Today I did one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long time. I stopped reading a manuscript I was beta reading, and sent a lengthy email to the writer about why I didn’t like it and that I couldn’t keep reading.
In my opinion, the manuscript was virtually unreadable. I won’t go into any details about why, as I don’t want to risk revealing, in any way, who the writer is. I gave it my best (when I critique, I go line by line, and put comments throughout the entire text as I read) and gave up when I reached the halfway point.
I felt like my crit was going from something meaningful, into just comment after comment of what I didn’t like. I was starting to be concerned that it was degrading into something that couldn’t possibly be helpful. And I just was not enjoying reading or critiquing at all (both of which I love).
As writers, we say many things are difficult. The writing itself, uncovering our plot, making believable characters, editing, line editing, revising, rewriting, query, synopsis, self promotion; the list goes on. For myself, as a writer, this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do yet. I thought editing was hard until writing this email today, re-reading it about six times, waiting a few hours, reading it again, and then finally hitting send a few minutes ago.
I’ve always believed in brutal honesty as a critiquer. Your best friend can tell you everything is perfect; when I read, I’m going to tell what I think – in my humble, and what I like to think is a semi-educated opinion. Most of the time it includes the good with the bad.
Having to quit reading just sucked in itself – I know none of us as writers are quitters in any scope of the word. But writing a letter where I had virtually nothing positive to say, was horrible. Still, it was the truth. At halfway through, there was nothing left to make me keep going, and the problems were just too immense for me to ignore them for the story (which, in itself, had flaws as well).
Despite how hard this was for me – not to mention how upset the writer is going to be hearing the words such as “complete rewrite” and “unlikable characters” – I’m standing by my choice. And I’m confident, for the most part, that even if what I had to say hurts, that I said it in a way that wasn’t hurtful.
We owe it to each other, as writers and as people who swap critiques via email, on our blogs, and in our writers groups, virtually or otherwise, to be honest above all else.
Thanks to everyone who emailed me to beta read my chapters. I’m looking forward to your honesty. And thank you to anyone else who has ever read my work and given feedback – the good, the bad, and the stuff I certainly didn’t enjoy hearing.
Tough skin, fellow writers, is the name of the game – even if we keep our soft and squishy middles. Know that even the critiques that sting come from the heart and the best of intentions.