Can I beta read my own work?

Right, I’ve cleared my current beta read projects. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from reading other people’s stories. I’ve probably learned more from unpolished stuff than from the cleaned up, edited, proofread versions that get published (well, usually they’re like that!).

My big question is: can I take an old nano novel, that I wrote over a period of 30 days or less a few years ago, and beta read it as though it were written by someone else? Can I use what I’ve learned about how writing can falter and lose its way, and apply that to something that was at one point my own baby?

I think one thing I’ve really started to understand is that what hits the bookshelves isn’t – or shouldn’t be – the first draft, or even the first plot, that comes to the paper. That once you’ve got the first draft out of the way you need to analyse it, pull it apart, rework it, rewrite it, figure out what you want to say and how to say it better, then leave it again for a while, then rinse and repeat until you’ve got rid of all the weak spots and you have a novel that’s as strong as you can possibly make it. Then you ask for someone else to read it through, especially if you’re inexperienced as a writer, and the whole process runs through again, for as many times as it needs to be done.

After all this reworking, and editing, and polishing, maybe you’ll finally have something that’s worth making publicly available. But it’s no good reading the first draft and deciding it’s rubbish. It probably is, but what have you learned from it? What is there in it that’s usable? Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters clear enough? Does each character have their own individual voice? Can you figure out who’s talking from the words alone? Can you figure out who’s doing an action, or the narration, just by the words and phrases they use? Is each character driven to act the way they do? Does their behaviour drive the plot forward, or do things just happen to them so they’re always reacting rather than acting? Can you imagine the setting from the description, or is the picture in your own head doing all the work? Or are you stopping to describe the background in so much detail that the plot falters and stutters?

So much to consider once the first draft is done. I think it’s time to go back to my first draft – which is after all of a plot idea I feel driven to write about – and see just what sort of gold glints among all the dirt.


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