For those of you who are writers, you know that what I'm about to say next is one hundred percent true. As soon as people find out you're a writer, aspiring writers come out of the woodwork in droves seeking your advice. The advice is solicited both by and on behalf of the fledgling author. Everyone's either a writer or knows someone who is, and they all want a piece of you.
Having spent many years in this business, and having learned a number of lessons the hard way, I'm more than happy to share my insight with people. I'm asked everything from how to write a query letter to how to find a good publisher to how to get noticed. The question I'm most often asked though is whether or not I'm willing to look at someone's work and see what I think. The answer is always yes, but I have to offer this caution now and forever. Be careful what you wish for. If I don't like your work, or I think it needs polish, I'm not going to tell you I think you've got the next Harry Potter on your hands.
The level of my critique depends on the age of the author. If someone wants me to look at a story his or her nine year old wrote, I'm not going to rip a new one for the kid. There are two categories I will offer a no holds barred review for. The first is anyone aged thirteen and up. Young adults need to learn how to take constructive criticism as do some adults for that matter. The second are those who post their work on story sharing web sites. If you're going to share your work with the world wide web, it better be your best. If not, I'll let you know.
Before you start thinking of me as some dream crushing ogre, you should know this. When I critique any story, I always look for the positive as well as the negative. I will be sure to point out the redeeming qualities that make the story ripe with potential before I make suggestions for improvement. I can assure you that any suggestion I make is one I've likely received (and taken and applied) from a professional. A person who is a serious aspiring writer will take that suggestion for what it's meant to be-advice to help and not hurt. In case you're wondering, I'm willing to, and have taken, what I dish out.
Last week, a young writer posted a story on one of my favorite story sharing web sites and asked for opinions. I offered my opinion. I read all of her six or seven chapters and offered diligent comments on each of them. I pointed out errors in mechanics as well as some weaknesses in the story. I also offered some encouragement along with that. What happened next amused me. The young author read one page of my rather lengthy story, also posted on the site, and offered a harsh critique of how she didn't connect to my protagonist and she hoped there was more to offer in the following pages than the first page. Of course, she didn't use the word protagonist. She gave a rather juvenile assessment which I've paraphrased here. I found this amusing given that the story is getting rave reviews from other readers on the site and has made the finals of a contest being sponsored by the site. Even more amusing was the finding that she'd removed my comments from her story so that others couldn't see what I offered as suggestions to improve. The only comments she left up for her story were the few that offered good reviews of her work.
I fully understand the fear of putting your work out there for others to see. My latest story has been giving me more worry than any other before. I liken sharing your writing to letting someone see you naked. You're showing people a side of yourself you don't normally share and you're not sure you're really comfortable with. I commend anyone who has the courage to do it, but I won't over praise someone despite the developing trend to do so in modern society.
So, the old cliches are true. Be careful what you wish for. You might get it, and the truth can hurt.