If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you have come across the scores of writing rules that float around the writing-verse.
Show don’t tell
Adverbs must die
If you don’t use the oxford comma we can’t be friends
Passive voice is the worst
You get the idea. And I’m sure you’ve heard them all. But what is a rule if it can’t be broken? As soon as rules are formed, some writer is breaking it. There is one rule that applies to everyone in every writing situation, and it goes something like this.
If you want to be a good writer, you have to read.
Reading extensively is one of the best ways to improve your writing because you see examples of good writing and, less often, examples of poor writing. Without even consciously choosing to, you pick up these writing techniques as you read them.
Reading can help you consciously improve your writing as well. One of the best ways to do this is to become a beta reader. I’ve already written about the attributes of a good beta reader and why you need to get beta readers to read your writing. But being a beta reader yourself, can also help you to improve your writing.
One the biggest reasons writers don’t beta read is the time factor. Beta reading takes time. Time you’d probably be spending on your own work in progress. It can be counter intuitive to spend time on someone else’s writing when you already have to scrounge up time to work on your own. But often beta readers exchange work, and it’s not really fair to expect other people to beta read for you if you aren’t willing to do the same for other writers. Remember, we’re a writing community.
But your writing can benefit from being a beta reader, so it’s not wasted time. While beta reading, you will critique another person’s writing. You will see how they made plot, characters, and settings come to life. This can help you work through problems in your own work by giving you fresh ideas on writing.
You will also see things that don’t work. As the author of your work, you may be too close to the story to see the problems, but you will be able to see them in someone else’s. Like every other writer, I’d heard the rule, “show don’t tell” a thousand times and thought I understood it. Of course I followed it…when I wanted to. But it wasn’t until I started beta reading that I really internalized this rule. Seeing other authors tell me instead of show me their stories was blatantly obvious. The next most obvious thing? That I was doing the exact same thing.
Seeing your own mistakes in other writers’ words can help you recognize them and correct them. So, whenever you can, offer to beta read. Yes, it will take time. But it will also improve your writing and help build the writing community.