I have the privilege of belonging to a close-knit writing community. This is awesome. I suggest you find a writing community and join it too, because they are invaluable in many ways.
What I have found, though, is sometimes things can get too familiar. We’ll be celebrating our fifth anniversary in a few months, and in that time period many of us have worked on and off on the same novels, completing new drafts and critiquing drafts for others, and it’s gotten to the point where I know some of my fellow writers’ stories almost as well as I know my own.
As such, we’ve developed a thoroughly ridiculous number of in-jokes – about different stories, characters, and the community at large. And sometimes, when things are so comfortable for us, it’s hard to remember that we’re not writing for just ourselves.
A good reader is priceless, but sometimes, when one person has looked at different drafts of the same story over and over, they can get as bogged down in it as the author does, with vague memories of scenes from past versions and characters that have since been written out. This is not to say that it’s bad to have the same person read different drafts, because they can let you know if the story is becoming more solid and that you’re heading in the right direction.
If you bring in a new reader periodically, someone who has never seen your story before, it’ll give you an idea what someone picking your book up from the shelf in a bookstore might think. A repeat reader will say “Your plot is much tighter, and I really enjoyed this scene in the forest. Also, have you thought about adding in more foreshadowing earlier in the story?” A new reader will have a much more instinctual reaction to the story, since they’re unfamiliar with its twists and turns.
Both types of readers are excellent and provide different sorts of feedback. Plus, it’s nice to have someone familiar enough with your story to bounce story fixes off of.
Luckily, our community gains new people periodically, giving me, thus far, a self-replicating collection of possible readers to foist things upon. Bwha.
What do you look for in a reader? How many do you prefer, and what ratio do you like for second+ drafts?