Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Thankless Task: The Secret Lives of Betas

They don’t write, they read.  With a careful eye and a thoughtful heart, they read.
They’re the unsung heroines of writers everywhere, and their task is oftentimes a thankless one.
They give our dreams wings and they cut us down to size.  One moment our spirits may soar, the next we find ourselves crying.  Then we stop crying and we get to work.  When we’re done working we know our writing is better, because through all the tears of disappointment we were forced to make it better.
That’s a beta’s job, to make writers face reality before it’s too late.
We don’t want to hear that our book has a plotline with more holes than swiss cheese.  We will cry when you say our main character is as flat as day old soda.  We’ll be tempted to close our laptops and never write again when you tell us that our story is unoriginal and dated.
But since writing is very much like a disease contracted in the deep jungles of Timbuktu, we will write again.  Plus, despite what you may think at the time, we don’t hate you.  We can’t hate you.  We need you and we respect you.  We value your opinions.  We lay the first fruits of our labor at your feet and we wait on pins and needles for your response.  Good or bad, we want to know the truth.
If we didn’t value your opinion, there would be no tears.  If we didn’t accept your criticism, then we wouldn’t close our laptops in pain for days as we came to grips with the truth.  We would merely say “what do they know, they’re so wrong!” and go on without another regard.  It wouldn’t hurt if it meant nothing.  But it does.  We’ve put our faith in you.  Everything you say matters.
We may go on to make a lot of changes, or a few changes.  We may pick and choose where to implement those changes. The point is, you make us think, in this painfully, brutally honest way, about our stories.  That’s not supposed to be pleasant.  That’s why we would rather do it with you, now, than with someone else down the road.
I know it can’t be easy to deliver bad news.  Truth seldom feels as good as our imaginations let us believe it will (heck, we are writers after all.)  We will hurt, we will not take it well.  But we don’t blame you.  We blame us (writers are good at that.)  Our dreams were too big, our excitement too premature, our characters too close to us.  Hence the mental shut down when the truth hits.  But it won’t last.  Because as much as we don’t want to hear it, we know we have to. 
We don’t come to you so that you’ll love it all and never question a single thing. 
That’s expecting a lot out of anyone, I know.
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, especially not a tough as nails beta with a heart of gold (like mine.)  So when she knows just how hard I take her criticism, it hurts her.  Then I feel terrible.  Then I feel really afraid that she’ll never speak to me again, or want to read any of my stuff again.  Then I feel doubly terrible.  Because the truth is, I want her to criticize me.  I want her to see all the things that I can’t or that no one else has.  It will hurt, yes.  But that’s exactly why I trust her.  She has the gumption enough to deal it out the way she sees it.
So, if I’m confused and don’t know what to do after unexpected feedback, it’s only because it actually means a lot to me.  If I could write it off, then it wouldn’t be a problem.  But I can’t write it off, because I trust its source.
Will knowing any of this make my disheartened beta feel better?  I don’t know, but I hope so.  If she still wants to read for me, I want to know that she won’t be afraid to cut me down.  It will never feel good to take that kind of criticism, but I know it’s probably harder to be the one handing it out.  Just know that even when it feels like a thankless task, we are always thankful for what you’re willing to do.  Taking your time to read our works in depth so that they can become polished, perfected, and hopefully one day, published, is a huge deal to us.

So, thank you betas.

Thank you, Nikki.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are fine. Stop fretting.