How ‘ARC’ has improved my writing skills

If you’re new to the world of writing as an author, you may have never heard the term ‘ARC’ before.  I admit, until about a year ago, I had no clue that the acronym had anything to do with authors.  I would have guessed it had something to do with welding, but really, even that was a stretch.  ‘ARC’ stands for Advanced Read Copy.  Authors have discovered that by providing copies of their manuscripts in advance of the public publishing date to people who have the talent, skill, drive, patience and ability to spell-check without a computer can be invaluable to creating a finished piece of work that they can comfortably sit back and watch as it brings in orders and, of course, money.

The first ‘ARC’ read that I did was of a book that has yet to be published by an author who is a big gun-shy about putting their work out there.  As a fellow writer, I understand that fear.  As a journalist, it took me time to learn that not everyone was going to be spectacularly pleased with every word I wrote and presented to them.  In fact, as a freelance journalist, things can get a bit dicey when it comes to connecting to the public.  I am focused on sports journalism, namely that which focuses on the National Football League in the U.S., and trust me – sports fans are very loyal to their teams and at the same time highly critical.  That means they may love you on Saturday when you post an article that says their favorite player is going to be a gridiron star the following afternoon and then spew vitriol Sunday evening because you were forced to report that their favorite player didn’t do a darn thing spectacular.  Thick skin isn’t just to protect oranges!

By the time I had done five ‘ARC’ projects, I began to realize two key things:

1.  Helping another author/writer edit their project means I need to be honest, even critical, but that it can and should be constructive (unlike what many sports fans share in the comments field below my articles) and,

2.  Reading the pre-published book(s) has given me insights on how to be a better writer.

For example, I was ready to have just a few people look my manuscript over before I put the final touches on it and put it out there for the public to devour.  I realized, after reading what other writers were allowing me to, that I had probably made some mistakes in my own manuscript that I found in theirs.  The most common thing I ran across was the fact that word processing on a computer keyboard is not the same as having the old type-setter that would read the sentence and know that “an” should be used instead of “a”.   Spell-check is a lifesaver for those of us with fast fingers or brains that work at a pace that far exceeds what we can get our fingers to dance to, but it can’t read your sentence and analyze it in a manner that helps cut out all mistakes.  It can’t determine whether we’ve been writing in the first- or third-person, if it is present or past tense or whether the word “the” was meant to be “they” because a spell-checker does one thing; tells you that a word is misspelled. Period (Oh, and it doesn’t take care of punctuation, either).

In two manuscripts I read, I found some areas where the story didn’t make sense to me unless I had read a previous story in the series.  This made me think more carefully about my own manuscript.  Had I provided enough of a back story to allow my readers to be able to get into the flow at an appropriate pace, or was I leaving out critical clues to things they may have no clue what I am referring to?  I took those thoughts and looked over my manuscript and realized that there were some glaring holes in my story.  My book and all its chapters flow great in my head because they are my ideas.  My new awareness revealed that my readers don’t already have the big picture because I am feeding it to them.  So, I went back to add a few bite-sized (byte-sized as well) pieces to help them along.  I call them the breadcrumbs.  Am I leading them along?  No, I am showing them how each step leads to the next so they don’t get lost and decide to set my book aside for the dictionary.

I encourage all writers to create a team of people that are outside of their friends and family to give a copy of your unpublished manuscript to for an ‘ARC’ read.  As a reader and writer, you know people who are, what I fondly call the “spelling Nazis”.  Add one of them to your team!  That person is going to tell you every single spelling error that your magic word processor tool missed with glee!  And you need them to be gleeful.  Spelling errors distract readers from the overall quality of your story.  Find other writers and see if they’d be willing to trade – You read their story, they read yours and you compare editorial notes.  Join author groups.  I joined two fantastic ones on Goodreads and they are full of not only very smart people, but the exact kind of influence I need to capitalize on.

Saying this, I decided it was time for me to build my own team for that final prep because I am dead set that my book is going to go public no later than July 1, 2015.  This was the same book I was about to allow to be subjected to high scrutiny without proper preparation in December 2014!  I am nearly horrified admitting this.  If you would be interested in becoming a part of my team — I am calling it the “ToothPickers” because I want you to be picky and my press company’s name is Sabretooth MicroPress — then please email me at threeriverswriter (at) yahoo (dot) com.  You know you want to be a tooth picker!!!

Also, I am putting this out there:  I am willing to do more ‘ARC’ for other writers.  It has turned out to be a treasure trove of free advice.  By having an open mind going into the projects of others, I have been willing to see my story in a disembodied way.  I drifted out of the text and floated around the syntax looking for plot snares and run-on sentence traps.  If you are looking for an honest editor, let me know and I will give you an honest idea of whether or not I will be able to dedicate the time to read your work and give you detailed notes, suggestions and point out the things that may haunt you later (think post-press when the public is leaving comments on Amazon saying that your story was great but doggone if it wasn’t full of words that were spelled incorrectly).

Laugh!  We’re in this together



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