Lately I’ve started to actually seriously try writing something. For those who have found themselves befriended by aspiring writer, and have been tricked into reading a draft of their next story – my condolences. I hope it’s as painless as possible. However for those who like the idea of being a beta-reader, here is what every author really truly wants:
Tell Us What Sucks
Seriously. It can be very hard to read your own work and notice what’s missing and what’s overwrought. We cannot fix the shitty bits if we don’t know they are shit. Be specific if at all possible. I was told a recent story was “Fantastic! A bit wordy.” That’s nice, but this does not help me. I’m not trying to get praise and flattery from my friends, I want my writing to be stronger. The same story, given to a different friend, was returned to me with many notes and highlights. Most memorably, two lines in the middle of a paragraph were highlighted and noted with “No one cares.”
That was without a doubt one of the best pieces of feedback I have received. That is EXACTLY what I want to know! In retrospect, they were unnecessary details that slowed the pacing without adding anything at all. The words “No one cares” summarized precisely what the problem was, and implied how to fix it! (Those lines were immediately excised). The story is stronger now.
The friend afterwards confessed she was very worried writing that, because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. To everyone with a friend writer – DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THAT. Surgery always hurts a bit. But what, you want to be stuck limping along with a twisted leg the rest of your life? You take a little bit of pain to make it heal right. The whole can only be improved if the rot is burned out. Your writer will thank you profusely (as I did). Any writer who responds to good criticism with anger and withdrawal is not a serious writer. They don’t care to make the best story they can, they’re just fishing for praise at their friend’s expense. It’s best not to bother with those, but please don’t do your friend the disservice of assuming that’s what they’re going for without reason.
Yes, it’s a lot of time and effort for very little reward. I’d really recommend against volunteering for early readings if that’s not something you like doing. For those of you who are willing to put up with us and give up your time, we are extremely grateful.
And to my beta-readers, again – thank you!