Writing can be a lonely process but it doesn't have to be a solitary one. Every writer is a member of a larger community whether he or she wants to participate in said community. I haven't always been particularly gung-ho about jumping into the community of fellow authors because I'm a loner by nature--and most writers are. Writers also tend to be very, very controlling. When most of them learn about my partnership and collaboration with Vivien Dean, reactions tend to be a combination of shock and intrigue. Collaborating? On a book? How is that even possible?!
"I'd never be able to do that," they tell me. "I'd be too afraid of what they'd do." Or something along those lines. The subtext of fear at relinquishing control to somebody else is always present. I think that fear is also present when the subject of beta readers and critique partners comes up. I've noticed there's a strange dynamic at work, both sides wary of offending the other, the author trying not to take the feedback personally, the beta reader doing her best to phrase everything in a delicate, but positive manner.
It's a delicate process, bringing a world into existence, no doubt about it. One mistake or thoughtless action can topple everything. There's always tension between the vision of what could be and what actually happens, and that tension might generate frustration or even anger. There are details ranging from the epic (who the murderer is) to the mundane (what Protag is wearing in chapter 4 before her Big Date) and there are character quirks, plot twists, surprises in dialogue, and time for a hundred indecisions and for a hundred visions and revisions all before the taking of toast and tea.
That's why you need a critique partner or a beta reader. Because you aren't going to remember all the little details, and you aren't going to remember how the revision on page 30 impacts the action on page 123, and you're not always going to spell the words right or choose the correct synonym. A beta reader has some distance and perspective--something that you lack while you're writing and may always lack when it comes to a particular story. If you find a good beta reader with a trustworthy opinion and sharp eye never let that person go. Ever, ever, every. Hold on with all your might. Send them flowers and chocolates and little gifts after they've had a long day. Pamper them, write odes to them, promise your first born.
A good critique partner or beta reader isn't just a gift from heaven. He or she could be the difference between publication and failure. And if you've had a beta reader who made all the difference for your book, return the karmic favor. Do the same for somebody else.
Images thanks to jonsatticuk on Flickr.com