I saw a friend of mine yesterday at the library a little after 2pm. He and I began talking about finals (the topic de jeur during this last week of the semester) and he mentioned that he had to write a short story for his history class based on some of the stuff he’s been learning in class. I offered to look at his short story and critique it if he wanted, to which he said he’d send it over.
This evening I took a look at it and I wrote a quick critique of it before e-mailing my friend. After I finished and sent the email, I thought to myself, Hey, that’s the first time I critiqued something for a friend that wasn’t required by a class of mine. I don’t count that one time my sister asked me to look at her speech as she was running for a position on the board of the youth group we both belonged to in high school, mostly because we couldn’t get past the opening without her disagreeing about my assessment of the opening. God, that was a long time ago.
“This blog post is perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever read online. Now your friend’s short story…”
Okay, enough rambling. Back on topic:
I’ve been in two workshop classes in the past year, and I had to do a similar assignment to what my friend did when I took a world history course my first year in college. I’ve looked at a lot of short stories, occasionally had to look stuff up just to understand what a certain word meant or what the action revolved around, and written close to fifty critiques for each story. I’ve seen bad short stories, I’ve read ones that absolutely floored me with their first drafts, and I’ve read one or two that confused me so bad that I mentioned how confused I was in the critique letter.
But writing for a friend…it’s an entirely different experience. You want to give them the best critique possible. You want to tell them their story has potential. You want to say they did a great job. You want to tell them it’s only a matter of time before they’re selling books in bookstores and receiving royalty checks. But at the same time, you have to point out flaws, you have to say that they should possibly rewrite the whole thing, and sometimes you have to tell your friend that, for one reason or another, the story stunk to high heaven and you absolutely hated it. It’s a very different experience than critiquing for classmates you don’t know that well, and finding a balance between kind to your friends and critical of the work is tough, especially if you’re sensitive to a friend’s feelings or there’s a chance that they may say their work is too high-brow and those who don’t like it or understand it are literary fools.
Luckily my friend doesn’t aspire to literary stardom and even if he did, he’s a chill dude who doesn’t get emotional over critiques. But still, I took his feelings into account when I critiqued his work, and I hope he appreciates the critique and isn’t daunted or upset by what I had to say. (For the record I wrote a very positive critique and suggested that he rewrite the story from the POV of the sheriff character and do more showing and less telling) It was the first time I understood what my friend Matt goes through every time he looks at a chapter of Reborn City for me and tells me what he thinks, and what my friends and family go through when they review my work for me, and it’s a pretty crazy feeling.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever do a critique like this ever again, though I’m sure I might be asked in the future to look at someone else’s work, especially if it’s for class. If I am asked by a friend to look at his work though, I hope I’ll be able to do a serviceable critique that will help them with their work and with their writing over time. Because if there’s one thing writers can do for each other, especially indie writers, it’s help to make each other’s work better and make sure they reach wider audiences.
What do you think when you get your work critiqued or someone critiques your work?