Am I the only one who thought that rather than reading other people's manuscripts, a better use of my time would be going over my own work with a fine-tooth comb?
I can't be the only one. I've traced this seemingly selfish behavior back to my MFA program. Before there was beta-ing, there was workshopping, or weekly in-person beta-ing. Imagine the frustration of repeatedly reading someone's work, offering color-coded comments, and listing suggestions for further reading, only to get my own story back, not even creased because it was never actually opened.
I found my beta readers by accident. Blogger extraordinaire Megan Rebekah was blogging about how she wished she had a writing group. She posted her stats, sort of like a literary eHarmony profile, and the gates were flooded with wannabes. Well, maybe not flooded, but there were quite a few of us. Megan set up a private blog and named us the Word Stringers.
Some word stringers flittered away, and then there were four.
Anyway, we didn't beta at first. We posted pics and useful articles. We dared each other to meet word count goals. And then someone was like, Hey, we should beta. I was like, Great, 'cause I got spare hours lying around for that malarkey.
Then I read this article about writing workshops at Glimmer Train where writing teacher Jeremiah Chamberlin argues that, "Being forced to analyze the effectiveness of other writers' stories and to then provide them with clear, concise, specific suggestions for improvement will do more to develop a writer's craft than almost anything else."
Once I realized beta reading was purely selfish I was all, sign me up!
This week my betas have been helping me out big time, so without further adieu, meet my beta grrrls, along with what I love most about each of them:
Megan is kind of a hard ass. I've never met her, but in my mind she's dressed as a drill sergeant. I don't bug her with excuses. I just get things done when I tell her I will. She writes, she blogs, she works, she reads, she raises little dogs--and I don't think I've ever read a complaint from her. Megan gets the good attitude award. (By the way, that's not Megan in the pic; that's Tish, one of her dogs.)
Nat is a ray of positivity from the West Coast. She's straightforward, and she doesn't waste time with self-doubt, or minor details, or wondering what so-and-so would think about whatever. Like Nikey, she just does it. Clearly it works, as she's just secured representation from formidable literary agent Sara Megibow. Again, that's not Nat in the picture; that's the state of her living room since she's become a represented writer.
Karen is awesome because she's not afraid to lay it all on the line. She's all, here's my writing. How can I make it better? And when I get done critiquing, she's not all, boo hoo, you hurt my feelings. Instead she's all, thank you ma'am can I have another? I admire her tenacity. That really is Karen, btw; isn't she crazy?
I am changed, peeps. I am PRO-beta. My beta readers point out ridiculocity in my writing, like that you can't move across the country and start school on the same day, or that if two hands are brushing the cymbals, another can't be tightening a bolt on a separate drum. But the best part is how much they teach me, and also the support, my god the support.
What do you get out of beta-ing? Give your betas some love!