How do I tell my friend their novel sucks?

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Quick answer: You don’t. Or, at least, you don’t tell your friend their book stinks and then chat merrily about the weather or resume whatever else it was you were doing (celebrating their birthday, maybe — please don’t tell them this on their birthday). If someone you know is writing a novel, that means they still have time to improve it. If the novel’s already published, well, then I guess someone thought it was okay enough for other people to read, and you should probably shut up and congratulate your friend. The point is, if you’re friend is in the midst of writing, maybe they’re looking less for soul-crushing judgment and more for feedback on how they can make their story better. Here’s what’s actually helpful for them to hear: “Hey, I don’t like this particular thing, but I think you could make it awesome.” Not all critiquing is constructive. If your friend wrote a story about a dog and you hate dogs, then don’t say their novel sucks because of your personal preference. Plenty of other people like dogs and would read about them. Also, never utter the words “your novel sucks,” because that’s just petty. It will probably also make your friend do this:

Fillion Writing GIF Instead, try to figure out what you don’t like and why. Give them more reasoning than “it’s stupid” or “this is boring.” Maybe your friend needs to do more to endear the reader to their main character, or maybe they need to add more action and dialogue and lose some description. Find something concrete for them to work with. If you want, you can suggest ideas for how they might fix the problem, but keep in mind that the writer makes the final call. Readers are usually right when they feel something’s off, but that’s as far as their power extends. “This chapter needs work, but I loved this part.” Don’t just point out the bad things. Regardless of its quality, writing takes a tremendous amount of energy and dedication, and hearing someone rattle off criticism after criticism can be demotivating. Keep your friend’s spirits high by either starting out with a compliment (“This is a great idea for a story” or “I loved this character!”) or by taking a break from the negative and pointing out something you did like. It can be as small as a sentence or a descriptive image. Your friend will appreciate the mention and feel happy that you liked it. Basically, it tells them that if they keep writing more of that — the thing you liked — they’ll be doing a good job. “Don’t give up.” This must-watch TED Talk teaches an amazing lesson: You are not your novel.

It’s easy for writers to believe that if their novel is bad, that’s because they’re bad writers. That’s not how it works. I’m a firm believer than you become a good writer by writing — and writing a lot of crap before you get good. Skill takes time to develop. No matter how much you read or how much writing advice you digest, everyone needs to put pencil to paper (or fingers to keys) and untangle the very scary and magical thing that is writing. Writing a novel takes hundreds and hundreds of hours. Whole years. Decades, even. People spend a tiny fraction of that time reading the damn thing once it’s finished, and they can destroy a writer’s confidence and hope in a mere few words. Be mindful: Writing is hard work. It takes courage to do it and an incredible amount of willpower to see it through. Whether your love your friend’s book or hate it, tell them the same thing at the end of the day: “Don’t give up.” “You can do this.” “You’ve got it.” Because those few words can go a long way.

Questions answered: Novel progress and New Year’s resolutions

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Some of you are wondering how my first novel is coming along. Hard truth: I’ve been slacking. For me, writing for the web — not fiction — is my main job, and with hours of writing, reading, and researching looming ahead of me every day, I’m too exhausted by the end of it to think of doing anything more.

Actually putting down the words was easy enough, but now I’ve moved on to revision, the part where I’m stuck. That’s the most intensive stage of all, and I’ve struggled with developing a schedule that could work for me. Putting in an hour here and there won’t work — revision takes time and investment, which doesn’t lend itself well to scattered half-hour or hour-long sessions, at least not in my experience.

For me, the remaining time in the day goes to one of two options: more writing (and reading/revising) or leisure. I usually pick leisure. It gives me a break and a chance to recharge, which I desperately need for the day ahead. That’s also when I read books for this blog (in addition to what I read for Kirkus), play games (besides the ones I review), socialize with friends, run errands, do housework, spend time with my boyfriend, and basically get as far away from my computer screen as possible.

Not to mention some weeks are hectic as hell and I don’t have time to do my 3-week-old pile of laundry, let alone work on my novel.

But I’m not very happy with this excuse, and that’s what it is — an excuse. Because novel revision isn’t easy, and it requires sacrifice, hard work, and a good schedule. I can handle the first two, but I need help with the last one. Does anyone have any tips that are particularly useful for the revision stage? My goal for this coming year is to update this blog with some sort of monthly progress — not necessarily specific examples, but general problems I encountered and how I overcame them so you can, too.

What do you think? Any ideas? I’d love to hear them even if you’re not writing a novel yourself.