Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions. -- Paulo Coelho
Believe me, we know all too well how hard it can be to share your work. You created these vulnerable characters; you built this fantasy world. What if the readers don’t like it? What if they do? What if they think you are terrible/amazing/stupid/mediocre? As long as your story remains tucked away in the confines of your laptop, it is safe.
But surely that misses the point of writing. We write because we have something to say. We believed in our ideas enough to spend all that time writing and editing; now we need to believe in them enough to share them with others.
A good first step for a lot of writers is to find a community of beta readers. These are real people from around the world who love reading and love giving feedback to writers. They are not professional proofreaders or editors; rather, they relish in setting their eyes on fresh writing and being the first to find the gems.
Here is why feedback from a beta reader will make your writing better:
1. You’re too close to it
Sharing your writing helps you see it through other people’s eyes. You know your protagonist so well that maybe you have forgotten to demonstrate his vulnerability or her internal strength. You know that your setting is a worn and dilapidated house, but have you shown your reader enough to know what it’s like to walk around in it? Have you created the atmosphere your reader needs to experience? Sharing your work helps you stand back and understand how others see the world that you have created. It helps you scrutinize.
2. You need honest feedback (not from your mom!)
Sure, your mom says it’s great and your co-worker thinks it will be a bestseller. But your friends and family’s first priority is usually to make you feel good. They tend to avoid the harsh truths. An unbiased third party can be honest about where they see shortcomings without the prospect of awkward silence during the carpool. We know it might hurt to hear honest criticism of something you have worked so hard on – as Harper Lee said, “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” But the essence of writing is based on the idea that you have something to share, and feedback – good or bad – comes as part of the deal.
3. What have you missed?
Because writers know their story inside and out, they sometimes don’t notice when their story jumps from A to C without that much-needed plot point B. Likewise, writers spend so much time with their characters, it is obvious what their motivations are… but are they equally clear to the reader? Beta readers will let you know when they are confused or when something doesn’t quite make sense. They can help you find your plot holes and gaps in character development so that you can fill them in and connect the dots.
4. Check your facts
Oops, did a soldier in your WW1 story refer to the Empire State Building (which only opened in 1931)? Did your scientist find a dinosaur fossil in a part of the world where they never lived? There is a wealth of knowledge out there that you can tap into. And lots of readers are only too happy to show you how much they know!
5. Build your confidence
A good beta reader will let you know what they think is great about your writing too, not just what they think needs work. They will tell you that they have fallen in love with your unsung hero. They will understand why your protagonist had to make the hard decision to leave her family forever. It feels amazing to know that someone has experienced a world that you created and fallen for characters that wouldn’t exist without you. It builds your confidence and makes you truly feel like a writer.
There are a number of online communities that exist to help writers find beta readers, including Wattpad and Scribophile. We also like a new app called Penned, which allows you to read and share stories right from your phone.
So go on. Be brave. Put it out there and see what happens!