Editing and Proofreading Tips for Being Critical and Kind With Friends' Writing
Your best friend, or maybe a family member, has just completed a book manuscript or blog post. The person asks if you'd be willing to edit, proof or review it, maybe even be a beta reader. Of course, you want to help.
Then you begin to read the "masterpiece" just created. All you can think is, "Oh dear God, this is awful. How am I ever going to tell her how bad it is without hurting her feelings and ruining our relationship?"
In Proofreading Tips: Using Amateur Proofreaders, I discussed how a writer should deal with constructive commentary and critique from friends and family. In the scenario from the opening example here, the situation is flipped. And if you are seen by people as a good writer, you will likely be asked to assist friends with their work, either for free or professionally for a fee.
(Author's Note: I want to thank my friend, FlourishAnyway, in the HubPages writing community, for asking for some tips on what to do in this scenario. It was the inspiration for this post!)
What do you do when a friends' or family members' writing stinks?
What Writer Friends Really Want from You
When a friend comes to you asking for help with "editing," "proofing" or "reviewing," they may be looking for an "attaboy" or "attagirl" from someone they like, trust and respect.
They also may be scared to show their work to a professional editor or to the world at large because they may not be that confident in what they've created. So they've asked you, as a friend, to give them a safe place to share and test themselves.
In both cases, the help they seek really isn't for their work. They're asking for your approval, blessing or support in their writing journey. They want to feel good about what they've accomplished, but still may have some (or many!) trepidations.
If you're an industry-hardened writing pro, you can relate to where they are. They're somewhat fragile and fearful at this stage. So even the least challenge to their egos can send them spiraling into self-doubt and lashing out.
Here's a perfect example...
Many years ago, I was asked to review a short story that would be classed as romantic fiction. The author was really young and, obviously, had discovered a thesaurus. So in her story, she would use obscure words. My favorite was ungula (I'll leave you to look that one up). Even though I had a pretty extensive vocabulary at that point, I found myself looking up words.
When I called her out on the issue, she said I was just stupid since I didn't know what ungula was. Remember I said how fragile writers can be at this point? Be prepared for it!
But how can you head off some of the negative impact of your feedback?
It's all in the setup.
The SETUP for Less UPSET When Evaluating Friends' Writing
When someone asks you to edit, proofread or review their written work, here are some steps you can take to help make this a constructive critique for the writer, while preserving your existing relationship.
Clarify what's to be reviewed! This is the most important step! Shockingly, many writers don't know that editing, proofreading and reviewing are three completely separate functions. Even if they do know the differences, when it comes to their own work, everything becomes an ego-driven blur.
Read Editing versus Proofreading: What's the Difference and Why You Need Both and share it with your writer friend if he seems to be confused about what he's asking you to do. Also, as discussed in Proofreading Tips: Using Amateur Proofreaders, sometimes people confuse editing functions with reviewing.
Questions to Ask BEFORE Editing or Proofreading Friends' Writing
Here's a list of questions that you can ask a writer friend who's asked for your assistance. These questions will help the writer focus on what he is actually asking you to do.
- Do you want me to just point out errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, word usage or page formatting? (This is proofreading.)
- Do you want me to look at your work in terms of how well it expresses what you want to say? (This is editing. Click here to read What is Editing? to clarify editing goals. This could also be the focus for beta reading.)
- Do you want me to evaluate if this book would appeal to a certain type of reader? If so, who is that reader? (This is also editing or beta reading.)
- Will you want to know if I personally liked your book or found it valuable? If so, realize that I will be honest with my opinions, both positive and negative. Will you want to approve my review before I post it? (This is reviewing.)
Don't feel comfortable with what's being requested? Just say so and say no... or further clarify what you're willing and able to offer in terms of help. With whatever is being asked of you, you definitely want to convey that you are honored to be asked to help, but that you will be as objective as possible in your evaluation and that any criticism is only an opinion of the work, not the friend's worth. You might have to remind your friend of this, possibly more than once if he's really new to the writing game.
After you complete your evaluation for one targeted aspect of the writing, you may find that your friend seems disappointed, as if he was expecting something else or something more. If you are willing to spend more time on this project (and that should be YOUR call if you're doing it gratis!), then ask another one of the above questions to determine what is additionally being requested.
Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.
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© 2016 Heidi Thorne