photo credit: Anomalily Day 183: I am my (and my laptop's) own worst enemy
As an author, my beta readers (the people who read my book while it's still in a working stage) are invaluable. They get to see my work when it still needs a polish. I have a set group of people that I know and trust, both men and women who are honest with me in what is working in the story and what needs to be changed. Recently, however, I branched out.
My goal was to find some new beta readers to help me with my current work-in-progress and through the process hoped that maybe there would be a few who would fit into my trusted circle of readers.
A few days after receiving my manuscript, I got two critiques back. The first one came back with really helpful comments---there was some encouragement and praise sprinkled throughout with the things this reader liked about the book, but also several good suggestions for places that needed a second look. I definitely wanted to work with this person again. It was balanced and fair and helpful.
The second reader was very complimentary, and really liked my story, but didn't offer any criticisms at all. While this is sweet of the reader, and a nice stroke to my writer's self-esteem, it didn't really help my story get better. I wish I could have assured this reader that it's okay to be honest and offer me constructive criticism because it is better for the book in the long run.
The third reader took a few more days to come back and I was excited to open it when I got it. I started to read this person's comments and my heart absolutely sank. The comments were harsh and at times, personal and unkind. They felt my characterization wasn't believable, that the plot wasn't making sense, and that my central theme/overall writing was weak. I read through the entire document, and, though I've been edited by some of the hardest editors in the business, this critique by an unknown beta reader hurt me. That little inner writer's voice that tells me I'm not good enough was shouting, "See! You stink at writing!" It was hard to take.
I felt paralyzed the next day when I sat down to edit and finally ended up putting my manuscript aside and using my precious writing time to binge watch Alias. I love Sydney Bristow and Michael Vaughn and the writing in the first three seasons was really well done and entertaining. Not to mention that the chemistry between the cast was riveting. It was nice to escape into someone else's story for a bit.
But I knew that, eventually, I needed to come back to my manuscript. When I finally did, I took a deep breath and opened that harsh beta read again. Taking the emotion out of it, I looked at each comment critically. Did the reader have a point? Could I be more clear with my dialogue? Is the continuity and characterization flowing or is it uneven? Once I had a little distance, I was able to see the comments that would help me make my story stronger, and it became more clear which were the comments that I could discard as one person's opinion.
And that made all the difference.
Beta readers are important to the process, but every writer has to decide what is best for their story. Taking emotion and ego out of the equation will help quiet the insecurities and focus on creating something for others to enjoy. It's so hard sometimes! But, even with all the hard things, like when my inner critic's voice joins with those on the outside, I wouldn't trade what I do for anything else in the world. There are so many ups in this business that far outweigh the downs. And when the downs come, I can always pull out my Alias DVDs. Because who wouldn't feel better after watching that, right?