Monday, January 30, 2012

My Favourite Joke and Thoughts on Beta Reading

A young mother gets on a bus with a stroller. As she’s paying her fare the bus driver looks down at her child and says “Gawd, what an ugly baby!”

The woman is too shocked to respond. She pushes the stroller down the aisle and takes a seat next to an older lady. The older woman looks over and sees that the woman’s face is scrunched up as though she’s about to cry.

“What’s wrong, dearie?” the old lady asks.

“The bus driver just now, he really insulted me,” the woman said. The older lady scowls at the back of the bus driver’s head.

“Well, that’s not right! You shouldn’t just take it. At the next red light, you should go up to him and tell him that you’re not going to take that kind of treatment!”

The young mother looks down at her sleeping child and brushes the curls off his forehead. She nods, her jaw firm.

“That’s right,” she said. “I’m going to do exactly that!”

“Good!” the older woman says. She gestures at the stroller. “I’ll look after your pet monkey while you talk to him.”

Ba-dum tish! Okay, it’s a cheesy joke, but I find it sadly relatable. Whenever I ask people to read an early draft of a story I’m working on I worry that I’m like the mother in the joke, convinced that my baby is the most beautiful baby in the world where’s in reality it looks like a hairless lemur.

Luckily, I’ve never had someone say the equivalent of “Gawd, that’s an ugly baby!” after reading a story of mine. But receiving feedback has taught me a lot of things, first of which was how to get over myself. It took me a while to get to the point where I could not only accept criticism but actually get excited for it: Yay, new ways to make my story better! I think my problem in the beginning was that I thought the feedback was about me rather than the story. I wanted praise instead of ways to improve. But then something in my mind shifted: I realized I owed it to the story to make it the best it could be, and that meant listening to others, picking out the good advice and applying it. I’m not afraid of feedback anymore. I’m humbled that people take the time to read my stuff and tell me what they think. So to the friends and strangers who have given me feedback over the years, thanks. I wouldn’t be able to grow without you.

Plus, the nice thing about honest readers is that when you do get compliments, you know it’s the real deal.

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