WHEN SOMEONE ASKS YOU TO READ A BADLY WRITTEN MANUSCRIPT
This article was inspired by another member of my writer’s group who had just this issue which she posted on Facebook. Her cousin gave her a very intriguing plot for a story but when she received the actual manuscript, the writing was awful and she couldn’t get through the first few pages.
If someone approaches you with a sizzling idea for a book, then presents you with the manuscript, only for you to read the first few pages and cringe, what are you to do?
DON’T GIVE IN TO FIRST TEMPTATIONS
Many of us, unless we’re innately diplomatic, have a tendency to speak our minds. The first words out of our mouth might be, “This sucks.” Or “This is absolutely awful.” Or “Why did you write this?” The list goes on.
Some of you might even get mad and do worse.
What’s that old saying? You get more with sugar than vinegar?
NO BLOOD ON THE FLOOR
The philosophy of our writer’s group, and one I strictly adhere to in my personal life is No blood on the floor. When someone is doing something wrong, there’s no need to rub their noses in it. There’s no need to make them feel bad about it. The whole point of asking for an opinion should be to give them guidance, not slam them and tell them they are the lowest of the low or to give them fake kudos to stroke their ego! Neither will do them any good.
IF YOU CAN’T BE TACTFUL, DON’T SAY A THING
If you’re the type of person that can’t hold back, if you’re the type of person that has to say what you think regardless of anyone else’s feelings, I suggest you don’t say a thing. You really have no place critiquing anything.
A critique should be constructive, not destructive.
Do I mean lie and candy coat something? Not at all! However, there’s a big difference between truthfulness and cruelty. Saying “This writing sucks” instead of saying “This writing needs work” means you have no tact and if you can’t tell the difference, you need to shut the hell up. That’s what I’m talking about.
Another example is getting impatient and disgusted while taking about the writing. “I can’t believe you wrote this that way.” Or “How can you say this?” Or “How can you write something so lame?”
Snarky or impatient putdowns are destructive.
Like I said, you get more with sugar than vinegar. You’ll never get anywhere when you browbeat or put someone down.
The best way is to approach it in a positive way. “Your story has a lot of potential, but the structure needs some work.” Or “The beginning needs to start with a bang.” Or “The writing is a bit passive. You need to make it more active.” Or “The story needs to start here and move this part further down.”
These are all constructive phrases that don’t put a negative spin on the writing or the preson. If the writer still takes it as negative, they either need to toughen up or they have too thin a skin to be writing in the first place. Maybe they need a reality check in this writing passion.
SOME PEOPLE JUST WON’T GET IT
Some writers will never get it. Face it. You can instruct and advise them all day long and they’ll never get it. Some writer’s will truck right along and never change a thing and always wonder why they can never get published until they self-publish and end up with a garage full of books. Others will chug along and completely depend on a paid editor to clean up their mess.
The good ones will actually listen and learn, hone their chops and get better with time. The job of their critiquers and editors will get easier as the writing gets better.
There is the possibility that the awful writing is perfectly fine, but it’s just something you hate to read. There are plenty of published novels I find unreadable. However, a likely case is that if you get the offer, it will be a first-time writer who has plunged into their premiere novel. More than likely, they’ll appreciate any positive suggestions you can give them.