Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.
Not too long ago, I encouraged everyone to read for each other. But today I want to talk about how to read for each other.
This is going to be a simple version. I’m talking about my general ideology, not specifics.
For me, there are three big steps: Bad, Good, Homework.
My first job is to find what’s wrong. Plain and simple. If you aren’t finding what’s wrong, you’re doing the person a disservice. If you aren’t vigilant, if you aren’t catching those typos and extra commas and poorly worded phrases, you aren’t helping anyone. Find the problems. Call them out.
But you aren’t only looking for problems. While you’re diligently hunting commas, also hunt for gems. Find what’s good in the work and note that just as vigilantly as you noted any errors.
This is the important part.
You have some bad. You have some good. My philosophy, at this point, is to make them work together.
None of us are perfect writers. None of us aren’t still learning and working. But if someone early on in the process had absolutely dumped on us, we may not have gotten to where we are now. I never want to do that to someone. I feel that part of my job, when I read for someone, is to tell them what they’re good at, what their strengths are, what they absolutely must NOT delete or edit.
Their Strengths Will Fix Their Errors
Something I try to do every time, and something I really believe can empower a writer, is telling them how their strengths can help them address their errors.
So let’s say that someone writes amazing dialogue, but their characters are boring and flat. I may then say:
Your characters fell flat for me. I just didn’t feel much dimension to them. But your dialogue was amazing. It was so natural I swore I was just listening to my friends talking naturally. I think you could develop your characters through your dialogue to give them more dimension and make them feel more real.
Everything will always, of course, depend on the specifics of the piece and person and situation. But the important part is to:
- Tell them what needs fixing
- Tell them what doesn’t need fixing
- Suggest how what works can fix what’s broken
I really believe this approach can make writers feel empowered and energized rather than deflated and hopeless. I’d never want my read to make someone feel like they should abandon their writing. But I do want them to walk away thinking, “I’ve got this. I know what’s wrong and what I’m good at and I’m gonna crush this project.”
None! Go read for someone and see what you can do to make them feel awesome about their own writing.