Writing is a solitary pursuit. Sure, all the characters in a book or story could keep the writer company, but they have their own lives to pursue. After weeks, months or even years of crafting an idea into a first, second, third, fourth draft and beyond, the lonely writer will one day look up from his or her desk and feel almost certain the story is ready to share with someone else.
Enter the First Reader.
“No! Wait! Not yet!” the writer cries silently.
After going over the story one more time, perhaps reading the entire tome out loud in a last search for typos and clinkers, the writer, bravely but with trembling hands, passes the manuscript over to the first human being to read and evaluate the much-loved work. Though not a parent myself, I imagine this is how a parent feels the first time they leave their child with a sitter. I hope I’ve raised the manuscript properly and that it behaves as I expect it to, and I (almost) trust that the reader will treat my literary offspring well, but . . .
A writer lives this “first time” over and over and over again.
Does a First Reader need to be a writer? They could be, but the essential qualification is being an avid reader. Not only should this person read prodigiously, they should read analytically and well. A First Reader needs to have the sense of how a story works, an ability to spot what’s missing as well as to tag the extraneous character, scene, sentence or word that gets in the way.
Does a First Reader need to be objective? Not entirely. A First Reader should be interested in and supportive of your work, but objective enough to give constructive criticism. On the flip side, the writer must be willing to receive and seriously consider constructive criticism.
My First Reader is my husband. He’s an avid reader, a good analyst and supportive of my writing. We’ve also read and discussed many of the same books, so I understand and trust his literary judgment. He’s an ace at spotting the occasional indecipherable sentence and digressions (including characters) that detract from the story. This week he’s reading my new book-length manuscript. I try not to look over his shoulder to see what page he’s on, try not to ask him what made him laugh or shake his head. He takes good notes. All will be revealed when he’s finished.
A book is the product of many hands. After I’ve considered the First Reader’s comments, my manuscript moves on to a “line editor from Hell” critique partner who busts me on everything from overused constructions to punctuation faux pas. His turn comes next- -definitely in the critique process, and possibly in this blog.
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