Reading Other People’s Writing

As a writer, sometimes you are asked to read other people’s writing. When I ask other people to read my stuff, I want constructive criticism. I want to know if something isn’t working, or is badly-written, or is completely missing. I want to know if my characters’ motivations don’t make sense, or if they’re too unrealistic. It’s the only way for me to get better.

But sometimes other people will ask me to read their writing, and that’s when I have to negotiate a minefield. Do they really want the truth about what I think? Do they want criticism? Or do they just want to be told that their stuff is great, or enjoyable to read?

I once really pissed off a girlfriend who showed me the beginning of a book she was writing by not being effusive in my praise. To be honest, the writing was okay, but I just wasn’t interested in the topic and it was hard for me to engage with the characters because I didn’t know enough about the setting — the time period, the location, etc. I also read one of her poems, but I personally am not a fan of poetry so I guess my response to it upset her. Now she will never show me any more of her writing, and I’m not allowed to talk about my writing, and any successes I have, writing-wise, are off-limits between us.

Another person once showed me a short-story they wrote. It was… not good. It needed some serious editing, it was cliche in places (to be fair, my stories are sometimes cliche in places as well, but I do it on purpose, to hang a lampshade on it), and the story didn’t make a lot of sense to me. But what was I supposed to say? She wrote it a few years ago and she was proud of it. I think she figured out that I didn’t like it, even though I was being nice.

I’m also a pretty detailed critiquer when I’m asked to critique something. I will point out issues, make comments about things I don’t like, and offer suggestions on ways to improve the writing. I do that because that’s what I want in return — although I rarely get it.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: when you read my writing, be honest and point out anything that is an issue. But be warned that when I read your writing my instinct is to do the same thing, and I won’t spare your feelings, because I don’t want my own feelings spared. Constructive criticism is how we get better.

And for goodness’s sake, if you don’t want me to think critically about your writing, don’t show it to me. You’ll just get pissed off.

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