I recently critiqued a friend’s unpublished work in progress. I’d been begging her to read it for about a year. She would tell me about it in bits and pieces, just enough to tantalize, to keep me wanting and asking for it. Oooh, what a tease! Reading it was unbelievably satisfying, on a number of levels.
First of all, I got present to how much my friend must trust me. It’s a scary proposition to share one’s writing, knowing your reader is going to be intentionally reading critically, looking for things that don’t work, places where things could be improved. I was reminded that perhaps I should take the same care reading the unsolicited submissions I read for the agency. Oh yeah. There are people on the other end of those. I tried to be kind when I critiqued my friend’s work, not only because I want her to still like me, but because I want to express my opinions of her work so she can hear them and use them, not react to them as personal to her rather than her words. I did advise her to kill some of her darlings, which is never an easy thing for a writer.
It was also satisfying because not only was the writing good, but the plot was interesting, amusing and original. I cannot stress how many of the manuscripts I read are merely variations on the same theme, done with varying degrees of skill and not much originality. Writers, when you write, ask yourself, “What about my story is unique? Has this been done before? Why should anyone read this?” And then come up with some very good answers. And then write your story. I have never read a story like my friend wrote. Of course the theme of it wasn’t totally new. It was all about self expression and not being limited by your environment. I’m not certain there are any new themes, anyway, just new ways of discussing the old ones. She did a great job.
It was finally satisfying because I remembered that I’m quite good at this. I’m pretty darn good at nurturing, whether it’s my children, my dogs, my friends or people’s manuscripts. I adore contributing to my friend’s work. I delight in knowing that my insight might make a difference for the work. I’m crazy about reading in general and I truly believe I will be able to say, “I knew her when…” about my writer friend.