There was a good reason I picked my friend to be my first reader. His advice was spot on; not writerly advice, but solid, objective reading advice. Love it. The moment I read his advice that a certain section was unnecessary, and he'd expected me to do something with it later in the story and I hadn't, I could see myself that it wasn't necessary.
It was one of those strange things - this section was to do with the woman who becomes the ghost being pregnant - and it was based on a real-life local tragedy from years and years ago. When I first heard the story, the pregnancy was the part that had grabbed me by the throat and made me think - there's a story! And that was why it was in there. But he was right; the story had evolved in a different way, and the pregnancy had nothing to do with it. It didn't bring anything to the party - in fact, it was just muddying the water. (Oh no - those cliches again!) Why couldn't I see that myself? Just because I was half in love with the original concept? Wow. Something to bear in mind in all my writing - that sometimes you have to let go of things that are important to you, and that were at the root of the original idea; if it's not paying its keep, let it go, and if it's not adding to the story, it's dragging it down.
There were other minor things too - some of them practicalities, things that didn't seem likely or believable...and he was encouraging too, but not gushing. I trust him to be brutally honest (that's why I was so afraid). When I was still fresh-faced and dreams were ten a penny, he told me I'd probably never be a writer; there are so many aspiring ones out there. So his encouragement is worth a lot. It's so scary opening yourself up for criticism like that - I'm glad he made it easy. He even asked me to send him the stories I've begun to submit to magazines. When I'd finished laughing at the thought of him reading these gentle, slightly twee love stories for middle-aged women, and how embarrassed I'd be if I let him, I was touched by the offer. I need more friends like that.