Two years ago when I started writing about my niece Deihlia four months after her passing, I wasn’t thinking about audience, promotion, or markets. At the time, I was far out to sea, carried there by waves of overwhelming grief. At first, I was writing it just for myself, so that I could capture details and stories of Deihlia’s life before they slipped my grasp.
Each week, I wrote with my writing partners – a long distance partner I write with via phone, and someone I’d met in a memoir writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, who I could write with in-person. I was lucky. I had an immediate audience for the story I was crafting, even if what I shared were the raw seeds of the final story.
One year later, as I completed the first draft, I shared it with two writer friends for initial feedback. One of my writing partners is a professional writing teacher, the other was my writing mentor at one time, an accomplished poet and teacher. Again, I was lucky. My circle includes supportive, high-quality writers and readers.
Their feedback was essential to writing a new, second draft, which I completed in December 2014. By the time I was finished, I had a feel for who the audiences might be based on the content of the story: people with disabilities and their families and friends, LGBT, comic book fans, doctors and nurses who work with children, women aged 18-60, people who’ve experienced family trauma, and people interested in psychic stories. That’s a lot of different audiences!
I wanted to have a new cadre of beta-readers for my second draft. I scanned my community for people who fit my audience and who either loved to read or were writers. I also wanted a mix of people who knew the characters in real life, and those who didn’t. I found two avid readers/comic fans, two friends of Deihlia’s, an LGBT friend who experienced childhood trauma, and a mother. I also had my family read it for the first time.
A month later, I was busy revising the stories in the book based on their feedback. It was fortifying to hear about what worked and what didn’t, and to know that I could change things to make the manuscript stronger, better, clearer, and more powerful. I made a deadline to complete the revisions, and set about finding an editor to work with, someone who could provide professional, experienced feedback that I could use to hone the final version. I thought about my audiences, and determined that it was important to have a person with disabilities read and review the book, as well as an editor.
It was important to me uphold the level of respect and care that I’d put into it already. Another dear friend of mine, an award winning author, suggested someone she knew and introduced me to an accomplished writer and spoken word performer who writes about her experience with having a disability. Her insight helped me to fine tune some of the passages, and she validated some of experiences Deihlia had as a person with a disability. I was far down the road, but I was relieved to be on the right track.
I still needed to find an editor. I began to look for someone who had experience with some of the content of my life that appears in the book, someone knowledgeable about spirit, who also understood the backdrop of domestic violence and mental disorders. I went over my writing contact lists again and again, but came up empty.
Then one morning, as I got ready for work, I heard Deihlia say “Your teacher will help you.” I knew she wasn’t talking about my memoir teacher, because she wasn’t available. Which teacher? I’d had many writing teachers over the years. Then I got it: one of my esoteric teachers! He published several books, wrote book reviews, and provided editorial services. Eureka! What didn’t occur to me when I hired him was that he would be providing a much-needed male perspective on the story.
He knew none of the characters except me, and though I didn’t know anything about his life, I knew intuitively that it was very, very different from mine. After his initial review, the benefit of having him as an editor became clear. He gave me some hard feedback that spoke not only to the story, but to my personal, unconscious biases that popped up again and again like a specter throughout the story. I prefer honest feedback to flattery, because it gives you something to work with.
My teacher provided it in spades. As a traditional family guy, he pointed to areas in the story where I could better emphasize characteristics that audiences could relate to, where to pump up the action, and when my character should take a back seat.
Writing and revising the manuscript for another six weeks, I knew that I was in the end zone. If I’d had someone more like me as my editor, would my final manuscript have been the same? If I hadn’t received feedback from a variety of beta-readers, the story would not have grown the way it did in its specificity and its scope. The diversity of my beta-readers was both planned and accidental; helped along by my writing partner on the other side – Deihlia. I discovered that it wasn’t just the number of beta-readers that was important, but their diverse life experiences and viewpoints. I needed them to help me, and my story, keep growing.
— Diane Fraser is a writer who lives in a world where symbols, archetypes, and spirits are alive and communicate with her directly. Diane won several poetry prizes in college at UMass Boston, where she got her B.A. in English with Honors in Creative Writing. As an undergrad, she was a Stadler Semester for Young Poets fellow at Bucknell University. After college, she was a founding member of a small writing group, Erograph, who wrote together for 12 years, and did readings in Boston and Pennsylvania. Previous publishing includes poems published years ago in the Boston Phoenix, Arts Media, and small press literary journals. Her memoir, Growing Up Superheroes, The Extraordinary Adventures of Deihlia Nye, is available on Amazon.
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