For some reason, the last couple of weeks ran away with me. I’d got into a bit of a rhythm with my posts. Most had been book reviews – and I’ve got plenty of those to catch up on – but then I dropped in a post about the progress I was making with Borderline. It’s like tempting fate, really.
To be fair, in the following week, I did make substantial progress, albeit in the sense that I read a lot of feedback from my beta readers, and made notes about things that might need changing in the novel. It is always ‘might’, of course, because different readers will have different preferences, so something that doesn’t appeal to one person could fill another with a sense of excitement. What does stand out – and becomes more than just a ‘might’ – is when several readers make the same comment and/or they identify something that’d been niggling away at the back of your mind, and you’d just hoped no one would notice the inconsistency.
There are still some beta reads to come back to me. At least, I hope there are. As I said last time, life can get in the way, and no matter how hard you want to support someone else, sometimes you just can’t do it. To be fair, the feedback I’ve had so far could be enough for me to work on some of the issues in Borderline. I’d just rather wait until I’m sure I’ve had every set of feedback that I can. Let’s face it, I don’t want to change something only to find one more perspective could alter my own about the changes needed.
But that’s okay, because things did get busy anyway. Aside from a trip away at relatively short notice, I’d also agreed to do a beta read for a fellow author, as well as a read-through of a book my partner’s written. As with Borderline, both books need some work doing to them – although that’s just my view. Regardless, they’re in pretty good shape because they just need tweaking rather than radical overhauls. Hopefully my feedback has been helpful rather than cause for them to bin their manuscripts.
As a writer, I do find reading and reflecting on other authors’ works in progress useful. It helps me to think about my own style and writing process and even choices of grammar and punctuation. Increasingly, we find the rules on these things are being torn up. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, it’s good to see progress – otherwise we’d still using ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘verily’. At the same time, there are rules that help in terms of the reading experience. Commas in the wrong place can affect the rhythm and understanding of a sentence. And the rules around dialogue help us to understand what’s actually been said and by who. Or is it whom?
That all said, I do try not to get too hung up on these things, as long as I can enjoy the story or – in my partner’s case – the explanations (it’s a how-to guide). And reading other people’s books at any stage in their development can be an education. It helps me reflect on how I can do things better in my own writing.
Of course, there’s also the paying it forward element of doing beta reads. It’s not entirely selfish, because it can be a significant commitment of time and effort. But it’s rewarding to know you’re helping in some small way to get another book to publication. And, if people are good enough to do it for you, it’s only fair that you do it for others too.
In some instances, I’ve beta read for people who’ve also beta read for me. But I’ve also beta read for writers who might not consider doing it for me – or anyone else for that matter. That’s okay. There’s no point in doing it if your heart’s not in it anyway. But I’m still happy to help them. For a long time, I’ve believed that helping others leads to you receiving more help yourself – usually from completely unexpected sources. And I believe it because I’ve experienced it. I can’t explain why or how it happens, but maybe questioning it wouldn’t do me any favours anyway.
When it comes to beta reading, as long as those who I read for feel they’re getting some benefit from it, I’ll be happy to keep doing it. Not all the time, of course. I do still need to write my own stuff. But, if I can do a few during the course of a year, I like to. It’s a privilege to be asked, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
If you haven’t had the chance to do it yourself, I’d recommend it.
As for what I’m pretty sure I’m keeping in Borderline so far. The opening paragraph…
It’s a start…