How to Support a New Writer
Supporting other writers is something that a lot of us will have to deal with at some point. My son’s a writer and, early on, he gave me a draft of a book to read, for me to offer any suggestions. Although, as a parent, I was proud of him, he had asked me for help, not approval. As a writer—and reviewer—I decided to look at the writing as objectively as I could. It was quite bad. I knew how he’d react if I told him that—he would have given up completely and never picked up that metaphorical pen again. He’d stopped writing and grew to hate English at school because of some bad feedback he’d got when he was eight or so. I couldn’t tell him I thought it was bad, but I didn’t want to tell him it was good, either. That’s the fine line you have to walk if you’re trying to support a writer—especially a fledgling one—as you don’t want to squash their dreams, but you also want them to improve.
What I did was I simply gave him some pointers. I pointed out his incessant use of commas, the way that his descriptions, at times, lacked the detail needed to really make them come off the page, and that there were parts where his writing was quite juvenile. I gave him a couple of compliments, helped him fix those issues, and moved on. He gave me his next project to look at and it was a lot better—it still needed work, mind you, but his writing had improved—and I told him this.
The three most important things I’d say if a new writer asks you to look at their writing would be the following:
1. Be nice but critical
Don’t tell them that you love it if you don’t. Tell them what you think, in a nice way so it’s easier to swallow (try the compliment sandwich). They want—need—support and help, not an ego massage. Them being a bit upset now really is the lesser of two evils, as they will become better in the long run.
2. Hold back a bit (or a lot)
Don’t tell them that it was the worst thing you’ve ever read and that it isn’t fit to line the cat litter tray, even if that’s true. Pick a couple of things that not only stand out but are also fixable at their current skillset.
3. Be supportive
This is kind of obvious, but don’t labour the negatives. If the writing isn’t very good, then say so as objectively as you can and move on. Offer to help them fix things or, if you can’t, help them find someone who can. It’s really easy to find local writers these days.
Years later, my son asked me why I didn’t tell him how bad that first book was. He had become a much better writer—and realised his early mistakes with hindsight—so he asked me why I let him go ahead with everything he wanted to do with his early writing. I told him I guided him, but I didn’t point out everything because he needed to learn for himself. I didn’t want to crush his dreams, but instead nurture them into something tangible. That’s the crux of why it’s so important to support a writer properly: it could very well be the difference between them giving up and them developing into someone decent.
© 2019 Cassidy Cassandra
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.