Today I'm feeling grateful to my Trusted Reader. Some writers use the term Beta Reader or First Reader. I think every writer needs one of these, but they're hard to find.
Here's why I love my Trusted Reader:
She gets down to it
She reads fast. I recently gave her a three hundred page manuscript and she was emailing me that same day, asking if we could meet for lunch to discuss the book! There is nothing more frustrating than giving someone a piece of writing and having to wait for months and months to get a response. We get enough of that from agents and publishers!
She isn't hung up on the trees
My Trusted Reader always starts a critique with the forest or the 'long view'. We talk about story. We talk about feelings and where a plot line falls short. She doesn't get so hung up on the little stuff that she can't help me out with the big stuff.
She gives me what I want
If I ask for a line by line edit, my Trusted Reader will give it to me. If I give her a first draft and ask her what she thinks about a certain character or an overall impression of the plot, she'll give it to me. She doesn't digress. I know I'm not a perfect writer. I make mistakes. But there is a time and a place for the grammar police! I'm not stupid enough to think I don't need the grammar police, but if I need some feedback on a story arc and don't want to waste time policing my grammar on sections I know will need to change, my Trusted Reader understands this.
She is precise and specific
If she tells me something doesn't work, she goes on to tell me why it doesn't work. This is the most valuable asset a Trusted Reader can give a writer. I really don't think there is anything worse than being told, "I don't like this chapter/character/book, etc." and then not being told why. We can't fix it if we don't know why. Sadly, this kind of feedback is the most common kind.
She keeps personal stuff out of it
My Trusted Reader is a reader and like all readers, she brings her own prejudices and preferences to the page. However, she doesn't let those things get in the way of her critique. She'll even tell me, "There's nothing wrong with this, but it bothers me because...", and then lets me decide whether it's an issue or not. I'm always surprised by comments like, "Can you change this character's name? Because I had a friend named ___ and I didn't like her." Or, "This character's Dad did this and my Dad never did this...."
It's a small thing and sometimes (rarely) these comments will lead me to question a character's motivation or my portrayal of the character, but most of the time they're entirely personal decisions and as the creator, I reserve the right to create my characters and my story my way.
She has no agenda
My Trusted Reader doesn't read my stuff to measure it against her own. She doesn't read it so she can get on her soapbox and play teacher for a day. She knows we've read all the same books on writing and that we're both trying to improve our craft, one story at a time.
She doesn't insult me
I had a professional editor once comment on something that was 'stupid'. Some readers are incredibly callous in their critiques. I've developed a pretty thick skin over the years, but sometimes words like, "stupid", "boring", "pointless", still hurt. They come in like scud missiles - loud, explosive, unexpected and painful. My Trusted Reader is trying to help me make my work better. She knows that throwing darts isn't going to do that. It's just as easy to say, "This doesn't work for me because..." as it is to say, "This is stupid." And the words that come after because are the only words I really need and want to hear. The because will help me get my point across. The because will help me to become a better writer.
So, Trusted Reader - you know who you are! Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are my icon of constructive criticism and your feedback makes me a better writer!