In Praise of Beta Readers

Getting to the almost-final draft stage of a book always feels like an accomplishment. But that doesn’t mean the work is done. It just means that it’s ready for the next phase, that of making sure I’m communicating my thoughts and ideas in a clear and understandable way. That’s where beta readers are a tremendous help.

Since this book is a sequel to my first, one of my goals is that it read like the first. To make sure the tone and mood of the second book match so that the two fit together as if one book. Because of that, I asked folks who have read 5 Acres & A Dream The Book to have a read-through of its new sequel.

The feedback is starting to come in, and it is wonderfully helpful. My beta readers are catching things I missed and pointing out phrases and paragraphs that need clarification. This is exactly the help I was hoping for.

I’ve been collecting photographs for each chapter while they read. Then I’ll go back through the text and adjust it with the help of my beta readers’ suggestions. Then comes building the pages, one at a time! Step by step I’m getting there.

Haiku Trio

Crisp brown crunch beneath
soft gray paws. Pause. Green eyes fixed,
tail whips — wren beware!

 

Drip speckled cat coat
wet paw prints on hardwood floor
it’s raining again

Chicka-chicka-CHIT!
Scolding chickadee ignored
cat on a mission

Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.

New Year’s Challenge: Daily Haiku

My husband gave me a very nice journal for Christmas. Since I use my homesteading blog as a record-keeping journal, I want to do something special with this gift. I would like to try something more creative thought I’d like to learn how to write haiku.

The following notes are from writing websites: Masterclass, The Writing Cooperative, Shadow Poetry, and The Write Practice. These will serve as my guidelines. I’m sure there are finer points, but this is my start. It’s enough for now and I hope to take in more as I practice the art.

What is it? A traditional Japanese form of poetry. It contains three lines of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 in the third, describing a single moment in the present tense.

Traditional themes. Seasonal nature themes.

Traditional structure. Two parts:

  1. the first line describes the setting (often as a sentence fragment)
  2. the second part describes the subject and action (often as a phrase).

Contains a kigo, which is a word that places the haiku in a particular season.

Frequently uses a kireji or “cutting word,” i.e. a word that creates a pause or break in the rhythm. A common feature in traditional haiku, it is often used to juxtapose two images.

Typically, does not contain similes and metaphors.

How to write

  1. Choose a subject. Observe with your senses. Note small details. Describe in simple terms.
  2. Use short phrases that evoke strong images. Consider a kigo.
  3. Use a kireji to break the rhythm. Punctuate as needed to clarify.

So that’s my challenge to myself for 2020. It’s not a resolution, just something I’d like to do. I don’t know if I’ll post them all here, but probably at least a few of them from time to time.