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Master Beta Power

As I prepare Temporary to be handed over to an editor, officially sending it on the next stage of its journey, I couldn't help but reflect on how far I've come with this story and the many evolutions it's gone through.


But Temporary's growth can't be solely attributed to the sessions I've dedicated to stressing over the macro and micro details of its story and characters. To do so would be dishonest and insulting to the critique partners and beta readers who helped me along the way—those who guided me in taking my stories back to the anvil to hammer and hone.


Hardly any creative endeavours enter the world the way the creator initially envisioned. Most go through a rigorous process of feedback, trial, and error, repeated until the piece is "done" (read: done enough and abandoned/pushed out into the world).


Temporary isn't any different.


Feelin' The Feedback


This feedback process is one of the most important aspects an author (whether indie or traditional) can embrace to help improve themselves and their work.


However, it can be an emotionally challenging task as it requires the writer to quieten their ego.


You know, that thing that wants to protect you from any barbed criticisms that point to the problems with your story and/or characters. The thing that makes you want to do this a lot of the time:



Critique partners and beta readers are imperative in helping a story shine. To live up to its full potential. Those you entrust with your early work are the people who will help you the most by, and bear with me here as this could sound counterintuitive…


*takes a deep breath and meets your curious gaze with a solemn look*


…highlighting all of its failings.


"Wait, what? What do you mean failings? My work was perfect when I sent it out to them. I know it. More importantly, I feel it. And if they don't see the genius, then that's on them, chump, not me or my writing. I am a freaking natural—that's why I just sent my immaculate first draft. Guaranteed there's hardly anything wrong with it, so whatever they think is an error can be easily explained, assuming they can understand and keep up."


Yeesh.


Wow.


Don't be that guy whatever you do.


Ego Is The Enemy


No matter how good you think your story is, especially early on in its initial vomit, first, or even second draft stages, chances are it's not.


(Just gonna insert a HUGE YMMV that applies to this entire post).


Chances are it has potential. Chances are it has glimpses of greatness hidden underneath its rough exterior shell. Chances are most novice writers won't listen, may become offended, and claim they are ahead of their time and that grammar rules don't apply to them.


Great feedback pierces that Ego Armour.


It's happened to me and, assuming you are a writer or creative soul, it's probably happened to you. Sorry. It's tough. I know. This book might help. Or you could try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That helped me back when it was safe to train.


But even if you think you're prepared for the inevitable critical observations, it can still sting when actual constructive criticism is given. Just remember: the person giving it is someone who wants to help elevate you and your work. It isn't a personal attack on you or your abilities.


We know that as you specifically chose them for their help, right?


You're not, like, choosing a mortal enemy to give you feedback notes on your enemies-to-lovers action romance in a misguided gesture, are you?


Moving on...


Granted, some people aren't very good at feedback.


They don't know how to structure their observations, provide context as to why they took issue with something, or they ask questions that get answered later in the story, showcasing they weren't really paying attention—which opens up another can of worms: were they bored because of your writing, your story, or because of their attention span?!


Oh God, it's terrible, isn't it?! Cast it into the fire! Destroy it!


No.


Unhelpful criticism with no valid explanation—"I didn't like the main character", "I didn't like that this happened", etc.—can usually be disregarded as it doesn't give you enough to work with. It's just an opinion that lacks context.


Conversely, platitudes and compliments such as "it's good" or "I liked it" are great to hear and certainly stroke the ego…but they aren't as helpful as considered, in-depth feedback that helps form a plan of action for the next rewrite. They do nothing to push you to better yourself or the story.


Balancing act


Nothing is perfect after a singular draft. Hell, nothing is perfect after second, third, fourth drafts in a lot of cases. You may even find yourself suffering from compare and despair issues whilst neck deep in the editing trenches. More often than not, editing is like playing Jenga with the delicate tower block that is your entire manuscript. In some rare cases, you have to rebuild from scratch.



Personally, when I share my writing, I like to adhere to the odd number rule. It's a principle that ensures there will always be a tie-breaker. This allows me to gauge the thoughts of my critique partners and beta readers, who then answer questions and lead the feedback conversation based on their impressions. If the same critical observation crops up enough, I know it's something that needs attention.


That being said, as the author, the ultimate decision comes down to you.


I recently gave feedback to a writer friend of mine and addressed a few issues I found with their story that they and other beta readers didn't notice. None of what I presented was personal; it was all to help them improve their story.


BUT, I recognise that it's totally up to them whether they want to take those notes on board.


There's no contract or guarantee things will be changed, even if most beta readers bring up the same issue(s). Yet, that creative choice doesn't change the importance of the process or what beta readers provide.


A Beta Story, Guaranteed


Thanks to the beta readers and critique partners who have given their time, thoughts, and opinions, Temporary is undoubtedly better than it's ever been. They pointed to the areas that needed work and, most importantly, why.


So seek the knowledge of those who are not only familiar with the craft of writing and story structure or enjoy reading, but also those outside the process—people who represent the 'general public' who may not usually read or enjoy the genre you've written. Quite a lot of time, their feedback will surprise you in what they spot compared to those who "know the genre".


Ultimately, for your writing to evolve, you need to show it to people. Be brave. Be open to the feedback from those you've trusted. Be prepared to be hurt. Be grateful. And then get to work.


Writing is rewriting, after all.


Steve R



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