Remember to Take Care of Yourself

ReaderWhen I first started to take writing seriously, I was weighed down by a lot of advice I read from professional writers that I admired. Advice along the lines of ‘you have to write every day’, ‘make daily writing a habit’, and ‘you have to treat it like a job: show up every day’.

I was so disheartened every day that I didn’t write, I got so bogged down by feelings of futility and failure that I almost gave up writing altogether.

It took me some time to realise that not every bit of advice, even if it was, fundamentally, good advice, was going to work for me. You have to find your own way, and it may be different to everyone else’s, but if it gets words on the page, stick with it.

I recently came across another guilt-inducing quote online, something like ‘a professional is someone who does it even when he doesn’t feel like it’. I can see the truth in it, and the admirable commitment, but also the finger pointing, the presumption, and the potential harmfulness. I say a professional is someone who finds their own way, and then totally rocks it.

Writing is so involved, we all know that. Your head, your heart, your soul, it’s all poured in. And it can be exhausting, and draining, and confusing, and heavy-going. And you do need to take a break sometimes. Because you need to look after yourself.

If you need a day off writing, do it. If you want to go for a walk, or watch trashy TV, or read a book, or eat cake, or whatever you need to sort your head out, do it. Your writing will still be there tomorrow. And don’t feel guilty for it, don’t feel like you’ve failed. Because your writing needs you to be healthy. If you want to write well, you need to look after yourself as well as the words.

Often, a day off will bring you back to writing refreshed and ready to go. Do what you need to get words on the page, and if that means the odd day off to recharge, to clear your head, do it. And don’t feel bad for it.

5 Ways to Find Beta Readers

What is a beta reader?
Let’s start by defining what a beta reader is, and why they’re so important. A beta reader is someone who reads your book before it’s published and offers constructive criticism. This feedback informs your final run of edits to make your book as good as it can be before publication or submission.

Why do I need beta readers?
Editing and proofing your own work is an almost impossible task. You’re too close to the project, you know what it’s meant to say, and you become blind to its problems and mistakes.

Betas can also read your work as readers would, with a detachment you can never achieve yourself. They’ll pick up on plot holes and typos you’ll overlook. They’ll react to the emotions and tension, be surprised by reveals. They’ll find parts that need clarification, or that move too slowly, characters that don’t work, dialogue that’s unrealistic, things that need more description, or less. They’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t with a perspective you can’t have yourself.

What makes a good beta reader?
Finding beta readers is easy, but finding good beta readers is hard. A good beta reader can be anyone; a reader, a writer, even a close friend or family member. You’ll hear it said that friends and family aren’t good options because they’ll try to save your feelings. This isn’t always the case. If you can trust them to be brutally honest, then they can be just as useful as any other beta.

Because good beta readers do need to be brutally honest. They need to be able to tell you when something isn’t working, when you’ve made a mistake. They also need to offer constructive criticism. “This doesn’t work”, or “this is boring” is no use to you if they don’t explain why. They don’t need to offer up solutions, that’s your job, but they do need to be able to explain their responses.

Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold, so when you do find some, make sure you keep hold of them.

Where can I find beta readers?

  • Ask friends and family. You need to be careful with this option and only choose people you can trust to be brutally honest. Beta readers are no use to you if they’re just being polite not to hurt your feelings.
  • Find reader groups in your genre. Search places like Facebook and GoodReads and you’re sure to find lots of keen readers.
  • Use fellow authors. Again, a search on Facebook or GoodReads will offer up several beta or review exchange groups.
  • Use your network. Post an open call for beta readers on your social networking profiles, and ask people to share.
  • Ask your mailing list subscribers. These are already fans of yours, and many of them will jump at the chance of reading your book before anyone else.

Where else have you found beta readers? What makes a good beta reader for you?