Thursday, May 14, 2009

Beta, Part 1: Finding Writing Buddies

You’ve heard of online beta testing, where software developers give free copies of their newest software to test it for bugs prior to an official release. This gives people the chance to try the software out and help designers and developers improve their work; it also allows people to see what they may get if they choose to buy the software in the future.

You can also beta test your novel – but mind you, beta testing a novel is different from beta testing software. For one thing, you will be asking your beta testers to take time out of their busy schedules to read your work. Software testing is something that you can actually do on the job and not get scolded for.

One way to get a pool of beta testers is to find writing buddies. These aren’t just your run-of-the-mill friends who will encourage you to do your job well. You need someone to do the following:

1. Encourage and inspire you to write. This person has to be able to not only make you happy to sit down and write, but happy to produce something. That person might want to read your work, too! You may need to talk with this person constantly about your work (without irritating the person beyond belief, of course) so that this person is updated on the things that you are doing and why you are doing them.

2. Scold you. Now this doesn’t mean just scolding you for not writing; it also means scolding you for not writing well, or for producing work that is way below par. Have someone on hand who is critical of your work without being overly critical of you. That is, this person has to know how to judge your work without targeting you directly. Of course, you can always thicken your skin and resist criticism, so part of this requirement is really about how well you deal with corrections and criticism.

3. Read your work. It’s one thing to criticize your work; it’s another thing to read and enjoy your work. Pick someone who doesn’t pick your work apart. Get a writing buddy who can read your work and enjoy it and still come up with great ideas for you at the end of the day. If all you have is a nitpicker, then you may end up disappointed and frustrated with yourself.

4. Write along with you. A writing buddy is exactly that: someone who shares your love of writing and who you can take along for the ride. Only a fellow writer can understand the hardships that you go through as you try to cough up a masterpiece

5. Allow you to criticize them. Not all writers will take criticism, although these same people will not hesitate to tear a work apart. Get someone who can handle criticism without bursting into tears.

6. Be your friend. Life happens while you write, and you certainly need a friend to help you through, writing or otherwise.

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