For the second week in a row, a Facebook status has tickled my brain enough to warrant evolving into a blog post.
And no, I’m not talking about the post about how the news of the death threats against Ben Affleck for being cast as Batman is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
I’m talking about something with which I am blessed with an abundance of, both in quantity and quality: beta readers.
No matter how awesome you think your writing is, no matter how many times you’ve pored over your poor beleaguered manuscript, no matter how perfect a proof reader you think you are, a good set of beta readers will prove you wrong.
Surround yourself with good beta readers and you will be a better writer. They will find your gaping plot holes, your enormous leaps in logic, your unintended character shifts, your penchant for using the same word three times in one paragraph, not to mention your (likely) many gaffes in spelling, grammar, historical accuracy, and writing in general.
Just going through a couple critiques on “Operation: Ghost Story” and getting some spot on recommendations from both the critiquers on that one.
My recommendations – get beta readers with different reading and writing backgrounds, ones you can trust with your “darlings” even as they are telling you which ones to assassinate, ones who know how to sprinkle a little sugar even as their rubbing salt in the wounds of your suddenly red manuscript, and ones who are reliable enough to get you what you need in somewhat of a timely manner.
I participate in both large and small critique groups. The small group provides focus and particular attention on a more detailed level, but a large critique group provides a different degree of “eyes on” and getting such a wide swath of readers to give you advice at once can be immensely helpful.
That being said, there are pitfalls here. Sending something that you’re not happy with first probably is a recipe for unhappiness because you are likely to have things pointed out to you that you already knew weren’t working and that can be a bit disheartening. (Part of why I haven’t looked at Ghost Story much in the last two months – still licking manuscript wounds from June!). Also, listening to every bit of advice and acting on it will drive you mad, especially when one individual likes a particular section and another hates the exact same section. Which way do you go? Who do you trust? Answer: trust yourself. At root, you are the creator, and all critique is just a suggestion (unless it comes from Stephen King, in which case, take it to heart). 😉
As I said in my two Facebook posts, thanks to all my AWESOME beta reader and critique partners from now and the last ten years. From my first reader ,Lisa Postell during OIF1 in Iraq, up to my current two critique groups, you all have made me a better writer and my manuscripts much shinier (for all you Firefly fans out there). And with that, I will return to looking at suggested edits for Part I of “Operation: Ghost Story” – as always, with one or two grains of salt!