In my previous post I mentioned my beta readers, the wonderful group of people who agreed to read my unpublished book and offer their opinions. As a writer you work alone – the ability to enjoy your own company is a prerequisite for the job but, unless you are writing solely for your own pleasure, there comes a time when you have to show that work to other people. I mean, that’s why you’re writing after all, isn’t it? Yet somehow, certainly for me, it is a difficult thing to give up your precious words to someone else. When you’re writing about love or anger or s-e-x, you are drawing on the deeper emotional parts of yourself – to then share these things with others is a curiously intimate process which is why I liken it to being naked on the train.
Yet you have to. You have to do this. I attended a seminar some time ago with several literary agents and one of them made this point very clearly. You have to get used to other people seeing your work. So you have to stamp down that little voice that says it’s not ready, it’s not good enough, no-one will like it. And you will, hopefully, be surprised.
So I sucked up my courage and sent my book to friends and family to read, just a couple of people at first, then a few more. I ended up sharing it with a fairly disparate group of people in several countries, ages ranging from 15 to 65, all with different backgrounds and ideas. I had a couple of people whom I knew would tell me straight away if it was crap, whereas another friend read it critically, looking at the language to check for repetition. Yet others were looking at spelling, or for holes in the plot. The teen readers were valuable as my main character is 15 years old – I do remember being 15 but it was a long time ago in a different world, so I needed to know whether my character still rang true. A couple more readers were fellow writers – one of them stoically read his way through the monster that was my first edit, all 160,000 words and gave me thoughtful and measured feedback all the way through. The other, bless her heart, read the first three chapters and said ‘Do you really need these?’ Light bulb moment! I did not, or at least I could condense most of them into just a few pages and so I have a much stronger book thanks to her honesty and fresh viewpoint.
The point I am trying (hoping) to make is that while we write alone, we do not work alone. And thought it may feel as though you are stripping your soul bare, you need to step back from those words, from the story that for so long has been just the two of you in a quiet room. Release it into the world, let people see it, let them in. And don’t worry about being naked on the train – that feeling will pass as your confidence grows. All my readers so far, despite their many and varied viewpoints, have enjoyed my book, and that is giving me the impetus to press on, to keep working towards publication. It’s also given me the courage to start this blog, and thus hopefully reach an even larger audience – clicks to date have come from Australia, Canada, the US, the UK and even Brazil (commiserations, football loving friends). So thank you, thanks to everyone who is reading my words – I really do appreciate it.