View Full Version : Beta for a friend, incredibly grueling

02-03-2012, 12:00 AM
I have a great friend who is a terrible writer, which makes me feel terrible in turn. At some point in our friendship, she asked me to be a beta for her, her work unedited is nearly unreadable. I was willing at the time because I believed that having a beta would help her see her faults in writing, and also help her improve her writing in time. That's the furthest thing from what could have happened. I always try to give her constructive critiques in the kindest way possible, but still I think she takes offense. I know what she really wants when she asks for a beta is a lot of praise, and the smallest amount of editing possible (fix the spelling errors, grammar errors, send it back). Personally, I can't willingly beta like that. As a beta, I want to have an honest back-and-forth with the writer, where I truly know that I'm helping them improve their work.

Basically I need advice, this girl is a great friend, and I'd feel bad to suddenly stop being her beta, but I'd also be miserable continuing with editing something that isn't up to par, that I can't help her improve. If anyone has ever been in a similar situation, what did you choose to do? And if you haven't been in a similar situation, what do you think you would do?

02-03-2012, 12:20 AM
Sounds to me like your friend wants to write, but not be a writer. Being a writer means you have to do your craft the best you can if you want to be published. I've been fortunate in our writers group that all of us took critiques gratefully and with open minds. We never had anyone take offense or seem like a delicate flower.

Perhaps you could recommend she take English classes, beginning with the basics of English, eventually moving up to novel writing (ETA: if that's her goal). Someone like your friend can't improve without a desire to improve and the classes might motivate her. If her creativity in her stories are good and the plots are inventive, perhaps steer her in the direction of classes might help her--and you.

Best of luck.

02-03-2012, 12:34 AM
Oh, this is delicate, and one of the rare occasions when a solid lie might serve you well, because the truth could be hurtful and you don't want to lose a friend. Consider any of the following. "I'm finding I'm so pressed for time, what with XXX, that I can't beta for you and write my own fiction. Would you mind terribly if we stopped?"
"I think you've probably gained all you can from my feedback. A good critique group offers lots of viewpoints, not just one."
"Maybe it's time you joined a serious writing site or in-person critique group."

Or the truth, which is harder.
"This work contains enough mistakes that it's really not ready for other people to see. The mistakes get in the way of the story you're dying to share. Let's brainstorm for ways to improve besides me correcting everything."
"You don't seem to be applying what you learned from my previous beta reads to your newer writing. I can't help feeling that you're giving it less effort than it deserves."
"I'm no longer enjoying beta reading for you. Let's give it a rest."
"I'm not sure I can keep doing this for you. I understand you want validation, but I'm not the only place you can get that."

Maryn, sympathetic

02-03-2012, 12:40 AM
Perhaps you could recommend she take English classes, beginning with the basics of English, eventually moving up to novel writing (ETA: if that's her goal)

Just to say: this sounds like a good way to have a big fight.

I think Maryn's suggestion is the best: "I'm finding I'm so pressed for time that I can't beta for you and write my own fiction. Would you mind terribly if we stopped?" I think it's pretty honest, too, in that you're finding it 'incredibly gruelling'.

02-03-2012, 01:03 AM
All advice above is good. You were great to want to help a friend, but this seems a case of "no good deed ever goes unpunished."

The friendship may be doomed if you do and doomed if you don't, but I think you realize the beta/teaching has to stop until she gains some basic skills.

You're a writer; put it to work. It won't be untrue if you say something along the lines of:

"I'm too close to you to give you the best critiques. You need a reader or two who aren't your BFF. Let's hit the pause button on literary stuff for now and get back to . . ." (whatever made the friendship great: workplace gossip, bike riding, shopping, volunteer work, fishing, or etcetera).

Buff it so it's not a rebuff but a temporary change of course.

I've had the same happen with close deaf friends. I helped them untangle letters, and suddenly I'm their go-to guy for mainstream publishing. Now I say, "I value your friendship too much to change you in any way."

02-03-2012, 01:58 AM
Thank you all so much for the thoughtful advice, I'm very appreciative. I think you're all correct in saying that the beta part of our friendship should be put aside, at least for the time being. Something I failed to mention is that she is in college, and majoring in English, I believe her professors just never bring it to attention, or if they do, she uses the same aversions to critique that she does with me. Maryn, thank you especially for giving me tips on how to break it to her kindly, since I am pursuing my own writing endevors, and she understands that, I think it's perfectly appropriate to say I've been too pressed for time lately.

Once again, thank you all so much for your thoughts,

02-03-2012, 02:00 AM
I'm with Maryn on this one. Your other option-which is admittedly not the most honest-is to do the minor editing of grammar, spelling, etc., and ignore (or pretend to) the rest of the issues. If she begins submitting to agents/publishing houses, she'll learn the hard truth soon enough.

Sorry you have to deal with this-it's not easy!

02-03-2012, 02:11 AM
My step daughter wrote a book, and had it printed at Lulu. Just one copy-free-thanks goodness. She gave it to me to read and I was really excited. I had been hearing about it for the entire 5 years I have known her.

I could not get through the first chapter. She literally just writes whatever pops into her head,rough first draft all the way. From what I did read, the story line is interesting, but I just can't get past the bad writing.

Luckily she has not asked me about it. I do not see her often, but I am dreading the day she corners me to talk about it. I don't think she will take the truth well.

None of this helps you in your situation, I know. Just wanted to say I feel your pain.

02-03-2012, 02:25 AM
Send her here.

"[Insert name of friend], it seems our writing styles don't mesh. Why not use the writer's board I do, and see if you can get more out of a diverse group of opinions."

Then she can see it's not you; it's her writing. (or, she can have a massive "no on appreciates my genius" meltdown, and throw a tantrum. We get both, and everything in between around here.)

02-03-2012, 11:30 PM
I currently belong to this writing group... it's more of a share your work kind of deal. We all go around and read something. I'm the only writer with professional goals. At first I was a bit judgmental, until I realized it was just a social group.

So now I have friends who write but don't want critique. They're just proud of their accomplishment and want to share it with somebody. There is always something I like, so I focus on that thing. To me, being a friend doesn't necessarily mean giving doling out reality checks. It means being there when the reality check hits home. I don't think that writing badly is any different than an unfortunate fashion sense or the dinner a friend cooked that tasted awful.

In your situation however, I think your friend is taking advantage. She probably doesn't know it and you haven't told her. If it were me, I'd split the difference between an out right lie and honesty. Just say something like "it's interesting but line by line edits are really time consuming." You could say you something like you really thought you could help her out, but you didn't understand the time involved.

Remember, being evasive is an indirect form of honesty. Given enough hints, people will eventually "discover" the truth on their own. The key is being supportive but not indulgent.

02-04-2012, 01:20 AM
Buff it so it's not a rebuff...Bonus points for this turn of phrase.

Maryn, impressed

02-10-2012, 05:20 PM
[QUOTE= since I am pursuing my own writing endevors, and she understands that, I think it's perfectly appropriate to say I've been too pressed for time lately. [/QUOTE]

Let us know how it goes! That is a rock and a hard place for sure...

Jess Haines
02-11-2012, 12:51 AM
My sympathies. I've been in this position, and I'm not always the best at phrasing things delicately. I've since learned not to offer critiques unless I already know/sampled the person's work, and to be blunt when turning others down when they ask.

I think Maryn said it best--as usual. ;)

Vegetarian Cannibal
02-11-2012, 09:09 AM

I've been in this situation more than once. I've been subjected to beta-ing full MS requests from really poor writers. Some of whom were/are my friends.

I think as a general rule, beta-ing for friends should only be for broad summary critiques. Never do line-by-line work with friends. That can blow up in your face mighty quick. I only do line-by-line invasive beta work for anonymous folks I meet on writer sites. That way I don't step on anyone's toes and I don't lose or piss off my friends.

Arcadia Divine
02-12-2012, 03:45 AM
I agree with the above statement

02-13-2012, 02:39 PM
Riley, I'ts nice you actually take the time to critique a friend. All my friends just say, 'Wow! That was really good!' but I get no critique. :( You guys talk about delicate flowers and such but I think there needs to be a healthy middle. Point out some good points along with what you see that needs fixing rather than just point out how terrible everything is. Some people work better by seeing what they're doing right along with something they're doing wrong. Though, if she's really as terrible as you say she is to the point where you can't even begin to read one word before you feel it necessary to gouge out your eyes, well then I think for the good of the friendship you definitely stop being a beta for her.