Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Reading the writing of friends

Colette has posted her blog about the problems connected with giving friends your writing to read, and this is a big dilemma for many of us, readers and writers.

Now, I would never, ever take a friend's opinion as valid; even if that friend happened to be a publisher or editor. Because (most) friends don't want to hurt you, however they feel about your work, and it takes a tough person to risk killing off a friendship because they told the truth about a bad piece of writing. It would be like telling them their precious baby was ugly*.

Some time ago, a very  good friend of mine, S, gave me his 100,000 word novel to read. Big mistake, on both our parts. The novel was terrible, in every possible way. He had broken every rule in the book, it was dull and it was badly written. I confess that I didn't get far with it, but then I had to give a verdict...

Readers, I lied. I didn't say this would be a runaway best-seller, but I (very gently) suggested improvements, and pointed out the more obvious errors and repetitions. However,  I did it so nicely (?) that S was greatly encouraged, and went back to beaver away at his novel. It was never published.

What, if any, experiences have you had, on either side of the reading/writing fence?

*I once almost did this. Confronted with one of the ugliest babies I have ever seen, I said the first (or rather, second) thing that came into my mind:  "what a lovely babygro!" 

20 comments:

  1. When I have written a story, my husband reads it and is very honest - he knows I won't be upset as I value his opinion. When a story has been published, I like my friends to read it but I tell them that there is no need for them to feel they have to comment as I don't expect them to have to like it (this system stops any awkwardness if they don't). My mum once said a magazine story I had written was 'very suitable' - I had to laugh!

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    1. I let my husband read what I've written too, Wendy, and he's pretty honest. But I suspect biased as well!

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  2. I, too, read a manuscript from not a friend as much as an acquaintance through a writing class. It was dreadful. I did the same thing, tried to find a couple of things to praise and pointed out some possiblities for improvements. I don't know what the fella did with it, nothing I feel. I think he was happy with it as was. It's like making an afghan or a sweater and seeing a glaring mistake halfway down. Some people will rip the damn thing out and fix it and some people will be content with leaving it.

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    1. I think one of my problems was that my friend is very literate and intelligent, and I thought the book might be good. How wrong could I be!

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  3. I never used to let anyone read anything I'd written unless it was published, but these days I do occasionally ask someone else to read through for me and I'll happily do the same if asked, but luckily for me, I haven't been given anything ugly to read!

    I had to laugh at your baby comment - someone once proudly waved a particularly ugly baby under my nose and after a lot of spluttering I finally managed to blurt out, "Happy little thing isn't she?" x

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    1. I think short stories are one thing, but a 100,000 word novel...what could I say? At least if a short story is faulty, it doesn't take long (usually!) to put right!

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  4. I recently read a children's story that my dad had written. He used to tell us made up stories when we were little, sitting in the car on long journeys, I remember enjoying them but the trouble is that he never reads any children's books so has very little idea how to appeal to the audience. I try very hard to point out the things that I like about it first before offering suggestions about the things that are weak. I trust that he wants my honest opinion and not an off pat 'yes, it's lovely dad' kind of response. It is a tricky one. I think if you want to get published than you need to toughen up and learn to take constructive criticism as the only way to improve.
    thanks for sharing
    martine

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    1. Yes. I always point out the good things first, but then you get to the "however" moment!

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  5. I don't like reading friends' work and rarely do, but I do read some of my daughter's as she wants honest feedback and will do the same for me (and I think she's a very good writer). But I've judged many short story competitions for writing groups and at our big annual Scottish conference and I have to provide a written critique. That's quite scary sometimes, as I'd never want to put someone off writing! I stick to praise first then gently suggest some improvements to make it more likely to sell (if necessary). That seems to work.

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    1. I so agree about not wanting to discourage writers. After all, unless we're extremely successful, most of us do it for love (or at least as well as the day job). Money comes as a bonus. I'd hate to scupper someone's pleasure in their writing.

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  6. The worst possible feedback has to be 'that's nice'. That's no help at all.

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    1. I haven't heard that one, but I quite agree!

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  7. I've read two pre-publication novels. I thought both were excellent reads. One went on to publication. I have read the sequel. The other is being revised at the moment. I really hope that it is published because I want to read the sequel. I think if one is asked for an opinion then one should be honest. Lack of honesty is a sort of flattery and that corrupts both the giver and the receiver. That sounds really pompous. You know why? It was really pompous! Would you have told me?

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    1. Pompous? You, GB? Never! But while there is truth in what you say, It is a lot easier said than done. Could you have told the truth about 100,000 words of rubbish??

      And would I have told you? Well after this, of course I would!

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  8. I think that the key is to acknowledge that your friend is your friend and will probably (Hopefully) not want to hurt your feelings and treat any response accordingly. I also think that if you are long standing friends you can probably read between the lines of what you are being told and its up to you what you take from it. Love the comment about the baby gro.

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  9. I don't think ky friend read between the lines, Colette! But I'm glad he didn't. He enjoys his writing (wow - that sounds patronising!).

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  10. I don't show anyone anything I write unless it's published.
    I once had to read some truly dire short stories, but said only nice things as I couldn't bear to upset the very eager and excited young writer. I think I was a bit too gushy in my haste to cover up how bad it was. Unfortunately, this backfired because the writer then wanted me to recommend publishers and get the thing sent off. When I tried to slow him down, the false note of my previous enthusiasm began to ring out loud and clear. It was really awkward. I have never agreed to read anything since.

    I love your babygro comment, Frances.x

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  11. I've given my novel to a couple of friends and am disturbed that I haven't really had any response (and I'm hoping you weren't one of them, or I could be the one you mention...) They're both busy and may not have read it yet - but that doesn't bode well either. I think all specific feedback is useful, but must be taken in the context of the person's relationship to you... and to the written word (do they read your genre? Are they your target audience?).

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  12. I've a writing 'friend' and I trust her judgement,but you have to be prepared to take real criticism. It's important to agree a set of rules if you want to do this.And there is a real danger if you ask too many people to read your work!

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  13. Someone asked me to read the first few chapters of their novel. The plot was not without suspense, but the writing itself wasn't good - there were many grammatical and other errors, which I did point out to the author. And while I was thanked for having taken the time to read it and for giving my opinion, I was never approached by the same person again. But we have never met in real life, and so there was no friendship that could have suffered from the experience, so this does not really apply to what your post is about.

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