The Importance of First-Readers

First Reader

If you’re competing for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of 50,000 words in 30 days, this is my fourth tip to help you be a winner. Ready?  Okay.  Get a first-reader, or even better, get several.  I know, I know a lot of people don’t like to share their stories while they’re writing them.  I do, and with good reason.

Normally when people ask someone to do a reading of a first draft they’re looking for plot issues, typos, and more detailed things. This isn’t what your first-readers will do.  When you’re writing a novel in a month things are different.  You’re focused on not stressing over typos or grammatical errors.  There’s no going back a few chapters to check a detail.  That is NaNo suicide.  Don’t do it.  You can’t stop once you start correcting.  This is a “shitty first draft”, warts and all.  Deal with it.

The best way to use a willing NaNo reader is to send them your writing every day. Yes, every day.  The hope is that they look forward to it.  It also helps to hold you accountable for daily writing, which is crucial to win this challenge.  Most likely it will only be a thousand or two thousand words a day, so it’s not a huge time commitment.  After they read it you’ll want feedback like:

  • Is it believable?
  • Does it hold your interest?
  • What do you think will happen next?

The last question is very important. You definitely don’t want a boring or predictable story where there are no surprises.  In fact, one of the best ways to get over writer’s block is to kill someone unexpectedly in your story.  Seriously.  Trust me, it works.  This is also why I like to leave wiggle room in my outlines.

So where can you find first-readers? I posted something on Facebook and got three volunteers right away.  If you don’t want to do this, or maybe you want someone you’re not that close to, check some online groups or forums of local writing groups.  There are probably more willing people than you think.  After all, it’s only for thirty days.

I do have one caution about readers, though. It’s a good idea to be up front about the topic of your book.  You may not want your ultra-religious neighbor to read your …ahem… romance novel, or someone who doesn’t like your genre at all to read it and critique.  That surely would not be fun for either of you.



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