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Premature Beta Readers

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Laurence, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Getting feedback from other amateur writers/family and friends might not make your writing any better. Do it anyway.

    You know why? It's not about editing the chapter. It's not about getting the right advice, though you might luck into that. It's not a step towards making it publishable. It's for you. Everyone wants feedback and validation sometimes! Sitting at the desk in the echo chamber of your mind gets pretty lonely. If you want to put your work out there, even if it's a rough draft or a snippet, just to talk about what you're writing and see other people respond to it, then do it. Those words you put down, lighting images in someone else's mind! There's nothing like having someone genuinely respond to what you've written, invest themselves in what happens next, care enough to suggest other ways you might write it.

    Others are right that the advice you get may be a toss-up. Might be some basic rules that you only really get later when you've had time to research things and absorb them on your own terms. Might be an interesting suggestion that sparks a powder-trail that leads you to a really cool idea. Might be genuinely bad advice, given from someone no further along than you are. I think it is important not to approach amateur critique as though you must obey it, as though it will fix your writing. No, your own journey will fix your writing. But when you're setting out, it can be exciting and maybe even useful to bounce your stories off other people.

    Put as much out there as you feel you want to. And in the meantime, keep writing.
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Another anecdote for you.

    When I got serious about writing, I did join a writing group. It met once a month at our local library. The group was of varying quality, but it was run by two librarians and their comments were consistently helpful. Critiquing is a skill; not many people learn it and still fewer master it. But I was able to submit short fiction plus sections from my first novel. I went there for about three years. I no longer do, in part because we moved and it's about 25 miles away now, in part because one of the two women who founded left due to other obligations, and in part because of my own growth as a writer. Not so much because my prose is all that brilliant as because I got to a point where I really needed feedback over the whole novel rather than on 5000 word fragments.

    I benefited greatly from the writing group, not least because I had to critique others' work. Doing that helped me develop a sharper eye toward my own. But there will come a time when you need feedback on things like plot and structure--you need someone to read the entire work.

    At that point, hire an editor. If you can't afford one, then turn to beta readers. They should not be kin or friends, because your reader should not have to be careful of your emotions. I was lucky. I was an academic for about forty years and long ago learned to take thoroughgoing criticism. Critiquing of my fiction has been softball by comparison.

    A final comment. Chessie makes the valid observation that painters and sculptors don't have beta readers. That's true (I'm perennially fascinated by how the various arts differ from one another). That said, I note that musicians work more the way writers do. While it's possible to write and record a song entirely alone, most musicians work off of demos and alternate takes, which is something like a beta read. Actors rehearse, and during rehearsal get notes from the director (theater, not movies). So there's some precedent in other arts for getting professional or semi-pro feedback on your work before going public.
     
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  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I learned to write playing D&D online, where it was kind of like joint story telling, and I think the reason it improved my skills so much was because I was writing for a live audience of four players who would drop the game at any time if I wasn't entertaining. Nowhere else do you get to do that, and the rush of it can be intense.

    One of the things I have found helpful about writing my Ladybug fanfiction is having to publish every chapter the moment it's ready, of getting comments from readers on each chapter as it develops. I can't screw up the plot and go back to fix it; the chapter has to be right from the get-go.

    I love that.

    And it's not like the comments are helpful as critiques. It's not about their opinion. It's about the sudden shift on my part from seeing the story in my own eyes to seeing it from theirs. That only happens when you put it before an audience, and if you never do it, I feel, you'll never really "get it" - that taste of what the whole thing is about and that drive that keeps you improving.
     
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  4. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    This is why I joined MS. Initially I was showing my family/friends my stuff... I think that is how it always starts out. The thing was, my family and friends didn't want to read hundreds of thousands of words of drafts, and they were not helpful because they didn't understand the writing process. Plus, they had a hard time saying anything constructive because they didn't want to hurt my feelings. The thing was, I WANTED my feelings hurt. I WANTED to get better and learn stuff, and have someone be brutally honest, or talk for pages and pages (looking at you FifthView!) about writing theory. I wanted someone who was not emotionally attached to me to say "Hey, this part is actually pretty good," or "I don't understand this," because I least I could trust that they truly meant it.

    From participating in the short story contests and posting bits here and there and getting constructive feedback from the members I came a LONG way in a short period of time. Along the way I met some members I really clicked with, and we exchanged emails and started our own private groups. I love my crit group because we are all very honest, very knowledgeable, and we are invested in each other's growth for the long term, no matter what project we happen to be working on.

    For me, writing was a very lonely hobby, and having a crit group is a lot like having a peloton in a bike race. Sometimes it's hard to ride my bike up those French Alps by myself. Sometimes I want a team with me. A team that values each other's goals and personalities and who are working together to bring everyone closer to the finish line. I love my team because when I'm feeling the sharp sting of self-doubt and I want to pull my bike over to the curb and wallow in a lake of Belgian brew they scream "No! You really have something here! Keep peddling!" And if I get lost, or start sleepwalking through my story they say "Come on! You are better than that. We expect more out of you!" I love that. I need that.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
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  5. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

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    You guys have inspired me way beyond what I was looking for when I posted this thread.

    Day jobs man
     
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    At various times, I have both, missed this and wondered whether talking about writing can become a distraction from actually writing!

    I'm a much better reader than writer, and in a lot of those discussions my observations were informed far more by my reading than by my own actual writing. Well, of course the two abilities, reading and writing, intertwine, so...:whistle:
     
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  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I don't, for a moment, regret any of the past few years I have spent reading and discussing instead of writing. I did what I needed to do to get where I am. It took the time that it took. I'm currently working on a Certificate in Creative Writing and the next required course is "Creative Writing Through Reading," with the summary:

    This is a required course for the Certificate in Creative Writing, because reading is key to your development as a writer. The course emphasizes the importance of this and teaches you to begin reading like a writer.

    So it is all valuable stuff, IMO.
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >like having a peloton in a bike race

    OK, had to look that one up. "Peloton" would make such a good word for a fantasy creature, don't you think? *sigh*
     
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  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Peloton, High Overlord of the Dark Velodrome!
     
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  10. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    You may be thinking of the Peryton! So nearly, yes.
     
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  11. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I don't know. In many ways, I like that writing is a solitary endeavor. It's just me and my imaginary stories. Then there's the sharing of something I love with other writers. That's the part I enjoy--supporting others in their work and experiencing the same in return. It's the only reason why I have a FB. For the author groups. It is nice getting feedback (like on Wattpad) where people say the kindest things about my stories or writing. Because in the bookseller's world this doesn't happen often. My involvement with other authors now is more of like a friends group than critique or reading anything. I rather keep my work to myself for the most part.
     
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  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    That's kind of how I look at it. Though I did find that Facebook is not sufficient for a writers group. Too much facebook there.
     
  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Agreed. I'm in a few groups and none of them quite hit the mark. There is really nothing that has improved on the forum interface for holding multiple conversations and creating a sense of community. Goes all the way back to BBS architecture.
     
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I do think that reading well is important for writing well, in at least three ways.

    Least interesting for me personally, because it seems pedestrian, is that reading broadly can clue a writer in to what is being done, what has been done, and the sort of expectations readers might have in a particular genre. Mostly, I'm talking about tropes plus the way broad reading can keep a writer from simply regurgitating too closely what has already been done. I can't deny this is true, nor that this is important, but I'm less interested in this.

    The second, more interesting way reading well is important: For developing that inner critic. Being able to read well means being able to judge one's own writing better. Oddly, this ties into the first thing mentioned, because we can see better into our own writing if we have already seen better into the writing of others, heh. "Oh look, I've just done what Book X did, and I didn't like it there, so..." *

    The third and most interesting thing reading well can do: The discovery that though the list of techniques might be long, they are finite, and diverse writers still dip into the same inkwell. So, yes, you might not want to regurgitate in a facile way, but there's no shame in stealing copiously, heh, especially when it comes to stealing techniques. Heck, you are not really stealing from those authors—because they stole from somewhere else. This makes the whole process of writing less mysterious. Although the techniques are limited in number, one is free to use them at will. But first, you have to see them.

    Honorable mention: How many unknowns are writing every day, producing massive output that is being consumed; and why can't you join their ranks? This thought strikes me most strongly when I consider the extreme number of channels on television and the many television shows being constantly produced. I don't know the names of any of those writers; but, every show had one. Or more than one. This can't be added to the list of three, because it's more about viewing than reading, for me, although I suppose if I read more and more widely, I'd have the same sort of impression. And it's more about quantity than quality of reading/viewing.

    I suppose I've diverted the thread with this post; so, sorry. Don't want to hijack anything. OTOH, the subject of letting others read our work may be related, insofar as we are letting them read for us vicariously...maybe? :sneaky:

    *Edit: This actually happened to me very recently. I was reading something that was doing something I didn't like, and it hit me: Goodness, this exact thing is what I was doing for so much of my last NaNo project! I knew the prose of my NaNo project was bloated and took a very long time to get to the point of anything; maybe this was why. I haven't touched that very rough, unfinished draft, since November, but when/if I do, I'll know at least one thing needing to be fixed.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018
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  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    As a person who used to race road bikes... I can say that a peloton is sort of like a mythical fantasy creature actually... you develop this sort of collective conscious.. you start to anticipate each other's movements (so you can drift as close as possible without crashing, lol.) I imagine the Peloton (creature) as this sort of Cheribum beast... wielding lighting fast spinning wheels and multiple heads.... hmmmmmmmmm.......
     
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So of course now I had to look up the etymology of peryton. As a long-time D&D player, I knew the word, but the linguist in me couldn't find any root to the word. So I found this.
    peryton - Wiktionary
    File under I Did Not Know That
     
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