Apart from being a writer, I am a linguist. The principles for learning language can be applied to writing as well.
To get good at a language you often first sound like an idiot. There is no real way around it. Your accent is so strong the locals can’t understand you. (A Chinese man once told me my accent hurt his ears.) Your grammar is so bad you’re actually telling people you ARE the bathroom, instead of asking where IS the bathroom. I once told a lady who asked my age that I was 50 when I meant to say 25. She was thoroughly impressed with how young my skin looked.
Even as children learn their native language they make mistakes all the time, but parents correct them and eventually they become fluent in their mother tongue. Kids don’t get offended when they get corrected, they take it for granted.
As a language instructor myself, I often tell my students, if you are brave, and not afraid of making mistakes, you will learn to speak much faster. Talking and sounding stupid, is much better than not talking at all.
When writing novels, the concept is the same. You must be brave. You must be ok to show your work, even if its not perfect. Like children–our stories are simple and full of mistakes, and we need to grow. Writing teachers are like our “parents” laying out the foundations and rules, but Beta Readers are a great way to get the critique you need to take your novel to the next level.
Beta readers act like the “locals.” If we are unafraid to let our friends and beta readers read and review our work, and if we listen and accept the correction, and continue to practice, we will learn how to “write like a native” much faster, and I guarantee more people will like your work.
I love getting feedback from beta readers–they see and feel different things than I do as they read my story. They detect what I’m not showing or explaining enough of. So often the story is so much in our heads we forget key details. Beta readers are great at pointing out the holes so we can make our story more complete.
My advice? Get a beta reader, get ten. Get the critique you need.
*Photo credit: Joel Hill Photography