by Joanna Maciejewska
If you look up online advice for writers, you’ll likely find a mention of beta readers and how crucial they are for improving one’s writing. Yet, with all the emphasis out there on finding a beta reader or ten, there’s very little said about how being a beta reader improves your own writing.
A different kind of reading
Beta reading is, at its core, reading. So why, you might wonder, would you devote your time to reading unfinished or unpolished books while your to-be-read pile of paperbacks or ebooks is growing faster than you can go through it? It surely is better to learn from published writers who had their works already edited?
Learning the best is definitely something worthwhile, but beta reading offers another way of studying. When you pick up a published book, you often end up lost within the story, and in the end, enchanted by the author as you were meant to be, you pay less attention to things you could pick up from them.
Beta reading is reading with a clear purpose: to provide feedback. This means that your mind is more focused on the craft than simply enjoying the story. And even if a paragraph or a page draws you in so much that you forget all about critiquing, you’re more likely to notice that too. You’ll go back, mark it as “great” or “brilliant” and at the same time set yourself up to figure out why you had such reaction to it. Therefore, you’d be putting on your learner’s hat on. It’s less likely when you’re reading a published book, because you aren’t compelled to provide feedback.
Learning from the mistakes of others
Writers often need beta readers because they’re too close to their own work. They’re willing to improve their writing, but they can’t always see the plot holes or don’t see the clunky sentences, because they know exactly what those words are supposed to convey. Beta readers often highlight those issues. But at the same time, even if you become aware of your problem with run on sentences or overusing certain words, it doesn’t mean you’ll improve.
Becoming a beta reader means you get to train yourself to spot those issues. It’s much easier to learn on somebody else’s mistakes when you don’t subconsciously skim past the problems, and when you aren’t that attached. It also teaches you problem solving if you’re willing to figure out no only what’s wrong, but also how to fix it.
Giving it back or paying it forward
Writing might be a solitary activity, but being a writer isn’t. Along your journey as a writer you’ll come across many people who will help you, donating their time or knowledge. Becoming a beta reader is a way to pay it back to them, or pay it forward to another writer in need of help.
It’s also a way to build lasting and meaningful relationships. Many writers, as time crunched as everyone, offer critique swaps. This means they’ll beta read for people who beta read for them. Thus, becoming a beta reader is also a great way to find people who’ll beta read for you in exchange.
In the end, becoming a beta reader might be a start of a great writerly relationship and make that solitary experience a little bit more social.
Finding time to be a beta reader
Of course, you probably don’t have much time to become a beta reader. You already juggle your day job, life, and your own writing. But if you can carve a little bit of time, beta reading for others might boost your own writing. And you don’t have to commit to reading full novels weekly. With the critique swaps you can offer to read the first chapter, or a short story, or swap chapters monthly. You can also offer less in-depth beta reading, with general comments about the work as a whole. They can also help a lot.
But if you make an effort and give it a go, you’ll be surprise how much it improves your own craft. Trained as a beta reader, you’ll become much more efficient with your own revisions. You might also start learning a lot more from published books, because your mind will be working in the background while you read.
So, why not give it a go?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris), and she also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”, “The Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror”). You can find out more about her and her stories at melfka.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She also designs graphics available as gadgets for writers (stickers, mugs, t-shirts, and more).