Saturday, October 06, 2007

Beta Readers and Other Adventures

Normally I’m a healthy advocate of having a second set of eyes take a look at my writing. Though there’s a fine line between listening to feedback/criticism and trusting your gut and I think it’s sometimes hard to tell when you’re being obtuse about your own work and when you simply know your own story better.

This is brought to mind because I just, today, finished a new short story. It’s a first draft, so obviously we already know it’s in need of revision. It also interrupted me mid work on my novel – you know the one that’s taking me for friggin’ ever to finish the final revisions on... hmmm.... can creativity be a sign of procrastination? Because, seriously, the idea fell into my head and I stopped the chapter I was working with and opened a new file to write this short...

Anyhooo... I wrote this story and it is completely, completely outside my realm of normal writing. It’s suspense, which I’ve never attempted before – in fact, it’s not even my normal reading fare, occasionally I like a good mystery or suspense but it’s not on my ‘must read every title list’... but the idea was there, whole, cajoling... this character presented herself and said, ‘Come on, Ms. Writer Person!!!’ waving her little fictitious arm in the air ala Arnold Horshack and screaming “oh, oh, oh, me, me, me!!!” So I acquiesced... (Yeah, like you wouldn’t...)

So here I am, at the end of a rather productive writing day, and I’m filled with all this doubt that I don’t normally experience at the end of a story. Usually, I’m thrilled and elated and it takes a week or so before I do a re-read and realize it needs a lot of polishing. But today, possibly because the story is so far out of my comfort zone, I am self conscious... I’ve already sent it on to Shelly, my favorite Beta Reader, for a second set of eyes... I couldn’t wait to send it, actually, because I’m quite uncertain whether it works...

So now I’m sitting here wondering how many other writers have done this, because normally I don’t find myself so reliant on a second set of eyes this way... Like I said, I see the value in critique groups and objective readers, but needing them and wanting them are two different things. Are you a Beta Reader for anyone? Do you have one? Do you need one? Good experience or bad experiences? And how far out of your comfort zone have you written, or am I the only nitwit whose muse can’t follow a map?


Ello said...

I'm in a writing group so by definition I am a beta reader. I also have been fortunate to meet up with bloggers who I have read for also. Fun experience. So if you need another reader, let me know!

But I am always looking for beta readers, and not necessarily other writers. Sometimes I just want an avid reader who will read it and let me know if it held their interest, was plausible, etc.

I think you are uncomfortable because it is so different from what you have written before, but if it flew out of you like that, I"m sure it is good. Don't worry!

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Ello,

I could always use another set of eyes. I'd also be happy to be a beta reader for you - we could switch off.

My email is merry316 at sbcglobal dot net

I've already looked it over again, because I'm obsessive like that, and it definitely needs some editing.

Thanks for stopping in, Ello, talk to you soon.

Mary Witzl said...

I'll be a beta reader for you, Merry. I write a lot of short stories too and can take just about any feedback, however negative, as long as it is honestly given.

I think it is possible to do without a writing group as long as you read and think a lot and come back to your work with a critical eye. But a writing group helps so much. I have finally joined a good one, and consider myself lucky.

hifidel said...

Hi Merry,

I've read the story, and am impressed with how well you've written out of your "normal" genre. Of course there's the need for editing (it's a first draft), but it's definitely a story worth continuing to work on.

I have a hard time with balancing the need for feedback with trusting my own instincts, but I am getting better at it. I have several Beta Readers -- our writing group (5 of us), along with a few friends. One of my best friends is an especially good Beta Reader for me because she is much more detail oriented than I am, and yet not in a way that is pedantic (and irritating). She always helps me see some little thing that can use tweaking.

I've begun to get to that place where I have a little more confidence in my own instinct (I always tended to give too much credit to other readers before). It's helped me to be more discerning about the feedback that does come in.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

I'd love to both read for you and to have you read for me. My email's in the above comment to Ello, (of course, substituting the @ and . where they are written out). Drop me a line with an email to get in touch with you.

I actually don't write many short stories, which might be another reason I'm second guessing so much here. I've spent the last two years on my current wip and freelancing and before that I was working on a series of other novels that never really came to fruition - and raising the kiddies, which can leave little time for writing....

I'd like to pursue some more short work now though.

Hi Shelly,

First, thank you for taking the time to read, I can't wait to hear your feedback.

On the whole, I'm not usually so self-conscious about other readers, but I see a definite value in the input. I only started working with critique groups and our writing circle in the last year or two, prior to that writing was a very solitary experience since leaving college, which was over ten years ago (egads). I've learned a lot in the time I've been blogging with other writers and involved with various boards and groups, and the more I learn the more I think solitary writing makes the process of learning far more difficult.

So I guess it's a balance. Knowing when your own perception should be given sway and knowing when to take a step back and try something new.

Jerseygirl89 said...

I'm a Beta Reader for a lot of people, but only of them is a writer by profession. I don't have any Beta Readers of my own, unless you count people who read my blog.

When you described how this character came to you I was reminded of a series of books I LOVE. Have you ever heard of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde? The first one is called "The Eyre Affair" and I think you would enjoy it.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Jerseygirl,

I haven't read that series but I'll go look it up on amazon. Always looking for new reads :-)

Thanks for stopping in.

Mary Witzl said...

Jasper Fforde is great -- even my husband likes his books, and he tends to be very picky.

I am assuming Fforde is a 'he'...

silken said...

hi merry, nothing to add, just want you to know I dropped in here....

hifidel said...

Jasper Fforde! I love his writing, and am always talking about him on my various blogs. Nice to find a few fellow readers here.

I've loaned the series to several friends, and all have loved it.