I speak from experience. Writers are an odd bunch. Shut-ins, anti-social, clacking away at typewriters. Big stay out signs posted on the door. Okay, maybe we’re not quite that bad. But writing is hard. It’s frustrating. It’s constantly trying to straddle a million different things at once, convinced we’re not doing it well.
So if you happen to be a non-writer friend or family member, here are some good tips for navigating the complexities of the fragile author.
Be willing to answer some really random, really odd questions.
At best, an author may need your opinion on the phrasing of a sentence, or on the naming of a character. Does this sentence make sense? or Do you think the name Askilaya is too hard to pronounce? or Can I use your name for this minor character?
But if you happen to have some specialized knowledge in something or another, you might find yourself receiving a text like Hey, how long could someone survive being in sub-freezing weather after having fallen into an icy lake?
Offer your time and kind words to your author friend when they need it.
Authors do generally tend to be shut-ins to a certain degree. We don’t like talking about our books. We don’t like answering what’s it about? to strangers who will clearly never read it — that question is hard enough to answer for people who actually might. We don’t like showing our manuscripts to friends because we know they’re crappy.
So when an author is telling you they hate their story, they don’t remember why they’re writing it, it’s not going anywhere, etc., be willing to remind them that all it takes is some time. My friends were kind enough to give me unwavering support, and my best friend was willing to talk me through my frustrations so I didn’t give up. They read chunks of my work, and swore up and down that I was a great writer. Yeah, I knew they were biased, but I still trusted their comments enough to keep writing. And I’m not saying my WiP is perfect, but it’s certainly improved because I was willing to stick with it, all thanks to my friends.
Know the difference between constructive criticism and painfully honest criticism.
It’s a fine line. I’ve had enough workshop classes to have a good idea how they work. A little breakdown: constructive criticism are things you point out in a work that suggests where something is wrong with the manuscript. An author can choose to ignore certain criticism — which usually happens when the reader doesn’t quite grasp what the writer is trying to convey, or when the author knows enough about their work to also know that X criticism would go against the long-term plot. However, when several people are saying different things about ONE particular event, then the author knows that there’s something about that event that they need to rewrite to make their intentions clearer.
As an author’s friend, you may find yourself not wanting to give any negative feedback, but there is a time for kind words only, when they’re trying to get through a project, and there’s a time for honest feedback, which they will usually ask for prior to the editing stage. Positive-only feedback doesn’t tell the writer what isn’t working in their novel, and so doesn’t help them in the long run. Or you may want to focus only on “helpful” feedback that includes a comprehensive list of everything wrong with their manuscript. Again, not helpful. First of all, you can point out lines or plot points that you thought worked really well. That tells the author not to touch those during a revision unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, if you only say what’s bad about something, that suggests the work has nothing worth keeping. Which isn’t true. So try to find that middle ground, and you’ll find that your author friend much appreciates it.
Don’t make suggestions on how to get published. Seriously. Don’t.
There are basically two stages to writing. There’s the Hobby Stage, where the person who is writing is basically just writing it for fun and doesn’t really know where the story is going to go or if it’s even going to work. Then there is the Committed Stage, where the person, now what I would consider an author, knows they want to publish their book at some point, and they are determined to write, edit, and market as appropriately.
Only problem is this: The publishing business is confusing, uncertain, and quick to change even for those in the Committed Stage. They’ve already looked into all the steps to getting published, and the internet probably doesn’t tell them all they need to know — conflicting information is rampant — but maybe they’ve got a good grasp on where to start, at least. The LAST thing they want is for someone who IS NOT a writer nor EVER INTENDS to be a writer is to give advice on how to write or how to get their written things published. It’s like telling someone who has maybe seen some doctor TV shows trying to tell a doctor how a brain surgery is done.
Also, don’t even talk to Hobby Stage writers about publishing. You’ll likely send them running for the nearest small empty space to cry.