When the Alphas Have Teeth (and that’s a good thing)

art by yours truly :)

So, I wanna share a thing about alpha readers.

Way back in the golden oldie days when I was around 11 and had just started writing, my only readers were alpha readers.  Caught up in the rush of discovering this new hobby, I reveled in the instant gratification of posting my work online chapter-by-chapter  and having comments back before I’d even started the next chapter.  I also wrote Harry Potter fan fiction for several years, posting a chapter the moment I finished it.

Back then, I wrote with a careless nonchalance that I have since abhorred and also strained to recapture.  But by the time I was fifteen or so, I was pretty sure that this “writing thing” was going to be A Thing and the more I learned about the craft, the less comfortable I became with posting my work online.  I pulled back into the well-intended solitary isolation of being A Writer.

Thank God for July 31, 2011, when I met my critique partner (and best friend), Alexis Henderson, who not so much pulled me out of isolation as joined me in it.  But, despite the thrill of having someone I so thoroughly clicked with in both writing and life, I wasn’t getting anything done in my writing.  I was writing but I wasn’t finishing.

I came to a decision earlier this summer.  It felt like a huge, potentially life-altering decision. I would select a few of my friends and have them read my current WiP chapter-by-chapter.  Like a private version of the site I posted on as an 11-year-old, I’ve now posted the first ten chapters and I get comments back from my extremely small circle of alpha readers.

When I made the decision to do this, I had a few realizations.  The big one was that I had been operating for years on an ingrained piece of writing advice: Talking about an idea is the best way to kill it stone dead.

I had it in my mind that to revert back to the way I did it when I was 11 was the Wrong Way Of Doing Things.

Part of my realization that led to my decision to basically give that idea the bird was that, when I was 11, I was actually getting shit done.  I have completed two manuscripts in my 10 year+ writing career and they were both completed in those days when I was posting it online chapter-by-chapter.  Not once since.

It felt like a huge risk, to adopt alpha readers after going so long without them.  This story feels like The One.  What if getting instant feedback upsets the delicate balance of my creativity and sanity and I don’t finish this work?

But guess what happened?  You guessed right, you smartie!  Look at me, I’m getting shit done!  I am, as of September 17, 2017, at 210 pages and 62,254 words into my story.  All because I have a few choice friends who expect me to give them another chapter within a reasonable amount of time.  And I know myself, I know that I don’t want them to have to ask me “Where’s the next chapter?” so I make sure to Get It Done™ before they ask.

If you’re struggling Getting Things Done, I suggest this to you: round up a few of your closest, trusted friends and shove a chapter under their nose.  When they finish it, look back up at you with wide eyes and slack mouth, and ask, “Is there more?  What happens next?” you’ll feel the magic.

Allow yourself, then, to get to work.