WARNING: This is a no-edit zone…
Yesterday, a writer came to me deflated, disillusioned and all but devastated. Her work had been ripped to shreds by a group of fellow writers–one who had by their own choice elected to work as a group to strengthen and assist every other writer in that group.
I’m not going to judge their actions. I’m going to believe that their intentions were good and their hearts were in the right place. I’m going to believe that there wasn’t a smidgen of jealousy, envy or a nasty thought anywhere in the bunch. Admittedly, I’m having to work to believe these things, but I choose to believe them, because the thought of a writer–any writer–deliberately doing harm to another, knowing what it takes… well, it’s just not acceptable to dwell on that.
You see, this writer has worked hard but she’s also been fortunate and landed herself a very nice publishing contract. And some others who have worked hard have not enjoyed that bit of luck. But that aside, they know this writer, Lucky, has worked hard and suffered through trials and triumphs and gains and setbacks. She took a risk and made her luck, and she got it.
Now suddenly everything she writes is incurably flawed. Whether the others were tearing down her work to build themselves up, I don’t know. Whether they realize that while they copious remarks on what was wrong, not one bothered to mention anything–not one thing–that is right. A lot is right.
Lucky and I had a long chat about this situation, and while I refused to advise her on staying with her group or departing–that is a decision that is solely hers to make–it does raise this opportunity to talk with writers about how they treat other writers.
First, no one insists that you join a group. No one insists that you read anyone else’s work. And no one insists that you comment on someone else’s work.
You join a group by choice. You elect to give your best for the others’ good and you accept their best for your own. It’s a strategic business alliance for mutual benefit.
So if you can’t share in the joys and triumphs that result from the collective effort, why are you there? That is the objective: to assist and be assisted in creating the best work possible.
I’ve often said that writers should write with passion and compassion. Passion for what you’re writing, and compassion for the people–in the novel, and those who will read it.
It went without saying that in a group created to assist and be assisted, one should read with passion and compassion, too.
Telling a writer what is wrong is valuable. It’s important. And it’s a core element of why the group formed and everyone is investing in the work being done. But telling a writer what is right is equally valuable if not more so. Because it is on what is right that we build.
We take the good and make it stronger and better. We expand it. While we attempt to take what is wrong and make it right. Bad to good. Minimize the bad. Expand the good.
Well, if you read someone else’s work and you fail to mention the good, then what have you done for them? Upon what do they build? What strengths have you pointed out for them upon which they can expand?
Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. When you read for another, it’s your responsibility to be honest. Honest means honest. It doesn’t mean bringing your own trials, tribulations and/or baggage to the table. You have an obligation–one of your own choosing–to be as objective as humanly possible and to give the work your best. That means identifying weaknesses (with passion AND compassion) and strengths (again, with passion and compassion).
Every writer knows the struggle to tell a story just so. The battle to get the right words in the right place at the right time to convey the right emotions for the right reasons to effect the right outcome. We know that it is a writer’s sweat and hair-pulling and sometimes even tears that makes writing look easy and simple. We know that it is anything but simple. We know what it takes because we too make that investment.
And all this leads me to ask a question today because this situation is weighing very heavily on my mind this morning. When was the last time?
The last time you asked someone else how can I help you?
The last time you read and pointed out what’s right as well as what’s wrong?
The last time you celebrated someone else’s victory with genuine enthusiasm?
The last time you looked beyond you, deliberately left you out of a situation with the express intention of lifting up someone else?
Write and read with passion and compassion.
Be honest. Absolutely. With others, and also with yourself.
Understand that if you’re not a positive influence in someone else’s life, you’re a negative influence. That too raises a question we should answer: “Which do I want to be?”
We all know which is destructive and which is constructive. Destroying another in no way elevates us. So if we can’t remove the “me” from our reading for others, then we should recognize it and not read for others. And if that is the situation, then we should then not expect others to read for us. We best serve all by removing ourselves. True, we will lose good, but we also will do no harm.
Perhaps such a drastic measure isn’t necessary. Perhaps we hadn’t considered or thought of what we were doing as damaging. Perhaps now, we will.
And perhaps we can start by asking ourselves, when was the last time…?