My Alpha

It turns out my husband is a fantastic alpha reader. Who knew? We've been married for 13 years and have known each other for 21. And last weekend was the first time I ever had him alpha read for me. Turns out he's the best creative partner I could ever hope for and that he still has the ability to surprise me with hidden talents and acts of love.

My husband is not really a fiction reader. He probably hasn't read a novel since high school AP lit class. It's not that he doesn't love a good story, it's that he doesn't like sitting still long enough to read a book or watch a movie. He's a very active and extroverted man, and he'd rather have a conversation or a real-life adventure than read a book. He's kind of like Gaston if Gaston weren't an asshole.

So until now, I haven't wanted to bother him with requests to read my writing, because reading novels isn't his jam, and also because I've always harbored guilt at how much time I spend on a hobby that doesn't earn any income for our family. My husband works hard at two jobs to support our daughter and me and my imaginary-friends-making habit.

Like any basic tortured artist, I struggle with justifying the time and effort I've put into the absurd project of researching and writing an epic Byzantine thriller. (...after writing and shelving a long fantasy novel and doodling around with various unfinished novels for years before that...) But I've been telling myself that having a creative outlet is healthy for me, even if it doesn't ever earn money, and my writing and critique group offered me a regular, sanity-saving excuse to get out of the house once a month and socialize with other women who share the compulsions to make shit up and workshop it to death.

Then, after seven years, my writing group dissolved.

A few years back, we attended a conference together and learned that successful authors usually wait until they have a whole book written before handing it over to their critique partners. So we decided to do that instead of trading bits and chapters each month as we'd been doing. But I'm a slow writer, and by the time I'd finished a complete draft of Leirah and the Wild Man, other group members had lost interest in participating.

A few friends offered to read my manuscript for me, which was nice. A local author even finished the whole thing and also gave some constructive feedback. But I realized that my book needed a lot of work, and it suddenly felt impossible to go on with the project alone and unsupported. Many kind people have offered moral support, and that is appreciated, but I need more.

It was hard for me to ask my husband to read for me, but I had started to feel (as I tend to do each summer, for whatever psychological reason, no matter what's going on in my life) that I am a failure of a human being who will never succeed at anything notable or meaningful in my work and that I should cut my losses now, give up, and dedicate the rest of my stupid existence to being a better housewife or something realistic like that.

My husband picked up the pieces--like literally, I had thrown my manuscript behind a piece of furniture and broken down crying--and took my draft into his man-cave and settled down to have a look at it.

He read the whole thing in just a few days. During times when he would normally be kicking back after work with a beer and the news, or some video games, or a swing in the hammock... or sleeping... he read my book instead. And he located and marked every single plot hole, character issue, continuity error, and funky word in the manuscript.

He also went to work on Monday and raved about this great book he was reading to other people, without telling them it was my book. He pitched it so well that several people asked him for the title so they could go and get a copy.

It changed everything. I feel like I can do this. I feel like I should continue. And I feel truly loved and supported, as a person and as an artist, whether or not I ever earn out my time in dollars.

And now I'd better get to work, because my alpha man has insisted that I give him my revised draft one more time before I send out queries.

They say writing is a solitary art, but it can mean the difference between quitting and succeeding to have just one other person invested in your dream. I can only imagine how many beloved novels came into the world thanks to the care of a good alpha reader.


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