How to Be a Good Beta Reader

In which I natter on about beta-ing because why the heck not?


I see a lot of writing advice, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any beta-ing advice.  So I thought I’d write down my tips for being a good first reader/critiquer/beta reader.  Obviously your mileage may vary on this, as with any advice, but these are the things I try to do when I’m critiquing, and they’re the things I appreciate from a critique.

Continue reading “How to Be a Good Beta Reader”

Ha ha ha ha ha yes I have a bullet journal and yes I’m blogging about it ha ha ha ha ha …

I am that hipster friend of yours who bullet journals.

I started … um … a while ago?  (goes and looks at old pages) January of this year.  I got interested when I read Keeping a Bullet Journal for Writers by Amanda Hackwith (which I’m pretty sure was originally published in January?  But then, this year already seems like it’s been going on for three so whatever), and then googled and found …

Well.  It’s a cult.

And that’s fine!  It wouldn’t be the first cult I’ve joined!  There was the Apple cult, and the Twin Peaks fandom!  The cult of baked goods in cups!  It’s totally fine!

It’s been an interesting experience, though, because I started the Bullet Journal after I’d already given up on organizer apps and pre-printed dayplanners.  I’d gotten myself one of those ARC notebook systems from Staples and was DIY-planning like a fiend (like, to the point that half the accessories/paper were TUL brand from Office Max).  Thus, as I watched the Bullet Journal video and read through the many, many pastel green and peach website articles, I knew that I wasn’t going to quite drink all the kool-aid.

So …

I think I may be one of five people not using a Leuchtturm1917 dot grid notebook for my bullet journal at this point.  Everyone uses these things.  Like, you may start out in a half-used $1 composition notebook from Target, but after about a week everyone seems to cave and order the Leuchtturm.  My (not BuJo-ing, just a notebook nerd like me) friend Debra pointed out on Facebook that they’re good notebooks, Laura, and she is right, but friends, $20 a pop is expensive and no matter how amazing this system is, there is no way I’d remember to order a new one from Amazon before the current one ran out.  (Yes, yes, I could go the Moleskine route, but I have tried those notebooks before and I hates them, precious. I am a heathen, I know.)

In addition to this, I had finally committed to buying a nice, $16, ostensibly leather cover for my DIY planner …


… and I think the husband might have rolled his eyes right out of his skull had I dismissed the weeks of dithering about that decision and dropped $20 on another notebook.  (Although I might very well try a Leuchtturm out as a writing notebook sometime.  I’m not anti-Leuchtturm generally, just for a planner.)

So my Bullet Journal has removable, move-able pages, which means that I can yank something out if I make a huge mistake (again, heathen).  Also, notes I make can be moved when appropriate, and kept together.  I’m really not good with threaded notes. I need to be able to keep stuff together for my own sanity.  But, that said, the thing the Bullet Journal made me aware of was that I was subcategorizing my life right down to the molecule, and that was also not good for my sanity.  Now, instead of a “Zweeble” section with fifteen sub-sections and a lot of half-filled bits of paper, I have one big “Zweeble” collection with everything together, labeled and dated (and possibly threaded a little bit using dates), not much blank space, and I like it.  A lot.  I feel accomplished, looking at it.


And, having said that, the other thing I really like is that it’s neat.  Tidy.  It’s not pretty–there is no universe where I would or could list my weekly tasks/moods/life goals as a hand-drawn mandala.  I have no time, I have no talent for drawing, and I need things slightly more linear than that.  I’m also still not entirely sure what washi tape is, but I’m pretty sure I could mess that stuff up, too.

Neat is the best I can hope for.  And, actually, neat was really what I wanted out of this whole thing.  It was what felt lacking in the planner I was DIY-ing already, at least partly because of all those half-filled pages and lined paper.  Graph paper is the bomb, y’all.  You, too, can draw a nice square around the date on your to-do list if you do it on graph paper:


Yay, visual interest!

And the bullet journal also has a section (a “collection,” if you will–and you will, if you BuJo) for writing plans that’s actually working for me.

I’ve used it much differently for writing than I thought I would.  I expected to keep story ideas and quotes and such in it, and I do, but I also have a running list of submissions, a calendar of what I need to do each day, “vague future plans,” a bucket list and a list of accomplishments (I have a general one of those, too, and honestly everyone should have a list of accomplishments somewhere; it’s a nice thing to do for yourself), notes on the “Plot Clock” because I want to try that out, a projects list with tasks and trackers, and the notes for creating an eBook on Scrivener because god knows I won’t remember how the next time I have to do it.  I also had the outline for Dropping Slow in there, but I removed it once the story was done because I can!


Yeah, see, now you may be asking yourself (as I do quite often), Is she even really bullet journaling at this point?

I have no idea.

I don’t index or thread.  I do have a daily, weekly, and future log (I never actually knew how to use those “future” pages on a pre-printed agenda, but now I’m jotting stuff down for six months from now, which is pretty cool).  I don’t do as much actual journaling in it as I would like to–I’m not much for, like, gratitude or daily reflection, and I may need to rethink how I come at that aspect of the system.  I track things (when I remember, four days later).  I’m not the person who spends two hours on a Sunday with my mug of tea, my ruler, and my art pens, hand-drawing banners for my daily log at the oak table in my white, spacious, well-lit dining room while wearing a gorgeous oversized cream sweater because, seriously, a lot of these photos I see make me think that’s what everyone else is doing; whereas I’m hand-drawing little squares with the date in them with my Sharpie pen at my Target-bought dining table in my little pink house while wearing sweats and a tank top, ignoring the 8,000th Minecraft-mod video that’s playing in the background and wishing I could draw like all my artist friends …


(I do color code.  So I am that person with ten Sharpie fine liners in her bag, but really, I am a giant pen nerd, so that’s not a BuJo thing, that’s me living my best life. #blessed)

But here’s what I do know–whatever I’m doing, it seems to be working.  It may be a bastardized version of the bullet journal, but hey.  Punk rock or something.  The system is awesome because you can totally screw with it … or not.

And there you have it: Laura’s BuJo blog post.  Brought to you by the google search “not entirely ugly but not super-fancy bullet journal layouts” and the letters … no, you know what, I’m not going there (but the giggling you hear right now is my husband and two best friends being twelve-year-olds in the distance).  If you have been wondering whether or not to join this cult, I’m here to tell you that you can, in fact, only drink half a glass of the kool-aide, and it’s actually kind of fun.






I have a fandom! (also I natter about writing process and some music)

My husband told me the other day that he was in my fandom.

I was simultaneously amused and confused by this–“Like, you’re into Glee, now?”

“No, I’m in your fandom.  Like, I’m a fan of you.  The Laura fandom.”

Which, whew, seriously, he did marry me, I’d hope he was a fan of, you know, me.  But then he went on to specify the stories, and this was just shy of being as cool as when my kid told his friend that I’m an author.[1]

So, yeah, I have a fandom.  It’s got one person in it, but still.  Now I have to figure out how to get fan art out of it.


And it’s Nano season, so if you’re doing that I send you a salute and good vibes for finishing.  I’ve tried Nano in various configurations in the past, and it really just doesn’t work for me (sadly–I’d like to be a lot faster than I am.  Jason’s been writing like a demon lately, and I’m jealous of his output).  My writing process for the past few years has been a lot of writing the scene longhand, figuring out why it’s all wrong, then typing it into Scrivener while fixing it.  At which point I feel like I have a first draft.  (Maybe what I ought to do is consider that my second draft?  Names have power and all that Puritan-type thought.)


In other news, lately I have been obsessing over …


Which is, quite possibly, the most cognitive whiplash-inducing pair of songs to play on a loop that my brain has ever put together.[2]  At least it’s not trying to mash them up.


And that, my friends, is my life.  Packing for our last trip to LegoLand for this year on Friday before getting dragged headfirst into the holidays, whither I would or no.



1 [back]They then tried to talk me into writing and publishing what amounted to Harry Potter them-and-their-friends-insert fanfic, and trying to explain both copyright law and the vagaries of publishing to a couple of seven-year-olds is, you know, an experience, and one we all came away from with feelings of supreme dissatisfaction.

2 [back]That Dessa song fits so much stuff.  I originally listened to it on a  Because You Left playlist (the perks of being a beta-reader), but it’s (ear)wormed its way onto my Teachout playlist, too.

state of the Laura: writing 10, me 0

There’s a quote floating ’round my Tumblr about writers and procrastination, and while I might have an entire post about that in me, today I just want to say that my problem isn’t procrastination so much as it’s a total inability to prioritize the four or five projects I have going on right now:

This is my current writing notebook/binder.  It's about 2 inches thick.
This is my current writing notebook/binder. It’s about 2 inches thick.







I’ve been feeling vaguely off lately on the writing front–I had to trunk a short story that I spent pretty much all of last summer working on, but … it’s just not working.  It’s repetitive and while I like the interpersonal stuff that’s going on, the A-plot was wonky as hell.

But it never feels good to give up on something I’ve finished.  I should be able to fix it!  And, I dunno, maybe I will someday, but right now I have no perspective and no idea how.  Good luck, me of the future!  Have fun with that one!

In the meantime, I have two stories to revise and a novel to plug away at …


It’s also the tail end of summer, which means a lot of stuff jammed into the last couple of weekends, and a kid who is alternately bored and then nervous about the start of 2nd grade.

Today we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, having talked said boy into it despite the possibility of “bad language, Mom!”  It wasn’t the best of the Marvel movies, but it was still pretty good–Z. is definitely a Groot fan.  I liked Rocket Raccoon, myself.  Who expects the genetically-engineered raccoon to be a mad engineering genius?[1] Also, this may be the only time in my entire life that I have actually enjoyed “The Pina Colada Song.”

(I also imagine a new generational dividing line:  what does “Hooked On a Feeling” immediately bring to mind:  Guardians of the Galaxy or Reservoir Dogs?  Because I don’t think I was the only person in the theater unconsciously expecting that part to end a trifle differently.)

Speaking of music, I’m listening to the iTunes Radio Top 50 Alternative and putting a lot of stuff on my “stuff to listen to” playlist on Spotify.  “Take Me to Church” by Hozier and “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers are the  most recent additions.  I also found Robbie Williams a couple weeks ago and now want glam rock suggestions.

I may be getting pulled into Gravity Falls (ha!) …

And now I’m going to post this at 11pm on a Friday.  Good luck, little blog post.

1[back]Underestimated characters might be a narrative kink of mine.

Strange Horizons Fund Drive!

Strange Horizons is having its annual fund drive!

What is Strange Horizons, you ask? Well, my friend, Strange Horizons is an online magazine of speculative literature–poems, short stories, and nonfiction; scifi, fantasy, horror, and so on–and they need money to keep putting out quality work!

I love SH. They publish great stories–one of my all-time favorite stories, just generally, is “Draco Campestris” by Sarah Monette, and guess where that was first published? Yup. You can get lost in their archives, and that is not a bad thing; there are stories there, old and new, that will haunt the back of your head.

And, you know, in 2011 they published a story by me, which you can find over in my links. Working with then-editor Jed Hartman was, as I’ve said before, a really enjoyable experience that taught me a lot, and seeing my story in the same place as work from my favorite writers still gives me a thrill.

So if you have some extra cash, send it their way. And go read the magazine!

I don’t even know what to title this.

Before I start, let me just say that I did, indeed, drop off the face of the internet for a while.  It’s been a helluva summer.

In April 2011, my short story, “Items Found In a Box Belonging to Jonas Connolly,” appeared in Strange Horizons. I was, and still am, really excited that they published my story–working with then-editor Jed Hartman was a great experience; “Items” got some really nice response out in the larger internet, and it won the Strange Horizons Reader’s Poll for Best Story for that year.

Last week, I found out that a poet named David R. Morgan plagiarized a lot of works from Strange Horizons, including “Items.” According to the Guardian website, he was caught plagiarizing from other poets as well, though that article doesn’t mention the prose works he’s plagiarized.

From what I’ve been told, since he’s admitted to it, apologized, his plagiarized stuff (I hesitate to call it “work,” since it’s not, in fact, his work) has been taken down (mostly–apparently this is still ongoing), and his publications were in small venues/by small presses, there’s not a lot to be gained from legal action. I’m not sure at this point how much further I’m going to look into that–I have very little money, for one thing.

But I am not best pleased. Y’all, I’ve spent about six and a half years of my life teaching people not to plagiarize. I have heard every excuse out there, quite a few of which Mr. Morgan has used to justify what he did. I’ve never bought those excuses before, and I certainly don’t now.

Because here’s the thing–this news is the most recent irritating, obnoxious thing in what has been, quite frankly, one of the most stressful, difficult, and saddest summers of my life. And you know one of the ways I’ve been dealing with it all? By writing stories–my own stories.

Anyway. I do want to thank Ira Lightman for digging through Mr. Morgan’s book and finding all the work he plagiarized from the Strange Horizons site, and Ansible for making sure to mention Strange Horizons in their report. The editors at Strange Horizons have been keeping their authors updated, which I also appreciate. There are good people on the internet, and it’s nice to see them in response to this sort of thing.

(If you go and look at that list I linked to, also go read the original stories and poems. I know I feel like the only bright side to something like this is the idea that maybe someone will go track down the original work and read it; I hope that might be a balm to some of the other angry authors on the list, as well.)