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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Say (F***) No to Beta Readers

A couple of weeks ago, a new(er) writer asked me if I used beta readers. When I said no, they asked, "But how do you know whether you're hitting the tropes of your genre?"

Maybe because I've been a reader for nearly forty-eight years?

This is why the long-term writers say you need to be a reader in order to write. You absorb a lot of the aspects of basic storytelling by consuming the product.

I grew up in a small town. A very small town. First there was the comics and Dr. Seuss books at Grandma's and my cousins' house. Those were a lot more fun the primers my mom gave me. I zipped through the contents of our county library annex and the grade school's library in no time flat. Especially, the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys original mysteries and the complete OZ collection someone donated.

It was a treat when my grandma took me to the big county library a half hour away. More Nancy Drew, plus Doctor Doolittle, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and anything by Andre Norton.

Then came the bussing to another town for junior high. New library! That lead to McCaffrey, Asimov, Bradbury, and Homer.

When I hit high school though, I wasn't impressed with their collection of fiction. Most of collection was far younger than the level I was reading at. Meanwhile, the county library expanded its program to allow borrowing by mail. From there, I was introduced to James Clavell, John Jakes, and Patricia A. McKillip.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Nor should story consumption be limited to the written word. Comics, radio serials, theater, movies, and TV are also good learning places.

So, after inhaling all those stories, the basics are pretty ingrained in your brain. You know the tropes of the genres you love. You could write them with your eyes closed.

Except...

We often don't trust ourselves. In many of us, any artistic endeavor is actively discouraged at best, or punished severely at the worst. We let those challenges gnaw away a part of our souls, so that by the time we actually produce a full story, we seek a way to fill the hole.

That's what critiques and beta readers really are. Their feedback becomes the stuffing we desperately want to fill the hole in our soul that we shouldn't have allowed anyone to dig in the first place.

That's what really missing in our writing--the trust in our own abilities. Not someone else's opinion of our abilities. Not how they would have written the story. Not their ideas.

Your ideas are just fine. Technical stuff, like grammar and spelling? That's easy to pick up. Actually, so is storytelling. But learn from the masters. Learn from the writers you love. Don't listen to people who aren't writing the fucking the story. They don't care. You do. It's your story.

And it won't be your story if you let other people tell you how to write it. Which means, no, you don't need any beta readers.

Proofreaders? Yes. Beta readers? No.

Trust yourself. You can do this. And you will rock!

4 comments:

  1. Heh, you sound like you've been hanging with Dean. He blogged about this too not long ago.

    I totally agree. Even when I was active in fanfic fandom, I never did the beta thing. [shrug] When I was a baby writer, and first started meeting other writers, in my teens and twenties, "beta reader" wasn't even a term; the concept hadn't been invented yet. Writers were expected to hammer their own stories into shape before sending it to an editor, who'd either buy it or not. And by the time I ran into the "beta reader" concept (in fanfic fandom -- they were doing it for quite a while before commercial writers picked it up) I was too set in my ways to change. Just as well. :)

    Angie

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  2. Ironically, I started writing this when one incident occurred over the summer, but I didn't want to make that person feel like they were on the spot. Since then, I've gotten the question a few more times. And about the time I started typing, Dean did his post. I thought about delaying again, but I wanted a positive post for today. Things have been so crappy lately I didn't want another downer about the business.

    But like Dean said, this is becoming a new myth among the indie set and it worries me for the reasons above. Hell, I've had my voice beaten out in old critique groups 10-15 years ago which is why I don't do them anymore.

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  3. What beta reader, or development editor for that matter, is going to know more than I do about what I want to write? Maybe that's conceded? So be it! :-)

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    1. I don't consider it conceited, Joseph. When I was in IT, I didn't have a user read over my code before I implemented it. When I was an attorney, I didn't have a layperson read over my motions before I filed them. I'm a professional writer, and I should know what the hell I'm doing before I charge the public for my books.

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