Saturday, June 3, 2023

Find Your Writing Team

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

To comma or not to comma, that was the question. (Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare.)

I was going through my manuscript one last time before sending it to a potential agent. Of course, I wanted it to be perfect, sparkling, and clean. I wanted her to lose herself in the story world with none of the oops that slams you back to reality.

For the last step, I ran it through ProWritingAid and Microsoft Editor. Ah, but there was a problem. When you ask for two opinions . . . Oh my.

Honestly, there were so many times when I would see the orange squiggly line, and it said to add a comma between two independent clauses. Then the blue squiggly would pop up and tell me a comma wasn’t needed.

So, do I pick the blue or orange squiggly for my screen? Who do I listen to?

If you have spoken to me for two minutes, you know English is a second language to me. I grew up speaking and listening to southern country. Ain’t a thang wrong with that, y’all.

Now, that sentence brought out the squigglies.

Was it on I Want To Be a Millionaire where you could phone a friend?

I’ve accepted that I’m more of a storyteller than a grammarian. I follow on the heels of my brother and many of my family members. They were always spinning a good story while we sat out on the porch. I just do it on paper and screen.

Punctuation is a devil I just have to deal with. Thankfully, I don’t have to do it alone. A writing friend recently posted how great it is that our writing community is so open to help each other. In a lot of fields, people are afraid to share their knowledge because someone might get a competitive edge. But writing is different. By lifting someone else, we all get a lift.

Places a Writer Can Go to Get Help

1. Your critique group.

For my first couple of books, I was very fortunate to have a couple of writers who met regularly to go over our works in progress. We would send each other 1500 words or so, then meet later and discuss. From talking to writers more advanced, this is helpful at any stage, but I found it especially helpful as a newer writer.

Not only did we watch for each other’s spelling and punctuation errors, but even more important, it was to hear if the story made sense. Is the reader picturing the story like I want?

We met in person, but you can find many of these groups online.

Just as important as getting critiqued is getting accountability and encouragement. Writing a book takes a long time. Building a blog or a social media presence requires dedication. It’s easy for that inner negative voice to sneak in and tell you, this book doesn’t make sense. Who am I to think I can write anything?

And meeting with a few positive friends, and knowing they expect you to have your submission, is very helpful to get to those wonderful two words: The End.

2. Your Beta Readers.

Beta readers are the first people you let read your manuscript with the purpose of giving the writer helpful feedback. These are usually not your best friend, spouse, or other family member who will tell you that you’re great, or you’re terrible, no matter what you write.

Instead, a beta reader should be someone who reads. That sounds elementary, and to most of our readers, that’s a given. But it might surprise you at how many people do not read books, articles, or blogs but are willing to give advice.

My answer to that is to smile, say that’s interesting, and move on.

They should also be familiar with the type of writing you do, whether it’s devotions, young adult, spec, or Bible study. One size does not fit all.

A beta reader can be very helpful for finding holes in your plot, characters who are flat or don’t appear to have a purpose, and minor story lines that were left hanging.

3. Your writing conferences’ critiques and contests.

You hear a lot about writing conferences on this site. I’m hoping to go to two later this year. Conferences are a great place to meet other writers and learn more about how to write more effectively. You will probably meet people, like you, who spend unreasonable amounts of time staring at screens and shed tears for imaginary people. People who can spend all afternoon doing research and then plan how to go back early the next morning.

But many conferences also give the attender the opportunity to have a portion of your manuscripts critiqued, usually by a faculty member. Often there is a small cost to this, but this is usually well worth it. Look at it as an investment in your writing. It’s easy to read books and blogs with tips on writing. But it is another thing to have a veteran give feedback on your work.

Contests are another way to get feedback and see how you stack up with your peers. Some contests will give feedback on their entries, most of them only give feedback on their finalists or winners. Still, it is a good reason to finish your work and polish it the best you can.

And that is what getting feedback is for, to do the best you can. You will not please everyone. I know, that’s shocking. And sometimes you will get conflicting advice. And they may both be right.

But you are the writer. It’s your work, your byline. You get to make the final decisions. And as one of my friends puts it, you don’t know what you don’t know until you learn.

How will I know what advice to listen to? Will taking the advice improve your writing? Will it make it clearer?

Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice when you need it. Although most of the writing you do, you do alone; you don’t have to do it all by yourself.


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter, as well as at and

Featured Image: Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


  1. I hear ya, Tim. Siri doesn't understand me at all, so she's no help with commas. Now that I know not to call you, I'll stick with my critique partners. One teaches English, so I know I can depend on her help there. Loved the post!

  2. Ahh, Southern-fried is right up my alley. But for commas, yeah, stick with your critique partner.

    Tim Suddeth