Blinded to the blindingly obvious

Like any writer, I'll often read, re-read, re-re-read and re-re-re-read the same paragraph/scene/chapter over and over, looking for all the inevitable mistakes that are invariably there to be found after first putting the words down. Typically, I'll pick up several obvious mistakes after reading what I've just written, and I'll do several passes until I can't find anything else wrong. Then, I'll scan it word by word, and then even letter by letter, until every last hidden error is finally uncovered and corrected for. Sometimes, I can find errors even after numerous re-reads and often several days and even weeks later. Only after I'm satisfied I've eradicated every last, possible error, will I feel confident enough to show what I now believe is my best work to a third party. What happens next? Invariably, they immediately point out 3 or 4 glaringly obvious errors right there on the page! What!? How could I possibly have missed those!?

Spelling errorFortunately, I've benefited from numerous beta readers. They graciously go through the manuscript and point out all the problems with it. When I first started out with my writing, it was typically friends and family that obliged in this way, but invariably, they would just tell me how good everything was. That did wonders for my ego, but nothing much for my writing. It wasn't until I started engaging total strangers that the cold truth finally came out. The good thing about total strangers is that they are not invested in a relationship that they're trying to spare. It's a lot easier to tell a faceless name in an e-mail that something doesn't work, or that it's full or errors and inconsistencies. They don't have to stare you in the face when telling you just how bad your writing is.

Grammar errorAt first, I found the brutal honesty of some of my initial beta readers really quite confronting - not to mention ego-bruising. However, it wasn't until after this process began that I really started to see improvements in my writing - this was the moment I started to be honest with myself. The thing is, you can't really fix something if you don't know what's wrong with it to begin with. I've found that there's nothing better than a brutally honest beta reader, who's prepared to provide solid, constructive criticism - no matter how much it hurts to hear. If there's one thing I've learned from missing obvious errors on the page, it's that it's all too easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees. This doesn't just apply to grammar and spelling mistakes. It can apply equally well to things like storyline, tense, point of view, etc. I've slowly learned to love any criticism I receive from well-meaning readers that just want to make the story a better one. This is one of the reasons why I'm happy to list my beta readers in the acknowledgements section of portallas.com.

PS: I should point out that I read this blog about 8 times before posting. 30 seconds later, my wife found an error!

3 Comments

  • Gordon A. Long Reply

    I’d like to object to the “brutally honest” term. I find it quite sufficient when my responders are honest. The brutal most of us can do without 🙂

    I have a good friend who beta-reads my books, and she gives me some of my most useful critiques. However, perhaps because we are friends, she is rather frank in her opinions, and I always have to wait for the anger to die down a bit before I get to what she’s saying.

    (By the way, I didn’t find any errors in your post. I could discuss a couple of the commas, but …)

    • Chris Morgan Reply

      Haha 🙂 Perhaps you’ll change your mind when you see some of the comments 😉 I guess what I’m saying is that honesty is always favoured over sugar-coating 🙂

    • Chris Morgan Reply

      The real advantage, I think, of having an unknown beta reader is that they don’t know you and are not prone to avoiding hurting your feelings. It’s that kind of ‘brutal honesty’ that I really find useful.

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