Stephen King’s most quoted writing advice has to be the one where he tells us that to become better writers, we have to read. And read. Then read some more.
It’s not far from the mark. For me, reading gives me the gumption to go write something of my own. Words by other authors spark something inside of me that makes me want to create characters and plot narrative.
I can also expand on that logic. If you want to be a better writer, be a beta reader for another author. When I was a slush reader, I recognized some undesirable patterns in rejected work that I might not have understood otherwise. I began to realize that I did a lot of the same things those beginning authors had done. I understood then why my editor put me in the position he did. I don’t feel like I could’ve learned the same lessons from his notes. The experience was eye opening and I feel that my writing has benefited because of it.
When you have chosen a book that has gone through a ring of editors already, you miss that raw slate of an early work. Those early drafts can reveal a plethora of mishaps that you might be able to identify in your own work later.
How can I be a beta reader?
Simple. Just ask another author if they need one. Any author worth their weight will search out people to be a test reader for them because they know how hard it is to keep an active test reader. Any writer worth their weight will value honest feedback, no matter how harsh. Granted, they may want to be familiar with you first, so I wouldn’t suggest doing a random Twitter search of just anyone with the #writing hashtag. Instead, join some online writing communities. Facebook has plenty and then some. The Absolute Write forum has a section for such things. Once you’ve identified someone that could use a beta reader, someone who writes in a genre you’re interested in reading, then ask.
Writing is not about seeing who is better than you or about getting your ego bruised if someone tells you you’re doing something wrong. It’s about clear and simple passion. The desire to write has to be so strong that no matter the obstacle, you have to write anyway. And that desire should always be coupled with a yearning to learn more and hone your craft further, no matter your experience level. It’s snobbish and pretentious to think you have it all right and you know all there is to know; that your story is the end-all, be-all of the literary world and anyone who doesn’t recognize your genius is an idiot. Keep dreaming, Squidward.
It’s always important to learn and read. The two should never expire. They should be a staple of your writing life always. If you can manage to beta/test read for another author, you might be able to learn and read at the same time. Killing two birds and all that.
Peace, love, and one stone,