I’ve only dabbled my toes in the dark and dangerous waters of online writing groups. Writers, desperate for help in the form of beta readers, are putting out calls. Believe me when I say that those calls can quickly turn into the howls of a wolf pack on the scent of an injured deer. “I’ve written the most AMAZING, AWESOME book on the planet, but I just need a wee bit of help…”
Over the years I have been lucky enough to have had some of the most incredible writers and readers help me with my projects. I am, and always will be, grateful to everyone for the support and encouragement I’ve received. That’s why I try to return the favour in a pay it back and pay it forward way.
Even though I am not the best person to come to if you have questions about the correct use of punctuation, proper sentence structure or who, or what, is modifying a preposition. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I was attacked by a preposition the other day, it leapt out of the bushes and hit me over the head with an adverb before it skulked away to hide amongst a herd of nouns. But when it comes to picking out flow, hunting for authentic voice and identifying sections where the writer is trying too hard, I’m not too bad.
My writing used to consist of me writing for a few hours, then me thinking what I just wrote was crap, then me, fighting the urge to delete everything because I knew it was the worst thing ever committed to paper in the history of paper, including papyrus. It took a long time for me to gain the confidence that, on occasion, some of the stuff I come up with wouldn’t automatically induce uncontrollable vomiting. So I’m very cognisant of the fact that some people need to be handled with kid gloves. But I also know that if I don’t give an honest critique, the writer will never have a chance to improve and expand. Telling someone that their work is great without providing examples, is not helpful, telling a person that their work sucks, is also not helpful. Consequently, when I do a critique I spend a lot of time on the piece. Sometimes hours and hours. I don’t get compensation, nor until this point, do I expect any for this effort.
With this in mind, I’ve walked into the lion’s den completely unprepared. Given some of the material I’ve seen, instead of doing a critique, or beta read, I should just pick up a two-by-four and pound a couple of long spikes into it and then hit myself in the head—repeatedly. It would be less painful. It seems that the more confident and secure a writer is, the more horrific their work is. And instead of considering any of my suggestions, they choose to argue each point, ad nauseam.
Me: You’ve used loose in this sentence when you meant to use lose. ‘One thing Millicent knew in her heaving bosom was that, even though he was a demon from Demonland, she would never loose hope in Damion’s goodness.’ Plus get rid of ‘heaving bosom’ it’s a cliché and you’ve used it five times in the first page.
Writer: I see your point, but Millicent is so in love that she can’t bear the thought of his loss…it makes her breathe a lot.
Me: Loose means the opposite of tighten, or it can also mean to set something free. Lose is the act of having lost something. And I can tell you, being a woman, my bosom only ever heaved after I ran straight up a mountain and my body threatened to kick my own ass if I didn’t stop and suck in some oxygen.
Writer: Exactly, she doesn’t want to lose Damion’s love and it feels like she’s run up a mountain.
Me: Well, show it then. And switch the word to lose. And get rid of heaving bosom.
Writer: Every one of my other beta reader said that this story was perfect the way it was and she wouldn’t be surprised if it was on the best seller list by the end of the month.
Writer: Are you still there? Can I send you chapter two now? Hello?
Me: Hang on, I’m considering becoming an alcoholic…and a drug user.
Dear Every Single Editor in the World. I get it and I am so, so sorry.