Writing, at best, is difficult. Under “inspiration” it’s easy to get lost in it, but that’s the simple part. Even for stories written under “inspiration,” the steps and tasks required (not recommended, but REQUIRED) to get it into a readable condition are daunting. Many books have been written on writing and getting published. Yet of all the people who try, very few even get a story to the manuscript stage, much less getting it published.

Why do I have “inspiration” in quotes? Because “inspiration” is merely the falling into place a series of thoughts that were already present, though unrecognized as a story. Yes, it makes writing the rough draft easier, but it is not required. The story elements were already in the writer’s mind. The writer’s most difficult creation task is to hunt down, dig out, or otherwise come up with those elements and place them in a pattern that makes sense to anyone else who reads the result.

And yet, the first draft is just that: a FIRST draft. After all that sweat and head-to-desk action, a writer must not only be willing, but should actively search out parts of his precious creation to cut, mutilate, or outright delete. It is this step that balks most would-be authors. It is difficult to first write with sufficient compassion and empathy to draw in a reader, then turn around and be ready to ruthlessly alter or trash some (or even all) of weeks of work. (Granted, the amount of time spent varies with the length of the piece in question.)

Writing is a craft: carving out a story from a mass of ideas (rough draft), cutting away large chunks to reveal the basic form (revisions), using a finer tool to further refine and define the form (editing), and polishing the final piece for viewing (proofreading). Leave out any step, and you end up with a flawed piece.

More and more, writing is becoming like the music industry. It is not enough to be “good” or “very good”. In order to become widely known, you have to be “excellent” at the very least, and “amazing” is even better if you want to compete at the A-list level. This is the value of beta reader. Beta readers provide feedback. Good beta readers provide useful feedback. Having a team of good beta readers can often lift your work one or two levels. But be warned: beta readers and friends are two separate circles. There may be overlap, but not all friends are beta reader material. Likewise, there are some really excellent beta readers who you may not get along with.

I am very fortunate in that the overlap between friends and beta readers is very tight. I have very few beta readers I am not friends with (or at least willing to be friends with). I have more friends who are not beta reader material, though due to lack of interest rather than lack of ability. Even those, in certain circumstances, I would feel comfortable asking to read through a piece for me. In many ways, the difference between a friend and a beta reader is: a friend is someone who cares about you, a beta reader is someone who cares about your writing.