The other night my husband and I were discussing my writing (one of my favorite subjects,) and he told me that it’s strange to read something that’s unpublished.
“When I’m reading a published book,” he said, “I’m more willing to accept whatever is there. I’m not looking for something to be wrong. If I don’t get it, I just assume that I will get it at some point later on. I just assume that the published book is perfect.”
While I know that published books are never perfect, (some come closer than others,) I understood what he meant. I too already have a certain expectation for published material so automatically there’s an amount of trust between the author and reader. The author gave their best work and jumped many hoops to get their book published. The reader paid money expecting it to be good, therefore they will give the author the benefit of the doubt that their book is worthwhile.
But coming from the other end, things can be quite different. When we read others’ raw material, we are reading with the mindset that it isn’t perfect, that there are mistakes, incongruities, and even some boring parts. That’s why they want us to read it in the first place- to make it better.
However, I think being too deep in this mindset can sometimes hurt more than it can help. I once heard an agent say that they wanted to give every writer the benefit of the doubt. They were always rooting and hoping for whatever they read to be wonderful. I wonder how much that helped her to spot the gems. It’s probably easy to dismiss just about everything when you’re only looking for the flaws.
So, in an effort to improve my critique skills, I want to come from the end of being positive. When someone hands me their work I want to be excited about it. I think it helps to not get too cerebral about the work until we notice that we’re bored or confused. If things are great, let them stay great. But when things get slow or confusing, when we stop feeling any emotion for the work, then we can try and work out why that happened.