MY WEEKLY BLOG
TO TELL THE TRUTH
Part of my writing career is editing manuscripts. I’m what they call “a book doctor.” I read a manuscript, evaluate it and decide what
works and what doesn’t. I’ve done it a lot, I’m accustomed to determining the chapters are in sequence, if there are segues that allow a smooth transition from one paragraph or paragraph to the next, if the writing is clear, if the punctuation is correct, it there is attention to detail and if a story arc has a beginning, a middle and an end.
I do this in steps. Before I take the job, I usually ask for the first ten pages so I can see if that particular topic and author is right for me to do. If I see that I can be of help, if I think I can make the book better and more accessible to a reader, I agree to do it and we come to an agreement on cost and time.
The next step is reading the book through from start to finish. I became “any reader,” and I ask myself, does it makes sense? Does it pull me in or does it make me wish I was reading something else? Are there missing pieces or is it overwritten? Should I make corrections on the page or should I take notes? Or both. All of that is familiar to me, I do it pretty naturally by now and and I enjoy it. It’s a lot of work but in the scheme of things, it’s the easy part.
The hard part is telling the truth about the work without discouraging the client so much, they throw the manuscript into a closet and slam the door. Early in my career, an agent was so cruel, I took to my bed and decided never to write again. I got up the next day and carried
on, but it wounded my self-esteem and I had to heal before I could get back to my book and continue working on it. These kinds of experiences have taught me to take care when I tell the truth to a client. That’s what he or she paid me for, but there are ways to soften the blow and encourage rather than discourage. It isn’t necessary to be critical with a hard edge and ruin someone’s day.
I’m using my experience here as an editor to demonstrate how telling the truth requires forethought and tact. But life in general presents us with opportunities to find a loving and compassionate way to speak up and let someone know how we feel without causing
them to be defensive or to ghost us because they feel so hurt. We’ve all been the recipient of harsh criticisms and being shamed for something that we’ve created. I attended a poetry circle many years ago and after I took a risk and read one of my poems aloud, a woman in the class said I sounded sappy like a Hallmark greeting card. She criticized everyone harshly and when it was her turn to read, she got up and left.
I’ve learned that at times, instead of telling the truth, it’s better to just keep my mouth shut. I don’t chime in unless someone asks me directly what I think, but even then, I can find a way to say what’s on my mind without tearing someone down. If they ask me something
and I want to be delicate about it, I search for a way to respond that is thoughtful and useful to anyone who is looking for guidance.
There is a famous saying, “Don’t kill the messenger.” That means that if someone tells you the truth, don’t project your anger on him or her. Just look inside and see if their opinion resonates. If it doesn’t, toss it because it has nothing to do with you. If it feels right, integrate
I’ve been told not to ask a question if I’m not prepared to hear an honest answer. That puts some of the burden of truth on the asker. Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, says, “The truth you believe in and
cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.” It may be hard to hear the truth, but if you become vulnerable, open your heart and listen, the truth can be a great gift for your mental and spiritual development. Feminist and author Gloria Steinem wrote a book entitled, “The Truth Will Set You Free, But First it Will Piss You Off.”