My guilty pleasure is reading O: The Oprah Magazine. Don’t ask me why. It makes no sense. I find Oprah too much – too spiritual, too mindful, just too… you get the idea. And yet I pick up a copy whenever I’m in an airport (I’m blaring Guns & Roses now to avoid yet another inane announcement) or run across English-language magazines wherever I am in the world.
Another guilty secret? I’m the only person I know who hated Eat, Love, Pray. When I was reading it, I had the strict policy that I would ALWAYS finish my book club’s monthly selection. (Thankfully, I’ve grown up since then.) A friend of mine, who did enjoy Eat, Love, Pray and several other books I could not stand (amazingly we’re still friends), suggested I give Elizabeth Gilbert another try. Her column in O is quite good, she pushed. Okay, okay, I can take a hint.
And so, as I sit in this cramped airplane seat on my way to Istanbul, I must admit she was right. The pain is real.
If you aren’t obsessed with O magazine, this month’s column is about friends who tell the brutal truth and how this led Ms. Gilbert to her four questions for choosing beta readers. The fourth question is as follows: Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and passionate manner?
Well, shit. I wish I had read this article two years ago when I lost a close friend due to beta-reader-ugliness (it’s an epidemic). My now ex-friend didn’t enjoy my book. Fine. I guess. But the way in which she expressed herself was harsh. I didn’t respond well. Three weeks later I approached her with a heartfelt apology for my gut reaction. Instead of the apology I expected to receive in response (you can apologize for hurting someone’s feelings even if you had no intention to do so), I got radio silence. As did my husband when he tried to mediate. And so a friendship died. I mourned the death and then I moved the hell on.
If I can share one piece of wisdom to my fellow writers, it is this: Ask yourself if a friend can be sensitive and compassionate before asking her to read your work. If in doubt, just don’t do it.