With A Little Help From My Friends
At some point every writer is going to consider releasing their work to a third party to be read and critiqued. If the first person to read your story after you is a judge or editor you are doing yourself and your work a disservice.
Very few writers are able to get the required distance from their work, to edit objectively.
Some (stories) had vital flaws that might have been caught with careful re-reads and test readers. Others needed some refinement and growth, and a good copy editor. Some just had too much crammed in there for a thousand-word long story. As readers, we need some familiar footing to find our way to your characters and plot. I was personally pissed off with some stories – they were so good, but those fundamental flaws lowered their ranking.
Bilodeau’s words rang true to me – both as a writer and an editor. You cannot under-estimate the value of beta readers or colleagues who will edit and critque for you.
My story “The Chameleon” won a place in “Thieves and Scoundrels” the anthology compiled from the 3rd FFC. It went through a rigorous external critiquing and editing process at the hands of six test readers. While the main story didn’t change, certain elements did – characterisation and plot were both tightened, the language and imagery was honed. When you are working with just 1000 words you need to put every single one of them to work and those who are not initmately attached to the story can show you were to make the cut with the least amount of disruption.
For me it was another example of how a good story can be made great (and make the publishing grade) with the help of some friends. It has taken me a long time to get to this place after I was on the wrong end of a bad critique (not unlike many writers) when I was young. But I’m glad I’m here now and I am grateful for my tight-knit group of beta readers.
I still feel like a lamb awaiting slaughter once the thrill of sending my work goes out and the interminal wait for comments to come back. Yes, it is terrifying but it is ultimately worth it. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing six lessons I’ve learnt, tip toeing through the mine field as an emerging writer, a beta reader and an editor. From why to let your work out and to read the work of others, to developing the thick skin required and chosing your beta readers.
I held back my work for too many years. I hope you don’t make the same mistake.
Image: Nancy Bea Miller via The Genre Cookbook