Writing for years, I’ve learned the hard way that I make mistakes. Lots of them. In fact, it’s so easy to make mistakes, you can spend all your time correcting past ones when you should be writing new material.
Errors are there to be corrected, but wouldn’t it be far nicer to write on, a little less haunted? James Joyce once said: “I don’t make mistakes. My mistakes are the portals of discovery.” I love the sentiment, but arguably I’m not James Joyce (last time I looked).
One answer is to try and get readers for your work. In the past, I’ve baulked. What, showing my work to someone? I had to get over this. If you can’t show work-in-progress, how will you ever release writing to the big, bad world? My advice is to just get two readers.
Why two? Well, it’s enough to manage. Not only do you have to write to a schedule, you have to incorporate their edits. That’s the idea: they comment at the macro level (characters, story, setting) and micro (language, pace, typos), and you have to interpret it all.
I’m very grateful to my two readers currently offering feedback on Rising Apes, Falling Angels. I offer them a small fee per story, and in return I plan a schedule of turnaround dates. I leave it open what they work on exactly: I’m happy for them to read the story, and focus on whatever strikes them as needing most work, including what I did well (something!). It’s good to know what you write well, in order to write more of it. Of course, it’s even better to know what’s pretty poor, in order to rewrite or cut.
Readers also notice factual and continuity errors. One of my readers noticed a continuity mistake in (He) Said, (She) Said, a story about consent (or perhaps lack of) from The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. Here’s the reader’s comment:
Also—you make such a deal out of Danny not having his watch on at the bar and on the walk home but you say that he clicked his watch on after the non-rape-rape encounter…not sure if I misread this but I think you may have made a little slip up.
Of course, in a story where facts and point of view are paramount, I hadn’t intended the error. Danny will no longer have a magically appearing watch, given he never brought it out to the bar in the first place.
Just as important, readers pass opinion on believability and levels of excitement or apathy.
Ultimately, having readers of drafts ‘in your corner’ is a social connection for the isolating business of the daily writing grind. It’s a way of connecting with ‘real readers’ (which they are too, of course). That’s what writing is all about—“only connect,” as E. M. Forster said.
So bringing the process forward is both professional and a step toward answering messages from more people, once the time comes.
Happy reader hunting!