Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Value of Friends

One of the pieces of advice that I've read a dozen times (probably a LOT more), is that when it's time to get other readers to look over your work, you should NEVER let your friends or family do it. After all, they don't want to hurt your feelings, and they'll simply look it over and tell you how great it is, how proud of you they are, and possibly that they don't understand exactly what you're writing, so they can't give you great advice on how to make it better, but they really enjoyed it.

I disagree. At least with my friends. The people I spend my time with are completely honest with me. My buddy Justin and I were talking about my book just yesterday, and he said matter-of-factly that he would never read it before it got published simply because I "can't handle how cruel he is when editing". I told him he's wrong. I don't expect him to read my book and help me edit it, but over the past three or four years, I've learned to separate myself from my work in a way that lets me actually listen to the critiques other people give me. And if I don't agree with a note they give me (like if they are the only person who noticed something out of place, and their opinion directly opposes the opinions of several other critiquing partners), then I know how ignore it without skewing my view of my friends.

I think it's important that you trust the people who read your work, whether they're other writers you met through a workshop, or readers you met through forums, but especially when they're your family and friends. If you know they're not going to give you useful advice, then don't let them critique your work. But if you value their opinion, and if they're willing to tear your writing to shreds so that you'll be able to improve it, then by all means, ask for their help. Just don't take it personally if they tell you something that you don't want to hear. After all, if they really are your friends, they want to see you succeed.


  1. This is so true. I've had to learn who crits well and who isn't that helpful over the last year. And each crit partner brings a different skill to the process as well.
    BTW, I gave you an award over at my blog.

  2. Award-Winning Author Giles Hash. Has a nice ring to it, eh?

    I think there's a big, bold, extra-large-Sharpie sized line between "friends" and "friends who are also writers." It is a major quest to find people who can give you valuable feedback (I hope I'm one of them, by the way) and weed out those who don't understand the difference between "plot" and "story."

    I was just saying the other day that all writers are editors, and vice-versa. We have to be.

  3. Todd, you've given me some of the most useful feedback I've received!

    The friend I was talking to yesterday, though, doesn't really write. He says he wants to write a book, but he's simply sitting on his ideas right now. He does know how to edit and critique, though. And he's pretty good at it :)

    And you're right, we are all editors in our own way.

    Lydia, thanks for spreading the awesomeness!

  4. Fantastic.

    I'm not saying that everyone who critiques must be a writer, etc. Not all readers are writers, of course, and they have great and numerous opinions on books. But, frankly, if you don't know how to construct a scene, all you can really say is "this scene isn't constructed well" without suggesting a possible way to improve it.

    I prefer a tough critic who I know to be a solid writer. But, hey, sometimes I'm an idealist.

    (word verif: sytobil ... sounds like a prescription anti-depressant... or COPD mediation)

  5. I'm a bit behind in reading your blog, so I'll start here ...

    *My* problems with reading your drafts before publication are (1) I know you're going to edit & it could substantially change what I've just read ... which means I'll have to read it again (the laziness factor) & (2) I read *everything* ~ even published material ~ with an editor's eye ... which means I question word usage, punctuation, flow, etc.

    Thankfully, I think we've been able to figure out when I may be helpful (word smithing, etc.) & not so helpful (reading the 1st draft).

    I've been told I should write a book ... & I have at least one in me ... but I have to reupholster a sofa sleeper first.