Giving Your Work to Test Readers

Have you ever spent hours working on a story, ironing out the mistakes, honing it to perfection? Imagine you give this story to a friend who reads it through and says, “I don’t get it.”

No one likes to be told their writing has problems, but everyone wants their writing to be a as perfect as possible. Figuring out the problems in your writing is the first step to improving it, so why are we so against hearing words like, “I don’t understand this bit,” or “you should change that bit”?

Because it hurts– it hurts being told your work needs more editing.

So, what then? If we want our writing to be good, but we don’t want it to be criticised, then what are the options? Well, luckily we’re humans, so there’s a wide range of choices.

Unfortunately, it all boils down to either keeping your writing to yourself or sharing with other people who are going to have opinions. But we can make it easier on ourselves: sharing our writing doesn’t have to mean handing it over and waiting in agony for whatever our test readers have to say. We’re the writers, we can make the rules.

If you’re bothered by not knowing what feedback you’re going to get (or if all you want is an opinion on plot, before you worry about where all the commas go!), then ask your test readers specific questions.

Here are a few of the questions I’ve asked in the past: Is the main character likeable? Did you see any plot holes? Did you find anything confusing? Did any of the characters act in a way that seemed inconsistent? Did you find the ending satisfying? Did anything surprise you? What was your favourite character (besides the main character)?

Believe it or not, letting your test reader know exactly what it is you’re looking for will make it easier for them too. Being a test reader is hard. Especially when you don’t know what the writer wants. Some people have read my work and said things like, “I really like it, a little more work and it’ll be really good.” Which is nice, but still… a little more work? On what– Character? Plot? Run-on-sentences?

Even if you’re not sure what sort of criticism you want to hear, having a mutual understanding between you and your test readers will make everything easier and pave the way to you being able to accept and work with their criticism.

Even if someone does give you bad feedback, remember that it’s only one opinion– an opinion that you, the artist, get to decide what to do with.

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