sponsor Beth Camp for helping us welcome the new year:

Writers: “Ready for 2018?”

By Beth Camp

For writers, each year ends and begins with reflection, and that’s good. For sometimes we feel used up and are uncertain how to reconnect with our writing. Sometimes ideas for stories come so fast, we cannot get them down on paper.

Even if we are immersed in drafting or revision, or floundering a bit between projects, we may question our writing, want to change our writing process, or set new goals to improve our productivity.

Does it matter when we write?
Or how or what?
Do I pack my journal with my lunch,
a physical reminder to write?

You might feel, “I can only write in the morning, when my mind is clear.” But what if the only time in your cluttered day is late at night? What if work and family commitments leave no time for writing at all? How do we ‘schedule’ down time – not just at the end of the day when we are exhausted from all we have managed to accomplish.

  • One strategy is to find pleasure each day in small things. I remember laughing out loud when I read somewhere that even washing dishes can be a meditation. I learned this is true when my grandmother’s lovely Desert Rose dishes were gifted to me, the meandering flowers a reminder of my childhood.
  • We can set boundaries. Perhaps we say ‘yes’ too often. We know it takes courage in the moment to act with intention. Focus on priorities. With many possibilities before us, trust yourself to know, truly, what is best for you.
  • Take time to analyze, list, reflect, and choose. Follow up by asking ‘How am I doing?’ as we check in with A Round of Words in 80 Days.
  • Try out a ‘do it different’ day. Can you write at a coffee shop? Write by hand instead of on the computer? Write late at night instead of in the morning? Set aside one day a week for those projects that have languished all week? Read a writing craft magazine (like The Writer or Writer’s Digest) for professional development? Challenge yourself by scheduling something new each quarter — Join a new writer’s group? Support other writers by writing a review? Teach a workshop? Go on a writing retreat – formally with others or on your very own? Attend a writing conference?
  • Celebrate your successes. Every step takes you closer to reaching your ‘big picture’ writing goal. Recognize that sometimes nurturing yourself may mean taking a break from writing, letting those projects lie fallow. Or maybe, just maybe you want a new pair of winter boots.

And the morning begins
anew, each day, each season, another round,
even as we change.

How do we begin? Meditation? Morning thoughts? An intuitive scrawl that brings our stories to life? Sometimes we are inspired by writing prompts that take us in unexpected directions.

Or, we might pursue a programmed approach: Step 1: Draft the story concept. Step 2: Block that story into scenes. Step 3: Flesh out characters.

No matter what writing process we use, from inspiration, to drafting, to revision, at the end, we are surprised at what we’ve written. Whether we write by hand, draft on the computer, or dictate into our phones, we write. The story takes over; its meaning unfolds as we write.

What really do I need?
A notebook, a pen, my laptop.
Some place separate.
Perhaps a room of my own.

Some writers like to think about inspiration that comes from a muse, as if she were someone separate, a guest somewhat whimsical, who may or may not appear, and certainly who chooses not to appear on demand.

Or perhaps we write on schedule, the blank sheet (real or on screen), a dumping of words on paper, almost an invisible chain from the mind that seeks its own journey to a story unfolding.

Whether we write with a plan or without, we still build our story word by word, layer by layer. ending with often unexpected resolutions and insights about the human condition. That is our condition, regardless of setting. The story is what connects us to others, that creates a community of readers and writers.

Somewhere a door closes,
and another opens.
Each decade we live presents new challenges.

Does it matter how old we were when we began to write? Or how old we are now? The reality is that writing is a chimera, a dream world we create with words, a space and time that we build (and that only exists for us), until we share our words with others.

Perhaps just now, we have young children whose energetic needs pull at that time we have for writing until another week has passed, and we feel bereft at what we lose, even at the same moment, we cherish these little souls who begin their own journey. What gift do we give those who are close to us when we show them that we respect our inner lives? That a parent, aunt, or sister paints, or writes, or does just about anything with creativity, passion, and a snitch of abandon?

Some seasons are cold,
but even the moon rimmed with blue hints at change.

The end of a year invites us to consider: What can I celebrate this year? What would I like to write? What ideas draw me to write?

When I begin a story, something intrigues me. I have no idea, really, what length it will be. Flash or novel. It’s not so much that I think about finishing (though, trust me, I really want to tidy up and finish several floating projects), but a new story grows with each writing session, scene upon scene, some days slower than others. I write about relationships, conflict, setting, those pinch-pins of history that hold the story to a certain place and time, each element tightening that essential line of plot-conflict-resolution. Some stories, like some lives, end in tragedy as I attempt to work out why this character in this particular time and place acted in this way and what this means to us today.

Because I write historical fiction, if one part of the story isn’t working, I can switch to another part, fall back on research, or write more character studies. Alas, my writing style is recursive, circular, and there’s always revision. One thing, though, I’ve finally learned. I can squeeze in an occasional article or poem, but, unlike others, I cannot work on more than one major writing project at a time.

Now that I’m a septuagenarian, I can ask: How long did it take for me to say – without flinching – that I’m a writer? Somewhere between writing that second and third novel, I stopped hesitating when people asked me what I do. All those years of working, teaching, parenting, and yearning for my own writing life, of writing short stories and the occasional poem, and of reading and studying – and yes, living – prepared me for what I do now: I write, and I cannot imagine not writing.

Listen to your heart.
Listen to your mind.
Then write those unique words
that are yours alone.

Beth Camp travels with laptop and writes historical fiction and poetry. Her novel, Standing Stones, set in Scotland during the time of the Clearances, won an award at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association literary contest (2010). In Years of Stone, Book 2, Mac McDonnell is transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1840s (Australia). Rivers of Stone, Book 3, tells the story of Catriona McDonnell, as she crosses Canada disguised as a boy during the fur trade era. Her poetry and stories have appeared in Camroc Press Review, Fickle Muses, Celebrating Spokane Authors, and on her blog: