So the opportunity to give and receive feedback with other writers is (mostly) a welcome one. The important thing is partaking in this blood sport with fellow writers you trust, whose work you admire, who make your work better and who are receptive to your thoughts about their work. That's a lot of qualifications. Such writers do exist, but it's clear that I am very picky when it comes to whom I enjoy giving and taking criticism.
For the 27th Annual UW Writers Institute, I've been tasked with critiquing the work of a number of writers I've never met. Aside from their names and the ten pages of manuscript they each have submitted I know nothing about them. I don't know how long they've been writing, how new or successful they've been, or even if these ten pages are all they have or simply the beginning of a completed seven book series. I don't know if a particular writer is 17 or 70. (The writing itself doesn't always give me a hint of age.)
Nonetheless, that's my job: to do my best in reviewing these ten pages and offering my thoughts.
It's a daunting challenge - akin to commenting on a friend's newborn baby Even the ugliest child deserves a kind comment. It's important to be honest and frank, but it's also important not to damage a fragile and earnest soul who may be the next Jack Kerouac. Besides, I just could be wrong in my assessment. I have never enjoyed reading James Joyce, for instance, so what does that say about me?
Some of the manuscripts I've received are utterly brilliant, so much so that I find it difficult to offer any comment at all other than, "Wow" Wow isn't a particularly helpful critique and it doesn't fill the two written pages and thirty minutes of conversation that the submitter has paid for. For at least two of the writers currently on my docket, I am having a very difficult time figuring out anything to say other than Wow. They have awed me with their command of the craft.
There are a couple of writers whose work is perhaps less than awe-inspiring, to my reading tastes, that is. And yet, that doesn't mean they don't have a story to tell. I struggled with the craft of writing for years. I still do. It's not easy. Taking the plunge at all is difficult. Finding gentle ways to help guide new or clumsy writers is important. I had my mentors. Writers who saw something in what I was trying to do that wasn't quite there yet. Without their encouragement and their criticism, I never would have attained the (limited) heights I have.
Critiquing other writers makes me a better writer. That's something I learned as a member of various writing groups over the years.
I can only hope I have something to offer these writers, that I will meet next week.