I marvel at the women in my writer’s group who can listen to someone’s manuscript and, right away, tell you everything that’s wrong with it. I can’t do that. I have to read a piece and reflect on it before I can see the errors. Sometimes I play the mute in my meetings because the mistakes that others find don’t seem as apparent to me just by listening to the story once. I guess I am a visual person. Either that, or my fellow authors are just better writers than I am.
When I listen or read another’s work, I concentrate on the entertainment value rather than critique, unless something jumps out at me and pushes me out of the story. This morning someone in an online group posed the question: Does our status as writers make us more critical or more forgiving in our critiques? Hmm…that’s a question I've mulled over for some time. In my experience, most writers are quick to criticize, always trying to improve their manuscripts, yet determined to fix someone else’s work along the way.
Isn’t that what we writers tend to do? Once we’re rolling over the weeds in our own manuscripts, it’s hard to stop the momentum, and we sometimes catch a flower or two under our wheels. By nature, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I want to build them up as a writer before poking and prodding at their grammar. And yes, this is a tough business. We’re told if we don’t have the mettle to handle critique, we need to find another creative avenue to satisfy our muse. But how many great writers, athletes, artists… fill in the blank…could have shined had they received encouragement rather than harsh criticism from their peers? Isn’t our critique just one opinion?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to help someone improve their writing. I just hope we see and relay the potential in others as we mark their pages with our sharp, red pencils. With our corrective and picayunish drive for perfection, we ought to especially use care with budding writers. Go ahead and crack the whip on your own work, but leave some dignity and hope for those aspiring to rise from the dregs. Writing is a tough pursuit, but I guarantee we will never utter the last word on any piece we critique, so why not approach our critiques with humility. Let’s see the daisies in other authors’ work, instead of just the rocks. Who knows, we might discover we've encouraged the next bestselling author in the process.