Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

For clarity's sake: alpha readers again

One of the reasons I have very few alpha readers is that when I finish the draft of any book, I am convinced that I have no reasonable perspective on it at all and that it, in fact, has been a waste of my time from "Chapter One" to "THE END." Any virtues I see in this stage are more evidence that I have lost perspective entirely. The more convinced I am that the book I've just written is really something special, the more convinced I am that I have gone completely mad.

I can't fix this, because I don't write sequentially, so I can't just pass along the chapters to one or two trusted people as they come: it would be a disaster for anyone who wasn't hip-deep in book with me. (That is to say, timprov and markgritter managed something akin to this with Fortress of Thorns, but only, I think, because it was a YA and short enough and they were listening to it day and night. Not a workable solution with an adult trilogy that was hard enough to hold in my own head in its entirety.)

I also absolutely refuse to become convinced that I always know what I'm doing and am incapable of writing crap. I have seen what happens when authors are convinced that they know the way and don't need other people. It's not pretty. I need critiques, I need editing, I need other people. Period.

So when I ask people to alpha read, my first question is: can this person say, "Hon, you're a good person and a good writer, and this book is severalmany thousand words of waste of your time. You're better than this. Write something else," in a way that will not utterly destroy me? All questions beyond that are secondary for alpha readers. The main thing is whether they are people who can say horrible things without pulling too many other organs along the way when they rip my heart out, and whether I will trust them to actually say those things. Because if I don't trust them to both see large problems (such as the book entirely sucking) and mention them, it postpones this stage rather than ending it so we can all move on.

Hearing that from four people at once or in quick succession would be bad enough. From a dozen? Inconceivable. No matter how good each one was at saying they believed in me otherwise, that I had many virtues as a writer and as a person, that my hair smelled nice and I baked good bars and even had been known to approach competence on a short story or two, it would just be too damn much.

This was even harder with Thermionic Night because I have so much of the material that follows it already written: one whole novel and a third of another. I have trained my brain to work in parallel, to process information and theories for this secret history at the same time it processes real historical information and theories, and just as automatically. I think this revision is going so well in part because I'm so damned relieved that I maybe could have been right, that all this is worth at least something after all. I don't mean to say that it's all sunshine and roses, this revision, but it's not like having teeth pulled, and I would know.

I confess that I have not stopped daydreaming that some editorbeing will read this and think it's really, really special and really, really cool. I think I'm allowed the daydreams, though, since I'm willing to put in the work that goes with them.

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