“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”
“What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
“Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on.”
A cautionary note from a seasoned author we might all pay heed to: Choose the people who give you feedback on your writing with care. This advice isn’t really surprising when you consider how hard it can be to find really constructive insights and advice. And how hurtful people can sometimes be — often mistakenly.
This is one reason why a solid, serious writing group is so valuable. And why you need to take just about everything that anyone says to you about your writing with a grain of salt. Or, as Walt Whitman put it so well: ‘Re-examine all you have been told…Dismiss what insults your Soul.” In other words, trust your own intuition and stay true to your own intention.
When I started pondering all this, a few simple “rules of the road” came to me. These might prove helpful even if you’re currently critiquing via Zoom:
Be kind: Writing is hard work and anyone who takes on the challenge should be treated tenderly and worthily — and given the full measure of our attention and support. When critiquing it’s always wise to “accentuate the positive” — to start by talking about what you enjoyed.
Be balanced: One of my writing buddies said that in her MFA program, people were encouraged to refrain from trying to “fix” someone else’s work or saying, “I didn’t like this or that.” Instead, they were asked to say, “Here’s what worked for me in this piece — and here’s what didn’t wok as well.” This seems like a good approach, doesn’t it? It’s personal, but neutral at the same time.
Be upbeat: If you have an idea for a more powerful ending or a better transition, then, by all means, pass it on. Just avoid couching it in terms of “fixing.” Instead, you might talk about strengthening a passage or increasing its dramatic impact, or about considering another approach. You get the idea.
As you share your insights with your fellow scribes, take this thought from Jean-Jacque Rousseau as your touchstone and all will be well: “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” Armed with these wise words, let’s all write on!
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