Partners in Crime...
I might have convinced you that writing isn't a lonely job. I talked about this before in The Lone Writer. But times have changed, and during a world wide quarantine, you
might be tempted to say, "I told you so!" While you sit at home, either with your partner, kids, or actually alone, the feeling of being right about being alone as a writer might be very strong. But if there's one thing we have learned during this time of peril, it's that we have never been together more than we are now... yes, writers, too...
Writing groups are uniting online, organizing write-ins on platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Competitions are more crowded than ever, and writers find themselves connecting with brand new alpha- and beta-readers, and even critique partners. This is an amazing development. But since most of you are still under the impression that writing is a lonely job (and I apparently failed at convincing you it isn't, after all), allow me to explain to you the different types of co-workers you might find to pull you through these strange times.
These people stand at the very beginning of your draft. In fact, these are the people who will read your first draft, to give an impression on what needs to be changed in order to raise your work to the next level in your second draft. Working together with an Alpha, takes a kind of bravery that comes close to handing over your soul to someone, telling them to be gentle but shred it to pieces, nonetheless. What I mean with this? I mean that Alpha readers will point out EVERYTHING that doesn't work, is worded strangely, is inconsistent, or otherwise plain bad writing (because we all do that in our first drafts). As a writer, you need to have an elephant's skin in order to not crawl into a corner and work yourself through an actual weep-a-thon. But it also means that as an Alpha, you need to set some very strict boundaries. Writers are not going to comply with every suggestion you make. Writers are not going to agree with you on everything. And although it is very satisfying to see your changes and suggestions embraced, it might feel like someone doesn't take you seriously when they choose to ignore your words of advice.
The art in being an Alpha reader, is to shut down the idea that you need to improve the work. Because this is wrong: the author needs to improve the work. Being an alpha reader simply means that you will point out where the author can improve.
Beta readers are useful when you are further in the process of writing a book. These people will read your work when it is a finished draft and ready for polishing. They will give a solid opinion on the flow of the story, character development and everything that should be propelling your story forward. But as with any book (even though yours is still uplublished), personal taste comespeeking around the corner. Beta readers might have different tastes, thus they might like your story-or not-based on their personal interests. What does this mean for a writer? It means you have the very difficult job of choosing which feedback you are going to use to improve your story, and which words you choose to ignore. You'll discover soon enough that not everyone is a good fit to do your beta-reading work. And this, too, is fine. The key is to be open about this with your beta-readers. Explain to them that their feedback is still very valuable, but doesn't work for you (almost like agents rejecting manuscripts). Good beta-readers will understand.
Critique partners are a whole different type of readers: they are writers. They know how to crack a whip, they are aware of pitfalls and crutch-words, and most of all: they understand the world of agents and editors, and can help with tackling the most crucial issues in a much earlier stadium than most alpha- or beta-readers do. For writers, this is a great way of working. despite having your work criticized, you know that the feedback is constructive and fits your way of working, although, finding a good CP takes time and patience. For CP's, it's important to remember that even in this role, your feedback might not always be used. Don't take this personally, it is not your job to improve...oh well, I said this before for alpha-readers.
Personally, I love working with coaches. In fact, I think that I have never improved my story as much as I have when I started to work with a coach. Yes, these people are often providing a paid service, but the quality of feedback and the pure objective look at your work is priceless. And I think this sums up the most important part of working with a coach: they are 100% objective. Where alpha's, beta's and CP's often become so connected to the work, they become vulnurable to pitfall, and grow accustomed to the way you write, a coach busts through that with the ease of a tank crashing through walls. This is why I love working them (or, her, in my case). This is a kind of luxury that doesn't come for free, and it is your own choice to invest in this or not. Do keep in mind that there are no wrong choices to be made here. The type of partner your seek is a personal preference, and can be just as good as working with professionals (some alpha's and beta's even are professionals).