I can sum up why beta readers are awesome in less than ten words: they pull you back into the real world. Sometimes when you’re writing, you get way too caught up in your own imagination and your own plans to pay attention to the details. This is actually a good thing – it means the words can flow freely without pesky things like FACTS or GRAMMAR holding you back. But, when you get into the editing part of the process, you have to try to look at your story as an outsider.
This is difficult, and it’s damn near impossible to do it entirely.
As the writer, you already know your book inside and out. You know what the characters look like. You know where they live. You know how they take their coffee and whether they put the cap back on the toothpaste. Unfortunately, your readers are not psychics. They can’t see what you see unless you tell them about it.
Still, readers are creative. They’ll fill in the holes that you left open. Oh, your main character is a straight-edge blond? Too bad. Your reader thinks she’s a saucy brunette with a penchant for mischief. Some things may come through your writing naturally. A sarcastic character isn’t going to talk to others politely and with respect. He’s going to have something snarky to say at every turn. However, your story is inevitably going to have some inside jokes, some exclusive information, and some pretty crucial plot points that don’t make it to the page because they’re still stuck in your head.
Beta readers remind you that you’re not as clever or concise as you think you are. There are always holes, no matter how good you are at editing yourself. There’s always a gap between the way you understand your words on the page and the way a reader understands them. The job of editing is to bridge that gap so that you and your reader(s) can be on the same page with what’s going on in the book, for the most part.
I’m pretty much where I was last week: #fail. I think I built this one up too much, and now I’m terrified to dive into it. (Is this the equivalent of “editor’s block”? I don’t get writer’s block too often, but this is what it feels like!) It’s so hard to change a routine, especially if you’re mildly OCD like I am, so trying to change how I edit (I tend to proofread first, then fill in plot holes, then rewrite for clarity/cohesion/chronology, rinse and repeat, and focus on the superfine grammar and syntax details last.
Now, I’m trying to focus on the plot holes first, and it’s got me frozen and procrastinating. While my beta readers are chugging away, sending me notes (already!) on the first few chapters, I’m too hesitant to do more than cross out a few extraneous words on the first page.
I keep thinking I need sticky flags or more pens or highlighters – then I’d be able to get going on it! But that’s just the procrastination talking. I’ve edited three books without highlighters or sticky flags, but then I think maybe if I give into my procrastination, eventually I’ll run out of excuses…
In any case, I’d like to be through the first chapter by the end of the long holiday weekend, but at this point, if I get through it and do more than scratch out a few commas and adverbs, I’ll consider it a win.
PS: I got rid of the damn captcha on the comments, so please take a moment to share your thoughts. And pretty please, with sugar on top, don’t fucking spam me.
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