It feels like it has been an age since I posted anything about these suggestions for gaining perspective while editing from Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit, so I apologise for the delay. There has been a lot going on in the world of late despite the suddenly lack of social interactions available and coupled with diving headlong (and far too deep) into the Fallout 4 mod, I’ve been idle in the editing department. But I’ve also just finished going through the book with a ‘beta reader’ so-to-speak. So today I’m, going to reflect on ‘The Release’, that is, the idea of giving the manuscript to someone you take seriously, who’s opinion you value. I have done ‘release’ in the past but with some fresh re-writes I handed it off (or, more specifically read it out) to this reader.
When I asked this person to be a reader for it I was apprehensive, there is a certain level of tact that everyone gives when providing criticism on a book and this reader was both pushed (by me) and by their own outspoken nature to provide brutal, honest feedback. Honest feedback is the most valuable thing I think anyone can get, regardless of what you’re doing so when they suggested that (since they had a hard time putting aside time to read) I read it to them I, after some consternation, agreed. Originally I had intended to record it chapter by chapter but this proved more difficult than simply making a phone call, especially when trying to make the recording “perfect”, which was an easy trap to fall into. Reading aloud did provide useful insight, more than I had expected given that I had listened to the book several times having the computer read it for me, unsurprising if you think about it but also something that I didn’t expect was the sudden highlighting of sentence length. The problem with a machine reading something is that they never run out of breath. I, however, am a squishy meatbag and only have so much lung capacity. So I am grateful to my reader for forcing me to fundamentally redo The Spoken Word approach.
As to the idea of The Release, brutal honesty is what it is all about, and if you’re doing this I have 2 suggestions:
- Keep taking notes.
I quickly got to the point where I couldn’t remember the minor points that needed tweaking and despite going back and writing down what I could remember (after consulting with my reader), I fear I have still missed them. This one is obviously for anyone reading, and I apologise, but if you’re reading to someone stopping to take notes feels like it breaks flow and disjoints the story. And it does, so act like an audiobook player and when you start reading again drop back a line.
- Find someone different to you.
I don’t mean go out and find someone diametrically opposed to you (or do, if you can), I mean find someone different enough that they will pick-up on and pick-on your missteps. Got a romantic subplot you’re not sure about? Find someone who’s tangentially interested in more romance-focused literature, they will at least give you an indication as to whether keep or kill that subplot, whether it can work with improvements or if it is a horrid mess that requires firing into the sun. What about an action scene? Find someone who reads a lot of action-oriented novels, they soon tell you if it is too short or falls flat and isn’t exciting. The same goes for everything. The more different people you get the bigger your pool of data points and the better you can gauge if things actually need changing and if you’re going to end up on a “bad writing” forum thread somewhere.
The best thing, I think, is to find someone you’re apprehensive about giving it to. Giving it to strangers is a valid idea if you just want general reactions, but if you don’t value their opinion you won’t take their criticisms onboard. The whole purpose of the release is to give it to someone you value and get them to give you honesty back. If handing your manuscript/comic/play/poetry etc to them doesn’t stress you out a little, find someone else to read it. If you can’t find a person like that, you either don’t value what you’re writing at all (I mean the project more than the actual words on the page) or you don’t have friends or readers who are vicious enough.
Someone who tells you “this sucks” is more useful than someone providing a “yeah it’s good”, good is not great and great is where we all want to be, at least, that’s my experience.