So, back some time ago, a good friend wrote a blog post on finding good beta readers.
Since today is Reading Sunday, I thought that I might write a response post to that about the importance of BEING a good beta reader. Because being there to read a thing for a person is important. Why? Because as a writer there will come a time when you will need someone to beta read for you.
But really, it’s not all about tit-for-tat. Being a good beta reader has taught me SO MUCH about being a good writer. It’s amazing how much my own writing has improved since I started reading for people on a regular basis.
About a year ago, I was invited to join a local writing group that’s been in existence for the better part of 20 years, if not more. I was honored that my friend invited me, thrilled to be hanging out with “the cool kids,” and terrified that I wouldn’t have anything to say. TERRIFIED.
And at first, I didn’t have a lot to say. I’ll never forget when the first woman read her piece and everyone started piping up with comments about syntax, plot, character motivations, technical grammar shit, and structure. They spit out these notes and comments so fast and I’m sitting there going, “I liked it. It was really good.” Or echoing what other people had already said. I was afraid to speak up because who the hell was I to tell someone that their piece needed more work or that something was “wrong with it?”
As I continued to go to this group, I gradually started speaking up more. It still made me nervous because I had never read a piece and had to react to it so fast before. We’re talking a matter of minutes between read and commenting. In the past I had always read twice – once to get the story and a second time to find what worked/didn’t work. It was really hard, but I kept going. I kept trying. And even now, I don’t always feel like I catch things as fast as some of the other readers in my group.
Since then a few of us from that group have spun off and started our own group. (If you follow me on Twitter you’ve seen me refer to #NaNoPants before.) It’s a little bit easier now, being among women I consider friends, not just colleagues. But only a little bit. These women are hardcore readers, smart, and able to catch a grammatical error in a single bound. It’s still a little intimidating to both bring things to read and offer up criticism for their work.
But, because of these awesome ladies I have learned so very much. Because they saw something in me they liked (or because I kept feeding their egos) they kept me around. I’ve been able to develop my critical reading eye and my speed at commenting has much improved. I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I can not only say “This does or doesn’t work” but also, “and here’s why.” Because I’ve watched and listened, I can better vocalize my initial reactions to a story.
And why is this important? Because when I turn around to write my own things, I can do the same thing for myself. Because when I find something in my writing that is wrong I can say, “this is wrong AND I KNOW WHY.” It’s been amazingly helpful.
Another writer friend of mine told me recently that she felt my writing had seriously improved since she met me two years ago. I was flattered, of course, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Not only have I been writing more the past couple years (ALWAYS the best way to get better is practice), but I’d been READING more. Because being a beta reader for so many people means that I’m exposed to many different genres and styles of writing. I understand the technical aspects of writing so much better now because I’ve seen them played out in so many different ways – good and bad.
The coolest thing about the past year is that my writers consistently tell me that my feedback is helpful. I’m still blown away by this. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that people value my input so much – that I could actually help a person make a good book a great book. That kind of reward and satisfaction is almost as good as being the person writing the great book.
And finally, the best part about being a good beta reader? YOU GET TO READ THE GOOD BOOKS BEFORE THE AGENTS AND EDITORS AND THE REST OF THE WORLD GET TO READ THEM.
And that’s fucking awesome.
Health, Peace, & Happiness,