Been missing in action for about a week. My son picked up the flu at school and decided to share it with Daddy. Isn’t he a lamb? Well, that’s just the type of person we’re trying to raise – a selfless giver who wants to share with others. They say those are the things that start at home, so go us.
The downside, of course, is that for the first three days I could barely get out of bed. I don’t get sick often, but this thing just sucked the life out of me. I’ll spare the details, you’ve been there. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I woke up one morning feeling better. Gee, that was fast, I thought at the time. Turns out it was merely the eye of the storm passing over the house. Next four days, straight back to hell.
At any rate, except for that one day, I haven’t gotten much done since a week ago Sunday. So there is a lot to catch up on. I’ve got a Sunshine Award to talk about, a draft to edit, and another first draft to make progress on. I’m finally feeling like my old self, so here we go…
Beta-Readers Are Wonderful, Awful People
There are no better lies than the ones told to us by loved ones. Case in point – when I was a boy, I was a pudgy, Husky-jeans-wearing, socially awkward zero. It was a hard way to grow up. I should point out this was in the 70’s and 80’s, back when society viewed the treatment of outcasts a bit differently than today.
I have no idea why I was the way I was back then. Today, I have nothing in common with that poor little guy. The people who know me now don’t believe I was once that kid, but it’s true. All that happened doesn’t bother me. It actually made me a better person later on in life. But I digress…
As painfully evident as it was that I was a round – a very round – peg trying to fit in the old square hole, my mother insisted on telling me how great I was. How smart I was. How handsome I was. How the girls would flock. What she said made her a supportive parent, but she couldn’t have been more wrong at the time. And I damn well knew it.
But that’s what the people who love us do, right? They find the good in us and focus on those qualities. I loved her for it, but deep down I knew where it was coming from. She overlooked the bad and focused on the good. What a peach!
It all comes to this: never listen to your loved ones when it comes to your writing. (Or any other work you do, for that matter.) They want to support you, especially if they realize you’re very passionate and enthusiastic about whatever you’re working on. Pointing out the bad is honest, but it’s also hurtful. And they have an investment in your relationship that goes far beyond whatever story you’ve asked them to read. So don’t blame them for being biased. But realize this means you usually can’t trust their feedback, either.
Best thing you can do is find beta-readers. The angrier the better. Write your story, do a few edits, and then put it in front of the most heinous, depraved, teeth-grinding people you can find. They want to find problems with your work. They want to hate it. They want to tell you how it didn’t make sense, the writing is crap, and you should take up photography instead. Or sewing. For the love of God anything, just to keep you from writing another word. When you find that gang, you’ve found what you’re looking for.
Because those are the very same people who are going to tell you when you’ve got a winner on your hands. They aren’t biased in your favor, so when they say something is good, it means a lot. The comments are sometimes astonishing, as people often take away something from your story you never intended. Invaluable insight, there.
Takes a thick skin to listen to what doesn’t work, but those are your true opportunity areas so go back and fix them. You should also focus on the things they said work well. It affirms what you probably already know, which builds confidence to help silence the inner-critic. Other times it brings to your attention something you’ve completely over-looked.
These are the things you want to find out about before you submit for publication. Because chances are good the editor reviewing your work is even angrier than your beta-readers. You would be, too, if your life was mired in the slush pile.
Did I sell you on the idea? I hope so. Now, where to find them? Just so happens there is a great website for that very thing. It’s called YouWriteOn. No, I’m not affiliated with them whatsoever – being a shill is not my style. I happened upon it a couple of months ago and the feedback has been tremendously helpful. Figured I’d share it with you.
As an extra bonus, every year they have these competitions in which the top ten finishers have the opportunity for their work to be reviewed by a major publishing house. I’m talking Random House and Orion, people! You can check out the YouWriteOn site for details. I’ve found it to be a priceless tool.
The sad thing is, the website has been around for a very long time but seems to be lacking in activity as of late. I have no idea why. Still, over the past 45 days a story I uploaded to the site was reviewed by ten different beta-readers. The feedback – both good and bad – has been extremely beneficial.
There may also be writing and beta-reading groups in your area, as well. I avoid those for the same reason I avoid feedback from my family. Because people sometimes have a hard time being honest with someone they see face-to-face. If there’s one thing the internet has shown us, it’s that people tend to be far more honest when they are anonymous. I can take it.
Different strokes, right? Whichever you choose, getting impartial feedback from a third party is really essential. There’s nothing worse than finding problems after you’ve already clicked send on Submittable.
Thanks for reading. Give a follow here or on twitter if you’re so inclined. There’s something here for everyone…