Sunday, January 19, 2014
How to Give and Receive Notes, Part 2: Be Charitable
As a result, writers are putting more and more audacity into their samples, and that audacity can easily put the note-giver in the wrong mood: because the writing lacks humility, it can be easy to assume that the writer lacks humility, and needs to be put in his or her place. Don’t fall into this trap. Remember, this person has done something profoundly humble by coming to you for notes.
You may strongly suspect that the writer just wants you to say it’s great (or, even worse, just wants you to show it to your agent), and that’s often the case, but you have to act on the assumption that this isn’t true.
A bold writing style is just that, a style, and the writer underneath might still be very sensitive. Showing someone your writing is like showing your diary: you have inevitably put a lot of your hidden emotional life onto the page, both intentionally and unintentionally, and it’s painful for anyone to have that judged. Even if it seems like they’ve puffed up their chest and dared you to take a swing, don’t go for the gutpunch.
Never be confrontational, or derisive, or flippant. Even if you’re used to kidding around with the writer, never use dismissive words like stupid, lame, lazy, shitty, terrible, or rotten. Most importantly, never imply that any choice was made out of laziness, no matter how much you suspect that to be the case. Remember how hard this is: nobody ever finished a manuscript by being lazy. It may be worthless, but that doesn’t mean it was effortless.
No matter how much it might seem to the contrary, you have to assume that this person did his or her best possible work and wrote it with the best possible motives. What you’re reading may seem quick, sloppy and insolent, but you have to assume that’s not true, and that you actually have the writer’s tender, beating heart in your hands, and only your meticulous scalpel and delicate stitches can repair its wounds.
So how to do you do that? You have to move on to Step 3: Be a Salesman…