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…)

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.

 

Your eyes suck.

No, not like they’re damaged or whatever. I mean maybe… If so… sorry about that. (Insert awkward staring at the floor here)

What I mean is that as a writer, you have a set of mental filters that actually keep you from seeing your writing for what it is. What it truly is.

Some writers, have the sparkle and shine filter that makes their work look as polished and ready for print as the fifteenth draft of some Cormac McCarthy novel. Most, have the broken and muddy filter that makes their work seem like it was scrawled on a cave by the idiot brother of the lady in charge of the good cave painting. Some carry both or even other, more rare filters fuelled by other, more rare neuroses.

Regardless, if your eyes are the only set that ever look at what you’ve written, than the truth about your work will always be obscured by whichever default filter(s) your brain possesses.

Thankfully, there is an easy-ish fix. Let other people read your work and listen to what they have to say.

Waitnothat’stooscarywhatiftheyhateit?Whatiftheyhateme?WhatifIlooklikeafool?Whatif…

Calm down, I said easy-ish. If you’ve never before let someone read your work, chances are some form of the above panic has crossed your mind. Handing over your word-child to be scrutinized by another can be a terrifying prospect. The thing is, in almost all situations, those worries aren’t justified.

You see, before others can actually read your work, they have to AGREE to read it. If you choose the people who critique your work carefully, then you’ll find that they’re almost always excited to read what you’ve written. So let them. Oh, and make sure you ask for feedback. Smiles and back slaps make for fuzzy feelings but notes and critique make for better writing.

“Notes and critique?” you ask.

Yup. Welcome to the land of alpha and beta readers. In part two and three I’ll talk about why they’re important to your writing and why being one for others is just as important. Stay tuned.

 

Click here to read more about my take on the importance and benefit of beta reading for others.