I really love beta reading.

Yes, it’s work. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it can be stressful. Telling your friend, family member, or acquaintance that they’ve made mistakes is tough. The thing is, it’s all worth it. Why? Because beta readers are better writers.

I’m currently beta reading my eighth book. These eight have come from three different authors, each with their own unique style, in disparate genres, and I have learned from them all. I am better for having done the work and the reason for that is distance.

The Benefit of Distance

“Practice makes perfect,” but we all know how blinded we can become to our own work. The proper phrase should be, “accurate practice makes perfect,” and it’s hard to be accurate after the umpteenth pass through your own manuscript. “We’re too close Goose, we’re switching to guns,” or rather, someone else’s work.

Reading your buddy’s stuff is beneficial because there’s a distance there. When we flex our critique muscles on someone else’s work, it separates our abilities as writers and our abilities as analysts. We can practice these skills, accurately, with out all of the baggage we bring with us into our own writing. With each successive book I’ve beta read, I’ve honed my skills and after each book, I’m able to slice through my own work with more precision.

How to Beta Read

The first rule of beta reading is that you are not proofreading. The second rule of beta reading is that you are not proof reading. (more…)

The worlds we create belong to some reality. Those realities must have some form of physics that governs the actions within. These physics must be the type that can create and sustain life or at least things that are capable of having and conveying experiences within that reality. No characters, no story. These factors combined with our limited imaginations as 3D, corporeal, mortal beings means that the realities we create are almost always analogous to our own.

So what does this mean for our writing? It means the world, our real world, is a treasure trove of inspiration. If our writing is doomed to be analogous, why not hunt for some bitchin’ analogs!

I’m a lucky man and I get to travel a lot thanks to my rad wife’s rad job. Wherever we go, I always like to keep an eye out for intriguing settings or details from scenes that could one day make it into my stories. IMG_20190411_135351This, for example, is an actual Victorian surgical theater smack dab in the middle of London. As a writer of mostly dark themes, I had to check this place out. Who knows when one of these rooms will creep into a story. So, I hopped on the tube and bought my ticket and hauled myself up the narrow stairwell, through the gift shop, and up to the vantage point where I took the photo. That photo, however is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way I go about scene collecting. (more…)

Reading.

Writers need to be readers.

For writers, reading is the most prescribed “cure for what ails ya.” From writer’s block, to vocabulary, to style and voice, reading is always the cure. There’s reason for this. It’s excellent at sharpening and focusing your mind for writing and for jump starting inspiration.

However, I think there’s an overlooked benefit of reading for writers. A benefit that’s hard to discuss without sounding like an ass but an ass I shall be to make this point! Reading is an excellent treatment for imposter syndrome. Specifically, reading average books. Why, because frankly, you can write something better.

So many writers feel inadequate in their skills. We feel that what we produce can’t live up to the kind of work we’re aspiring to or even any other “real” books. By that, I mean published, industry validated books. We focus on these books and judge ourselves based on their perceived excellence. We feel like imposters if we can’t somehow produce something that matches them and of course we never feel that our current manuscript can match their greatness.

The world is full of tens of thousands of books. That’s probably a conservative estimate. Of those, there are a lot that are at the pinnacle of the craft. There are even more that are of amazing quality and surpass your current ability as a writer. However, the vast majority of books out there fall somewhere between decent and awful. These are the stories you want to turn to when imposter syndrome strikes.

I’m not advocating that one scrape the bottom of the barrel simply to make themselves feel better. That’s just self-mollycoddling. This exercise is also not about shaming other writers. It’s about putting your skills in perspective.

When the existential dread of imposter syndrome hits, pick up a mediocre book and start reading. Look at how it’s crafted. Think about the plot, prose and characters. See all those rough edges and missteps? All of them are on display in a professionally published work right there in your hands. A book you, and presumably others, paid for.

What you have before you is a reality check. An industry validated piece of evidence showing what actually gets published. You can at least create that. You can do better. You know you can.

Keep your goals lofty. Never stop trying to best your favorites. Just remember most books don’t and that your’s doesn’t have to in order to be a success. Believe in yourself.