Being Married to a Beta Reader Can Be the Best Blessing
June 26, 2015
Last month I finished my to-do list of edits on my novel. The next step? It’s what it always is: ask my husband to read it. He’s my most trusted beta reader and best editor. I’ve come to realize how precious getting his feedback is.
So we do what we always do. I send the chapters in email. He reads them on screen. Then we sit together and go through them one by one. “These paragraphs on page one need to be longer. It’s difficult to picture what the protagonist is seeing exactly. So there are mountains on the left, a field in front of them, and a lake? Lay it all out for me.”
Oh wow, I think. He’s got stuff to say right off the bat. Ugh. I take notes. We move on.
A few chapters later: “Would [character] really get that upset about it? He seems to be picking at his son for no reason.” I debate him on that point. He makes his argument. I debate a bit more. He shrugs but I know I haven’t changed his opinion. Occasionally I can change his opinion if I can locate another sentence or section of text to back up my point. But this time I haven’t so I take more notes. This goes on for almost two hours.
An Objective Logical eye
My husband is an engineer and he thinks like one. How do the various parts fit into the whole? How to build this? What is logical? He gives me feedback with a polite cool eye. Sometimes I’m surprised by what I’ve missed or a weak link. I hadn’t been thinking about that aspect at all. Now I am. And more importantly I’m getting a feel for where I am on the “How much work does this manuscript still need?” spectrum.
A Tender Approach
This time he gives me is precious. I wonder why it’s more special that he read it rather than a friend. It’s because the work is in its infancy and needs tender care. That tender care is most likely to come from him. Working with him makes me feel safe. He won’t be mean because he can or because of a power trip. (Any writer who’s been in a workshop knows about that.) He criticizes early unpolished work in such a way that I don’t think I stink as a writer and should give it all up tomorrow.
I believe anyone in a happy relationship can benefit in this way. Usually your life partner is a person who thinks a lot like you do. Maybe the most of anyone. They will bring a similar but different perspective. They need not be an expert writer or artist, they just need to be delicate and want to help you. If it happens, I urge you to be gracious. Probe. Get details about what they think. Prepare a list of your own questions based on your doubts and get their thoughts. If you do, your work will be ready for the even more objective, scarier feedback from secondary readers of friends or colleagues.
In the meantime, I make it as easy as possible for my husband to read my work. If he wants to go over the manuscript later, we go over it later. If he wants to read it then and there, we do that. His opinion is one I trust and having someone’s opinion you trust may be the most valuable thing to have as a writer.
Do you have someone you trust above anyone else with your work? Let me know in the comments below.
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Karen Hugg is a writer and gardener living in the Seattle area. She is a certified ornamental horticulturalist and Master Pruner. When not digging in the dirt, she writes. She's been published in various journals, anthologies, websites, and more. Her life is happily hectic but she's lucky to have a patient husband and sweet children. Her pets aren't bad either. To learn more, explore http://www.karenhugg.com.