Last week my novel went out to beta-readers. Small sections of it have been seen by my critique group, but this is the first time it will be read consecutively, from beginning to end. I’m fiercely proud of the story, and simultaneously fearful about letting it travel out into the world, for now, beyond my control.
It makes me think about the intensely private nature of creating. Art is not made in a vacuum; it is the product of our interactions with the world. Even so, the decisions we make in the creative process are, at least initially, all our own. The introspection of creating is therefore at odds with what happens at the end of the process: a letting go, public reception, a distancing of the art from its creator.
I wonder how I’ll feel once I have more novels under my belt. Tell me, readers, how it is for you? Will I always feel proud and protective, a mother hen? Or will I feel with time that the story belongs more to my readers than to me, like relinquishing your hold on the string of a kite, seeing it drift away or fall? Maybe it is inevitable as we grow as writers to be chagrined by early attempts at the craft, to look back with reddened faces and find immaturity in both content and skill.
For me, at this stage, it feels like I am handing over the baton, that all at once the trust that has carried me through the creative process is imbued to the reader. A book is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than black letters on white page, more than characters and plot points. Nestled within the covers and between the lines is the osmosis between reader and writer: shared experience and leaps of thought. And with it, the reckoning. You find out whether authorial intention has met reader understanding.
It’s early days yet, but beta-readers are a gift – patient, insightful – a wonderful litmus test. Soon I’ll have an inkling.