Hey, it’s not that I don’t like you. Really.
“But you’re a writer! You can help meeeee!”
Maybe. But there are issues.
Legal stuff sucks
Remember that story by Stephen King, “Secret Window, Secret Garden?” They made a film out of it with Johnny Depp, called merely Secret Window. In the film/story, a writer is approached by a hayseed who hurtles the accusation at him, “You stole my story!”
I don’t want to read unpublished work, possibly be influenced by it, and then end up in court because you levied this accusation at me, even though my story has nothing to do with yours. Or because I used the same theme, like first love, but not the same plot, that of your fictional first time with a young Bruce Wayne, in Alfred’s room while he was at the grocery store.
First readers are great. They look at your stuff, and point out mistakes, inconsistencies, awkward turns of phrase, and other beasts that infest your writing. You will be blind to these while you birth your masterpiece.
Truth is, no one, NO ONE, writes a perfect first draft. Depending on the writer or the work, it may take several edits before it’s ready for someone else’s discerning gaze. If you think your first draft is perfect, I challenge you to sit on it for a month and then go back and read it again.
If I read your work, I will feel compelled to point out the places where it could use some improvement. I’m no expert, far from it. But I know enough to help you with the big clunkers.
And that’s what it is: help. I don’t do it because I don’t want to listen to you whine, or yell at me, if I make suggestions. Learn how to take constructive criticism (I really prefer the term feedback). You’ll have to do this if you want to be a writer.
Not having enough time sucks
I have two blogs, and (usually) a full-time job, plus I’m supposed to be writing my own stuff. I don’t always have time to slog through your long-ass manuscript. Especially if you’re going to yell at me.
If we’re both broke and you’re at least at my level of skill and you want to barter—you read mine, I’ll read yours—I may be amenable to that.
Critiquing is work, and working for free sucks
Sorry, man, but I can’t pay my bills in thanks. If I don’t know you and you want me to give a basic critique, you’re going to have to pay me for my time. If I do know you, well you’ll still have to, although I might be able to work something out with you.
“But you don’t have a book out. You’re just an amateur writer. Why can’t you do this for the kudos?”
- Unless YOUR book is coming out and you thank me profusely in the acknowledgments for helping you cross your Is and dot your Ts, the kudos aren’t going to do me a bit of good. No one will see them.
- I’m not a complete amateur. Yes, my output isn’t as prolific as some other people’s, but I have actually been paid to write. If you get paid for something, you’re no longer an amateur, the definition of which is “someone who does something for the love of it.”
- If I have to work for free all the time on YOUR stuff, I’m not free to do my own work, which at some point I may actually get paid for.
I’m not trying to demean your efforts, really. I’m just pointing out to you that there are good reasons why many writers don’t read unpublished work. Famous ones are even less likely to do it, unless you’ve paid buttloads of money for a personalized glance-through at a conference or convention.
Writing groups are a good place to bounce your stuff off other people of a similar literary bent. They are set up with this in mind. A good group will have rules, and you’ll have to return the favor from time to time, but that will only help you learn.
Look here for a good article on how to find a critique group.