At today's writers' group meeting, instead of offering critique and talking about superficial word counts and projects, we talked craft. We discussed what we thought the others were good at (for mine, people said world-building, I have well-developed characters, and I convey a lot in a short period of time - they also disagreed with my assessment that I'm terrible at description), and then we discussed problems in their writing.
Most of the people in the group discussed issues they were running into with current projects, but my problem brought to the table was a bit more far-reaching, because I'm an overachiever like that. I talked about how, in all of the critiques that I've gotten, ever, people say that they don't understand why my characters behave the way they do, or they miss something I thought was perfectly obvious. How, I asked, do I write in a way that sidesteps this issue?
They didn't have a lot of ideas for how to avoid it in the first place; it is, after all, difficult to step outside one's mind to see things the way others do. One can write and edit with this pitfall in mind, but, if your mind is filling in the blanks, your mind is filling in the blanks.
What they advised was beta, or even alpha readers. Let people, not necessarily those in the writing group or with a writing background, read the story and give initial impressions. Have them ask questions, and tell me if those questions are still there by the end of the book. Does it need to be answered earlier? Does the narrative lose steam?
Fellow writers look at manuscripts differently than readers. Writers look at the mechanics, and want to break it down to the exact sentence where things started to go wrong. But I need an overall look. I need someone to look at it as if it were pulled off the shelf, and consider whether she'd buy it.
I already have one offer of a beta reader on the table, but it looks like I'll be looking for another person or two. I even have some candidates in mind already.
It'll be scary, putting the book out into the hands of those who have no motivation to be gentle, who haven't watched me agonize over it for the last several years. But it needs to be done.