The Harshest Critic
I had a different post in mind for today, but sometimes events conspire to steer our thoughts in a new direction. Yesterday’s post, by Jodi, about Beta readers was still rattling around in my mind when I tried writing the other post. When the Muse wants you to change direction, sometimes it’s easiest just to go where she takes you.
As usual, Jodi’s list was well thought out, and I can’t really say she missed anything. Jodi’s point, that we need to seek out criticism that is constructive, by finding the right readers to offer helpful feedback, is solid.
But sometimes a Beta reader can be vital for exactly the opposite reason.
For far too many authors, we are our worst critics. In fact, the very first hurdle most writers have to overcome, is to shout down the voice in their own head that tells them that their writing is worthless. And many of us never quite overcome the inner voice.
I almost never like anything I write. There are few exceptions. The stories that others tell me are the best, are the ones I dislike the most. I am nearly useless when it comes to self-evaluation. So while for some (like Jodi) it is critical that a Beta reader offer honest criticism without being harsh, for me a Beta reader’s first use is to temper my own inner critic.
That isn’t to say that I don’t want a Beta reader to give me the negative, but more often than not I’m using her to help ferret out the positive.
A little over a week ago I finished a (VERY) rough draft of a new story. I’m completely unhappy with it. Twice, I’ve asked Jodi if it would be easiest just to crumple up the draft and start over. And twice she’s told me that I just need some distance from it. She doesn’t say that it doesn’t need work, just that the heart of the story is good, and we can rework the text to bring out that heart.
Still, I wasn’t convinced. Then yesterday, another author who has read the draft contacted me to compliment me on the story. And what she liked about it, was the premise–the heart. This has alleviated some of my angst about my story. I know it still needs work—but now I know that the point I was trying to get across, did get across. And I’m now able to focus on the idea that I need to improve the story, rather than scrap it.
Many of us are our own worst critics, and sometimes our Beta reader’s most important role, is to act as moderators between us and our own creations.