Monday, June 15, 2009


As most of you know, I've worked as an editor. Both on the side at uni, and as a real adult job.

So now, every fuckwit on the planet wants me to read their shitty work.

I like giving feedback to my writer friends: I’m good at it, they find it useful, and best of all, I can get them to read my stuff, too.

But it’s when the ‘non writers’ start up, that’s what shits me.

I’m not (much of) a snob. I don’t think you need formal training to be a good writer. And vice versa: some people with whom I did my degree are woeful writers; three years’ training didn’t help that (‘she could of done something.’ Really, third year editing student? Really?). But I hate, hate, hate that everyone in the world thinks they can be a writer.

I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m ok. I’ll get better, but at least I did the training, work at it, and have a few publications under my belt to show for it. And I don’t mind reading and commenting on work from ‘emerging’ writers – people finding their voice, still green about technique, grammar and whatnot, who are willing to do the hard work and learn the trade.


My sister in law (Boyfriend’s older brother’s wife) is a lovely person. She’s utterly clueless, but lovely. Example: When I had a radio show, she said, ‘so, are you going to work in radio now, at like Triple M or somewhere?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s very difficult to get those type of jobs, and you need to work very hard for not much money, and it’s very hard to get, say, a drive time or breakfast shift on commercial radio’ and she said, irony-free, ‘oh, no I don’t think that’s true, I thought everyone who worked in radio was paid VERY well!’ (remembering I was doing voluntary student radio) SIGH.

She had a story she wanted me to read. Her background is in commerce. But she told me that in high school, she’d had some poems published. ‘I sent them to, like, 500 places, but finally they were put in a magazine. They told me they’d send me a copy for payment but they never did’ so you can imagine the calibre of the publication. Fuck, I can’t write poetry to save myself and even *I* could get published in some shitty poetry anthology. She’s also been duped into that ‘manuscript assessment’ rort, where you pay several hundred dollars for an ‘expert’ to give you feedback.

Anyway. I told her I don’t read friends’ work, because of a bad experience. I made up tales of woe, pointed out it wasn’t a good idea for family to work on creative projects together, told her how busy I was, and tried a thousand other things, even saying, ‘I really do not want to do this’. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. You know me, I’m a tenacious motherfucker, but it was getting really fucking awkward. So finally, I said fine, I’ll read it.

It’s a story to give to her son when he’s older, basically just a parable. It was fine. Technically it was ok, there was a problem with contradiction of the point she was bringing across, but it was fine. Not great, not bad, not fascinating, just generic and fine. It’s a story for her kid, whatever.

I had a quick look and didn’t have time to reply. I’ve had some extra-curricular writing activities competing for attention lately, a few very important deadlines happening NOWNOWNOW. And then I figured, ‘well, perhaps if I don’t respond for a week or ten days she will MAYBE GET THE FUCKING HINT THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO READ HER STORY IN THE FIRST PLACE, THOUGH I ALREADY MADE IT ABUNDANTLY CLEAR THAT I DID. NOT. WANT. TO.’

Exactly a week after sending it she sends a self-conscious, ‘it wasn’t that bad, was it? Har har’ email. Then about half a day later, messages me on facebook. I tell her, what with full time work and the other deadlines, I’ve not even had time to open it yet. A week later, I sent it back.

Also, Boyfriend’s older brother (not his awesome twin, the other one) is all, ‘oh, I want you to read my novel’. ???? I told him I won’t, he was all, ‘I need the criticism, pick holes! Be brutal!’ When I know that a) it WILL be shit, and b) if I told him that, and even tried to help him make it better, he’d get all narky and defensive.

Again, they are both lovely people, and truly, I like them a lot. But part of me liking them is trying to ignore them when they do little things like this that offend me (‘You’re a writer, after years of training, multiple publications and all the rest? Hey, I’m a writer, too, because I say so!’). I’m very lucky to have cool in-laws, but I swear to Christ, if they ask me to read their stuff again I’ll fucking LET it get awkward if they don’t take no for an answer the first 80 times.


Kartar said...

I get a bit of this and I tend to be a little wary of it. If I trust the person who has asked to be mature about it I don't mind. I've even encouraged a couple of people to write and provided introductions to editors/publishers.

My issue is always people's reaction to your feedback. I am always honest and objective and that's a challenge for some people. If I tell someone something doesn't work or that is won't sell they often get narky and want to argue with me.

And then I have to pull out the: "If you didn't want my opinion, which you've asked for because I've got four published books and written about 1 million words in the last five years, then you shouldn't asked."

So now I tend to refrain unless it's someone I know will understand that it is an objective opinion and not personal.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

That reminds me.

You wouldn't mind reading the first 400 pages of my new novel, would you?

It's about lesbian vampires in 15th century Bulgaria.

RandomGit said...

A good way to pick the ones worth doing from the ones that aren't is:

Decent Writer: Modesty. Hates it and wants to be rendered limb from limb if you can be bothered to demean yourself to take a look at their pathetic scribblings. Never initiates the request.

Annoying Amatuer: Keen. Thinks they could really make a go of this writing lark. Initiates and pesters.

Do you have a list of people you'd always follow up on? A list of people you wish would ask more often?

I get that sort of thing a lot with family and friends expecting me to be free tech support over the phone. Usual answer, I'd have to be sitting in front of the computer to figure it out. No I won't describe what you need to look for.

SO, I have:
Edit requests - Check
Enjoys Sex and the City - Check
Listens to Triple J - Check
Sundry Other Faux Paus - Check, Check and... oh yeah, Check.

And you are still talking to me why?

I should stick to porn reviews.


Perseus said...

Fucking hell. I'm also 400 pages into a lesbian vampire novel set in 15th century Bulgaria. I may have to shift the action to Slovakia.


Could be worse Desci. I have a mate who at age 37 has decided to go back to Uni, and he keeps sending me his Micro-economic and Quantitative Analysis essays to proof-read and check.

Anonymous said...

While obviously not a writer myself, I experience similar situations.

I have a background in law and I'm always getting my friends and relos bugging me about recent legislative changes. It's like, no really, you need to talk to a lawyer if you think it's a problem and want that handled. And they're like, but I AM talking to a lawyer - I'm talking to YOU. And I'm like, no dude, I am not your lawyer and by the way, I think I forgot to leave an oven on.

*Noi shaped dust-cloud*

You'd think by NOW they'd get the message, but no...


Ruth said...

Oh, I hate this. So often there's nothing specifically wrong with the person's writing, either -- it's just meh. They just don't have a talent for writing. Which is fine, but it isn't what they want to hear.

I don't even like reading Kartar's stuff -- not because he's a bad writer, of course, but we have such different styles, and we just end up arguing.

One thing I don't mind doing is helping out friends to write/rewrite something when they KNOW they can't write. The trouble begins when they think they can.

Desci said...

Kartar: That's the problem! If you have to explain to me WHY you decided to make the wizard see through time, then you're not doing it right.

INH: No. Wait - LESBIAN vampires? Yes. And, see, you're close enough in trades that it would be ok for you to branch out in to fiction. You're not a fucking commerce academic.

RG: Modesty V Keen! You're dead right. And when you say, 'there's a problem here' they see it with fresh eyes, and even if they *don't* see it, they try to fix it accordingly.

And for all your faux pas-es, you're brill and you know I love you. xo

Pers: Does he at least ply you with cartons of ciggies in return?!

NOI: Just knowing other people get similar stuff makes me feel so much better, hehe.

Ruth: Exactly. When I show my stuff to people, I know there are specific problems, and if they come up with something that I thought was ok, I'm fucking GLAD, because it makes the piece stronger.