*Note: This blog is for those using FREE beta readers, as in.. favors from friends or friends of friends. If you are paying beta readers, many of these points will not apply. But you’re not paying for beta readers, are you???
That Which Should Not Be Named
The first time I asked a couple of people to beta read my book, I sensed their hesitation. I wasn’t sure if this was because they thought I was a terrible writer (because as a writer, I ponder this question Every. Single. Day.) Maybe they didn’t want to devote time to what could be an awful read. I knew they liked to read, after all. That’s why I chose them.
Then one friend said, “I don’t think I’m qualified to beta read.”
To which I replied, “I just need you to read it and give me feedback on things like plot and character and such.
“Oh!” she said. “I can do that!”
And I realized the problem. The term “beta reader” implies some prowess of critical reading that only a professional would have. But the fact is, beta reading is giving an overall impression of the work. Maybe just scrap the term unless your beta reader is in the writing world.
I told my friend. “Just imagine you’re one of those reviewers on Amazon.com who leave detailed and scrutinizing criticism of the books they’ve read. (And your feedback might save me a few scathing reviews someday)” Now, if I could just get my hands on a few of those Amazon reviewers! They would tell it like it is! Which leads me to my next point…
Don’t Ask Your Mother
Mothers Make Better Fans Than Critics
Mothers Make Better Critics Than Fans
Either way, your mother (whether she be adoring or unpleasable) will never be your target audience because she changed your poopy diapers and listened to your lisp until you were 5. She is too close to you and your work. (Maybe she is even IN your work a little.)
Brene Brown keeps bobbing on my radar from random places.
That’s what the universe does. It smacks me over the head with something when I’m not listening.
Ok, universe. I get the message (because I have nothing but time) but actually I’m a little obsessed with her ideas.
I don’t love the idea of vulnerability cause that sounds awful. I’m developmentally stunted in it for sure. But if it promises to be as fulfilling as all these people think… well, what the heck, right?
So… I do what all writers should do, I read. I read anything, lots of fiction, some highbrow, some not so much. I also read books on what else… writing.
I just closed the back cover of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. This book was recommended to me by Care Messer, birth doula extraordinaire, after I told her about my book.
With an infant, I must choose my books very carefully as it takes me FOREVER to finish one. This one was worth the 3 weeks it took for me to polish it off, reading it a page at a time. And it was a fun read. Elizabeth Gilbert has an easy writing style, sarcastic and playful, two things I love in a writer.
There are lots of tidbits in Big Magic, kind of a pep talk for us authors (or any kind of creator really). Some of it I’ve heard before. But beyond it being a very usable guide to creativity, I liked chewing on the slight shifts in perspective, those meaty metaphors that just click and you put down the book and go “Yeah!”
My favorite part of Big Magic comes about two thirds into it and is called…
The Martyr Vs. The Trickster
The theory goes like this. We artists are convinced we need suffering to create good art. And this feels true. Every good artist is tortured, aren’t they? Hence the high alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide rates in rock stars and poets.
I did believe this. I believed that happiness and comfort are like sedatives to creation, maybe like a schizophrenic thinks drugs muffle their genius.
The martyr holds onto his angst because he feels he must. He uses his tortured soul to wrench from himself masterpieces. Misery keeps things fresh, potent. Pain is productive, even if it is, you know, painful. It’s a sacrifice that must be made. The martyr is willing to die for their art. Some do.
This concept has always been a real downer for me, mainly because I live a pretty charmed life. What deep well of pain do I have to draw my creativity from? And do I really want that pain? What about those of us who are not willing to take up an addiction, desecrate a relationship or survive a grievous tragedy that could create the necessary heartache for greatness? What about the rest of us who want to be happy? Is that so much to ask?
Enter the trickster. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He just wants to play and see what he creates. He’s the Van Wilder of creation – pompous, smart, confident, and mischievous. And he usually gets his way. And if he doesn’t, he just changes strategy. No deep psychosis required.
So from here on out, I vow not to discredit my creative spirit because it’s happy. I will not mourn the loss of the angst of my twenties. And I’m no longer waiting for the right emotional climate to create my masterpiece. I’ll just start tinkering on it.
Next on the reading list is Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott This was a recommendation from my friend Neil, one of my all-time favorite humans.