Writing Haven

By Erin MacLeod

Welcome to Writing Haven! Here I'm going to share short stories, answer questions, and keep everyone up to date on my writing and publication journey. Hope to see you in the comments!

  • Erin MacLeod

Beta Reading

So, there is a reason this post is two weeks late and for once it's not kitten related. I'm moving this Friday.

Admittedly, it's only three blocks away, but I have a lot of stuff (and animals) that need to be prepared before I can call it good. Fortunately, I'm almost done and U-Haul was able to help me fix the problem with my reservation so things can go ahead as they should've been scheduled!

The first time I made use of a beta reader was an interesting and informative event for me. I had no idea what to expect from the ordeal (except hopefully being told how amazing my book was) and no idea how much it would teach me. You see, I had no tolerance for criticism when I was younger. The few stories and poems I wrote were beyond reproach and anyone who didn't like or understand them was an idiot. Even then I realized this but didn't want to admit it.

So when I finally did need a beta reader, that attitude had to go. I promised myself that I would take any and all criticisms into consideration, no matter how inane they seemed to me. And you know what? The more I did that the easier it became to do so.

'This line doesn't make sense' or 'if he said this why does he do this' are completely fair comments that have great value because they force me (the writer) to consider how my characters' actions and dialogue impact each other. Without them a great many flaws in my writing(lack of emotion, somehow getting to 110k without a single example of body language, formal writing...) would still be there and I would be none the wiser.

Still, my first few forays into beta reading weren't wonderful. Of the group I initially approached only one person finished it and it took her six months. I'd gone over it six times by then. I refined my approach (and my writing) and got more readers who pointed out more flaws that I either agreed with or didn't agree with until I was at a loss on how to get more. So I decided to volunteer to read on a swap basis. I read someone's equivalent work and they read mine.

This also didn't go as I initially expected it. I was a very in-depth commentor. I nit-picked, pointed out flaws, and rewrote entire sections of work because I didn't like the flow. In short, I became the very thing I hated when I was younger.

But I got better, helped along by an exchange where I made over 500 comments and he made... less than 100. Including the areas I knew were problems, the plot twist, and the section that has made everyone who's read it curse my name to the wind. That was the point where I decided to take a step back and read this books as a reader instead of a writer.

It got a lot less stressful after that. I was able to actually enjoy my beta reading instead of looking for flaws to point out. I even got better at pointing out things that I liked about these books!

Beta reading in certainly a process. Whether it's a good or bad one depends on you, the book, your readers, their book, and what each of you expects out of the process. In my experience, it helps to have a list. Sort of 'I'm looking for comments on this section and on this set of errors,' and 'does this stylistic choice read well?' More specific questions and subjective questions are also useful for finding what works for your audience. They make readers take a closer look and consider what they actually liked or didn't like beyond just pointing out what does and doesn't work.

My next post will be on how I write while working a full time job, taking care of my pets, and having a full social life. See you soon!

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