***Here’s the continuation of “Part I.” Click here to catch up last time on The Pen-Dragon.***
When I would ask a friend to read something I’ve written, I don’t do it without careful thought.
— Who do I think will actually READ it?
— Will they be able to give the kind of constructive feedback I’m looking for?
— Can I trust them to be honest and objective because they know that’s the only way to success?
These are some of the primary questions I ask myself when ruling out candidates. But before I think about these, I have to think about one other vital question:
— Are you willing to devote a portion of your time to helping me?
I always am armed with this question. Guys, reading someone else’s work is quite time consuming, and I know that. I read my own and others all the time. That’s why I want to make it clear to my friend that they are not obligated whatsoever to read my work, and that I won’t be offended if they can’t. People have their own lives; I get that. I’m not hurt if they say no. I’m lucky if they say yes. It means they’ve accepted my invitation into the inner sanctum of my creative self, a self I (or any artist) don’t disclose liberally.
Now that I got out of the way how intimate a process like this can be, I would like to talk about my expectations, the expectations all writers who enlist anyone’s help but themselves, should have.
If I divulge my baby to you, I expect you to know the time commitment. I expect a willingness to negotiate how quickly the work should be read. I expect an honest review. I expect notification if you cannot complete the endeavor in the agreed-upon time window or else a request for an extension. Are those unreasonable? I did mention before, if you’ll remember, that I asked if they’re willing to donate a portion of their time to helping me; therefore, these expectations should go without protest. With how long it takes to read, more so to edit, I don’t have time to dilly. I, like you, do have a job outside writing (unfortunately) and need to take advantage of every moment I get.
I had to deal with a small moment of frustration when I shared Project Stripes with a friend a few weeks back. We agreed on a day to have the work finished, and when the day the came . . . it wasn’t. Needless to say I was furious, but I composed myself and cut the friend slack because I was trying to be knowledgeable about other’s lives too; however, we had an agreement. If they felt they couldn’t get it done, like I said, TELL ME.
Equally important to having secured a willing participant and date of completion is the review itself. This two part post is named “The Devil’s in the Details” for a reason, ’cause it’s allll about the details for artists.
I expect a level of genuine care when it comes to reading and marking of my work between a friend or a class. When I read a friend’s work last year, a member of the local writing club I led back in Boone, I not only crammed my notes and comments in the margins of the page, I starred certain passages and added additional notes to a separate piece of paper referencing back to the point of the story that needed further examining. Plus, I gave reasons for why I made the comments I did and backed up my opinions, if I had any, with ways of improving what was being critiqued upon while trying to keep the integrity of the original. You see? Details, details, details. I happily dish them out and expect to receive them in return. It does not always happen that way, unfortunately.
But when disappointed with how our story has been remarked or lack thereof, do we stop appealing to outside sources for help? Certainly not. There are details we won’t be able to catch due to the camouflage of our writing we have become so familiar with. It is important to have a conversation with your ally-in-pens so both parties know what is expected of the others. Only then can you get the most of your recruited help. Only then can you find the devil in the details.