Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beta Reader Anxiety Issues (And How to Get Over It)

Every time I send a manuscript out for someone to read and scrutinize, I float away on cloud nine with the following irrational thought in my head:

My manuscript is perfect. All my feedback will be positive. My beta readers will toss rose petals in my path wherever I walk. La di da di da.

Let us not even approach the subject of how off-base that is. But really? I always have a short period of bliss in which I am perfectly happy with my manuscript. That short trip down la-la lane usually comes to a screeching halt about the moment that I get comments back.

A brief side note: I really do like all my beta readers. I think it's awesome they take time from their own writing in order to read mine. Also, I'm happy to revise. And I am fairly good at taking criticism. But I'm not going to pretend it's not hard. Because it is! And I think it is for everyone. This post will describe only my interior battle, the one that takes place only in the recesses of my crazy mind.

It's really dark in here.


The comments open my eyes to the flaws in my manuscript. And unfortunately, they usually come with the gut-wrenching fear that I suck and have always sucked and no one has told me yet and why, why didn't they just tell me so I could take up potato farming BEFORE I got my degree in creative writing? But this time is going to be different. Coming down off cloud nine does not have to mean leaping into a crap pit.

Here is my step-by-step formula for those more difficult beta comment reading sessions. (I haven't actually had these for D-- I think I better prepared myself this time. But I do remember what they were like for TM.)

1. Read everything through

It's like ripping off a band-aid. Just read it all right away so you know what you're up against.

2. Feel crappy

Just go ahead and give yourself permission to feel petty, mad, sad, embarrassed, whatever. Eat some cookies, watch some television, and mope a little.

3. Re-open the document

I have found that the real struggle is just getting back in front of the computer and opening the word document again. Once you do that, the rest is fairly easy.

4. Make a list

This is for the big things, the things you can't tackle with some copy-paste and a spell checker. Make a list of the grievances your beta reader had and then brainstorm ways to fix them...and make a list of those things. I've found that if you just have the list of grievances, you can get overwhelmed and start thinking the draft sucks. But if you have ways to address each of those grievances, even if the list is long, it's practical and purposeful. Tasks you can deal with. Punch-you-in-the-gut statements like "your beginning is 20,000 words too long" (Hello, TM. How are you?), not so much.

5. Insert line edits

It will make you feel like you're doing something. And you are!

6. Get to work

7. Marvel at the improvement in your manuscript. Aka: The Payoff.

This is what makes it all worth it. Climbing that ladder back onto cloud nine again. Except this time, cloud nine is a little more stable than before.

This is what I intend to do when the situation arises again. If it does. So good luck with your revisions, y'all.


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