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Well, this isn’t very good.

22 May 2013

On the blog a couple of days ago, I talked about my perceived importance of taking the time to encourage other writers, mentioning that encouraging someone costs nothing. Well, except for when another writer asks you to read a manuscript — that costs time.

I made other points, too, but the above is what prompted a friend to ask: “Yeah, but what if the thing they ask you to read sucks?”

Excellent question. If someone passes you a manuscript to read that’s so awful it makes your head hurt, should you still be encouraging? Or would it be kinder to your friend (and everyone with eyes) if you were brutally honest, and perhaps even suggested to your friend that this writing thing just might not be where they want to focus their energies?

Do what you want, people. I’m not the boss of you.

But if I’m in that situation — which I have been, more than once — I’m sticking to encouragement. Here’s why.

I remember when I first started writing, and I was putting together stories that were so bad, they would probably make people’s brains shut down out of terror. If I was a betting man, I’d say that most of us who call ourselves writers SUCKED when we started out. I also had pretty low self-esteem when I was younger — someone telling me that I sucked (truth) and should just stop writing would have probably made me do just that.

I was lucky enough to have parents that encouraged me, and later friends who told me they liked what I wrote (whether they were lying or not), so I didn’t quit. Now I do OK for myself. People tend to get better when they keep writing. It’s a muscle, and when you start out, it’s weak. Just like you encourage your friends at the gym to help them lift more weights, encouraging someone who isn’t a great writer yet can make them a great writer.

Now, about that whole “telling someone they should just stop writing” thing… there’s a saying popular in the military that I use all the time: that’s above my pay grade. It’s not my job. For one thing, I can’t gauge someone’s potential from reading one thing.

We can’t even know our own potential, folks. Most of us don’t know what we’re capable of accomplishing until we’ve already accomplished it. As I can’t judge my own potential, I’d be pretty fucking arrogant to think I could somehow decide someone else’s.

It all comes down to the same choice most of us face every day — be positive about stuff, or let Major General Negativity run the show. I choose the former.

So yes, your friend’s story might suck. It might make you want to stop reading — not just that story, but words in general. I’m not saying just lie and say it was great. Help if you can. If you can’t, encourage them to keep trying.

Or not. Like I said, I’m not the boss of you. So if you’ve got a better idea (most do!) on how to deal with the situation, let me know in the comments!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 May 2013 1319

    Probably no surprise that I lean for encouragement as well. I’ll find something good, even if it’s saying, “It takes an effort to sit down and write — not many people do that, and you have. You are already ahead of many…” Depending on the person’s goals with the writing, I may suggest a thing or two they may want to work on (based on experiences I’ve had fixing similar things, even if they may not have been as big an issue), and then let them submit. And, usually, get rejected. See how they react and mention that it’s part of the process. And encourage them to learn from the whole experience and keep at it, ’cause like you said: you get better with time.

  2. 22 May 2013 1452

    Totally agree. Encouragement with a dose of criticism to keep it real. I had a beta reader who got three chapters into an early draft of my book, Imminent Danger, and declared “You need to re-write this”. How helpful, ex-beta reader. How helpful. Encouragement = non-existent. Sigh. Luckily I didn’t re-write it — I just revised it until it was way better. So … yeah ๐Ÿ™‚ Haters gonna hate, but don’t be one of them ๐Ÿ™‚

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