Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why I Won’t Read Your Half-finished Novel

I should call this post, Why I Say No a Lot and All My Friends Think I’m a Colossal Bitch, but that’s a mouthful and they’d like it way too much.  But it’s true.

For whatever reason, I get a lot of people asking me to read something they’ve written, and more times than I like to think about, it’s something unfinished. My answer? Not a chance. I am happy to read it when it’s done. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

I understand the urge to get feedback before you’ve finished something. I get it too. Usually I try to rapidly squash it with a hammer…or the nearest door, and I recommend that you try the same. It’s natural to want to share your words as soon as possible but, if those words are still pouring out, it’s a terrible, horrible, awful bad idea. 

Why? Because despite our surface level intentions, when we get absolutely brutally honest about it, the motivation for wanting to share at this stage is most likely to get praise. What we usually really want is a big ol round of, Oh My God, This Is The Most Brilliant Thing Ever Written. We want to hear that we are not writing in vain, that our words are golden and that, once we buck up and finish the grueling task of getting this story down, it will be perfect, shiny, splendid, and we will never have to work on it again.

Ha, I say. Ha! You just made me laugh so hard that I snorted my coffee.

Just for a second let’s pretend I’m not a bitch and I don’t enjoy trashing other people’s work. Let’s pretend, in fact, that I love to encourage new writers, that I’m absolutely passionate about it. I’m still going to be honest about someone's writing. If they trusts me enough to ask for feedback, I feel like I owe them that, and even if I love the book. Love love love it, I’m going to find something to mention that isn’t 100% glowy praise. Also, never has a first draft been written that didn’t need editing, lots and lots of editing. I believe that. So if you think you can get around that stage, I’m totally the wrong person to come talk to.

I will laugh shamelessly at you.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Now, what are the main reasons I hate to read unfinished books from, well, anyone? First off, one comment said casually could be taken the wrong way, could be seen as the crushing evidence that they should never write another word, that they should at least scrap this novel and start a different one, that they should never finish this story. That is one huge ass risk, and I refuse to take it on. I will not be responsible for a story not getting told. In fact, I have nightmares about that very thing. It’s probably something I should discuss with a therapist and not here.

So! The next reason…If you haven’t told your whole, entire story to its finish, then something I say might change its trajectory. In fact, you might not end up writing the same story you intended to write at all. In the editing phase, it’s all about taking feedback, but while you are still writing, I think you have to get your story down. The one you are meant to write. Alone. Write the story you want to tell, your way, all the way to the end first. Then go looking for help with sorting it out.

All this stuff aside, my final reason is where the real issue comes to the surface. You see, if they haven’t finished this thing, how do I know they ever will? The majority of would be authors don’t finish. Never do. That’s not really my problem, until they ask me to devote time and effort to read it and give them feedback. Now it is my problem, because like it or not I don’t want to invest a lot of time and effort (and I do put a lot of effort into beta reads and such) if I’m not even sure they’ll finish the story…ever, no matter what I say.

The bitchy part is that makes me feel like they’re wasting my time. I believe that finishing what you write is the hardest part of writing. It’s the one and only thing that separates a want-to-be author from an author in my book. It’s the thing. Finishing is bigger than starting, more important than all the writing they’ve done so far and scarier than the editing they are imagining at the end of the tunnel will ever be. It’s also the one thing they have to do if any of the other stuff is even going to matter. Finishing. Getting to the end.

Please don’t risk not making it by asking for my feedback prematurely. I won’t be one more thing in a long list of excuses you’ve collected for not reaching the end. It wouldn’t help you one bit if I was.
Finish it first. Prove that you can. 

The proof is in the pudding, you see. I have author friends who I know can finish things, friends who churn out finished projects on a regular basis. Should any of them come asking for feedback in the middle of a project (most of them are smart enough not to) I will consider it. Maybe. Depending on the circumstances and the individual, how busy I am or how pissy I feel that day. Anyway, I’ll probably still say no, but the point is a lot of my hesitation would be gone simply because I could trust that I won’t kill their story completely with one comment. Some of them, I I’d probably only make so mad they’d have to finish just to prove me wrong. . .

But that’s a whole different topic, and I’m riled up enough as it is.
Finish your book before you let anyone see it. 

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