Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Working With a Writing Group, Writing Coach, or Beta Readers

Everystockphoto_152132_mSo, the time has come to get some feedback on your writing.

You've worked hard on this novel, committing to a regular writing schedule to get it done, and you've rewritten and revised until it is shiny like a precious jewel.

Or, so you think.  But who can be sure until your cherished gem has seen the light of day?  What you need are other readers to weigh in on your work.  Every writer can benefit from letting trusted readers look at their work before starting the submitting process.

Your Options

There are several ways you can approach finding readers for your writing:

1.  Take a class.  Many community colleges offer extension classes in writing, and lots of writers also teach privately.  Refer to the Google to locate classes that suit you. Classes can be a great way to learn, but the format may not allow a lot of personal attention for your writing.

2.  Join a writing group.  Critique groups abound!  Many of them are quite good and can be very helpful to your career–my novel would not have been published without the input of my group!  These groups will meet on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis, and read short excerpts each session. It may take you a few tries to find the right one for you, but keep at it.

3.  Send it out to beta readers.  Many writers prefer to get an idea of how the whole book reads–and thus will select trusted beta readers to send their novel to.  You can find beta readers through friends, family members, and other writers. 

4.  Hire a coach.  Working one-on-one with a mentor or a coach can be a fabulous way to get feedback on your work and light a fire to write in your belly.  Each coach will work in a slightly different manner, and most will happily schedule a time to discuss their practices with you.

Okay, so you've decided on one of these options.  What should you expect? How can you best get ready for this new stage of your writing?

How to Prepare

1.  Investigate your commitment.  You've successfully written, so obviously you're committed to the craft.  But are you truly committed to learning the most that you possibly can about your work?  Are you ready to take the time that any of these options will require? 

2.  Be ready to listen.  In many MFA workshops, the format requires the person whose work is being discussed to sit quietly without making any comments herself.  No defending, not rationalizing, no ifs and buts.  Even if your group or coach or class does not require this, its a good rule of thumb–you might miss some good points if you're busy talking about your work.

3.  Maintain an open mind.  Your initial reaction to the feedback might be negative, but it can be difficult to listen to criticism, however well-intentioned of your work. Try to stay open to the suggestions others give you.  In the moment, you may not like them, but back at your desk you might just see some value there.

4.  Don't let emotions cloud your vision. Emotions easily get in the way.  No matter what anybody says, our writing is personal–very personal.  And when someone is picking it apart, it can feel like your baby is being destroyed.  Remember, if you've found the right group, class or coach, they have your writing's best interests at heart.

5.  Be ready to step it up.  Any one of these options will result in an increased clarity on the page.  Be prepared to improve your writing.  Be prepared to learn all kinds of things about yourself, too!

Which way do you choose to share your work?  What do you like or not like about it?  Please comment!

Photo by clarita.


0 thoughts on “Working With a Writing Group, Writing Coach, or Beta Readers

  1. J.D.

    Good advice. I haven’t had experience with beta readers or a coach, but I certainly recommend joining a writer’s group and taking classes.

  2. Charlotte Dixon

    I was in a writing group for years and I'll probably go back to it soon–can't even begin to measure how helpful they've been to my writing.  Thanks, J.D.

  3. Zan Marie

    The group I was in became to unwieldy with way too many members and varying abilities and interests, but my online group has helped me hone my skills and challenge myself to learn even more. From that group, I have a list of ready and able Betas just waiting for me to give them a manuscript.

    And I’m a great listener! ; ) Good post, Charlotte

  4. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks, Zan Marie, for sharing your experiences.  I bet you are a really good critiquer as well.

  5. gt281

    Is Emma Jean the same young pruneish tart who fell in love with a pastry Prince from Denmark, who during the midnight hours would wander the halls of his castle abode murmuring ‘alas poor Swen I knew him well’?….oh yeah, congrats on becoming a bona fide filler of the shelves at Barnes and Nobel…

  6. Charlotte Dixon

    Alas, not the same one.  Thanks for the congrats!

  7. Vishnu

    Good tips here Charlotte. I think I would enjoy a writing group and the feedback from friends and mentors. I think being able to take constructive criticism is an art form:) And not allowing your emotions to take over like you say when you receive feedback! I’m impressed that your novel was developed with the help of your writing group – that must be one dedicated, committed group.

  8. Charlotte Dixon

    Thanks for dropping by, Vishnu!  Yes, being part of a writing group is a wonderful thing–you not only get the benefit of constructive criticism but camaraderie as well.  I think one thing that helps in accepting criticism is just to get used to it.  When I first started receiving it for my work, it was hard to separate out those emotions, but it got a lot easier over time.

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