Guest Post by Lyra: Sharing a Bed with Your Beta Reader

Posted on 15 June 2011

I’m currently traveling for business, so our very own Lyra of the incomparable Lyrical Meanderings is gracing this blog today with a guest post. So settle into bed with her words (and maybe even your favorite beta reader) and enjoy. I should be back sometime later this week with a post before I take off again, but for now, here’s Lyra:

Anyone with any sense will tell you, “Do not let someone you’re sharing a bed with read your work.” Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.

You write and write, and at some point, near or far it occurs to you, My God! I may have something here. Now perhaps you’re the writer who has known that from the beginning. No offense, but I’m not talking to you. Okay, maybe a little offense. Go work on your business plan for what you’ll do when the royalties start pouring in.

I’m talking to the rest of us. Those who range from dabblers to hardcore, I’ve-written-for-as-long-as-I-can-remember-and-it-just-isn’t-good-enough. Those are my people. Those are my kin. You read voraciously, and the more you read, the more you see that you have the vocabulary and emotional treasury of a fifth grader, who was perhaps kept back more than once.

Years have gone on, you have gotten a degree, or maybe have gone right out into the world hoping to gain life experience to get that Great Big American Novel off of your chest. You have the idea. You execute. You reread it the next day, reveling in the joy you will experience just as soon as the coffee is in your mitt.

Who wrote this crap? Who tore up my work, and left this garbage behind in its wake. There will be a reckoning! There will be justice! Fist held high in the air, you look around to find…you.

No rest for the wicked, you try again. And again. You throw out that idea, clearly the culprit for the mess you’re in, and bring on Mr. Bright and Shiny Idea. Oh yes. Isn’t he pretty? You rinse. You repeat.

Then one day. The idea thins out. It lengthens. It simplifies and then complicates. It is true. You didn’t know true was missing until true showed up at the door with a carafe of Blue Mountain coffee and a micro brew, or six, for when the job is done. You love Mr. Bright and Shiny. When you reread it, it doesn’t suck, and when you’ve written for awhile, you come to appreciate just not sucking.

The plot becomes complicated. You realize you may be lost or you may be brilliant. You would have never thought with all that you read that you can’t differentiate between the two. You need someone to look it over. You need someone you trust. Someone who knows that when you say to be brutally honest, you don’t mean it. It isn’t time for that yet.

This is the point I hand it over to the person who shares my life. Now, I’m in a unique situation. My spouse is better read than I and has a Masters in Literature. More important than his pedigree is his love of words, of language, of…me. I give it to him, and for the first round, he tells me only if something is stellar (as small as it may be, it is essential at this point to find something really good) or when I’ve gone off the rails. When he does, it hurts, and I listen, and every single time, he’s right. I know why people say not to do this. There are times, my interior voice is screaming, you try it! But, but, but, if he tells me there is something there, if he tells me he wants to know what happens next despite the roughness, I know I’m in the game.

Do you have a first draft reader? If so, who is it, and do they share your bed?

Photo: An.Sei

13 responses to Guest Post by Lyra: Sharing a Bed with Your Beta Reader

  • Sarah W says:

    My First Reader is a woman I’ve never met face-to-face. Someday, I will share a real life hug with her, but unless we’re both very tired, we probably won’t be sharing a bed.

    My husband doesn’t read my stuff. Ever. I’ll bounce a line or two off him, and he’s usually willing to help me research odd things (“Honey, stand still while I attack you with this wiffleball bat”), but he doesn’t want to read anything longer than a blog post. I’ve learned to live with that.

  • Lyra says:

    Perhaps he learned his lesson about reading you after The Wiffleball Bat Incident of 2011?

  • “…you come to appreciate just not sucking.” Oh, yes.

    My beloved is my first reader. We work well together. He is so well versed in logic and prose that when I muck it up, he points it out to me in the most direct way possible. I don’t take it personally because I know how much he supports me. I trust him implicitly. He will always be my editor of choice.

  • Lyra says:

    You are a lucky girl. Never taking it personally says much about your confidence.

  • Teri says:

    My husband is, and always has been, my first reader. I didn’t write my first story until I was about 35 yrs old, had never even thought about writing. When I finished a draft of my very first piece, there he was on his pillow, asking me, What are you working on? It’s gone on from there.

    He’s well-read and he’s kind. These might very well be the best traits for my beta reader. His favorite question is, But what is this ABOUT? The “about” part being something I tend to discover somewhere around the umpteenth draft. He might tell me I’ve got something, or I don’t; that these 2 sections are the most engaging part of the story, but what’s with the end?; that the opening 6 pages have nothing to do with the story I might be telling. He encourages me to Keep Going.

    It might very well be the Keep Going part that makes this work. My pillow-partner beta-reader is the one person who tells me to Keep Going, even when I’m not sure I should.

  • Lyra says:

    I’m a firm believer that “keep going” are two of the most important words in the English language. Right up there with I love you.

    And yes, kindness is crucial whether when giving a critique or being a human being.

    (I will also add for you, of course you do…)

  • Lisa Golden says:

    My first reader changes depending on the situation. I read some of work to Doug who then gives me his opinion. My first listener for my current WIP was Sophie. She sat in the room with me as I read it aloud and gave me feedback. She has a vested interest since one of the characters is based on her and she wanted to make sure that I didn’t do anything stupid with her character.

  • Lyra says:

    Is this the new, new one you mentioned in your post?? How did Sophie feel you were doing?

  • My husband is my First Reader, and he doesn’t say much. Maybe he knows better … and lets my critique group fall on that grenade instead of him. :-)

  • If my ex-husband had been my first reader, I’m guessing we’d have divorced a hell of a lot sooner.

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