Friday, February 27, 2009

To All the Many People Who Ask Me to Read Their Manuscripts

Since I cannot read your mind, I have to guess why you have asked me to look at your manuscript. After some years of experience with this, my guesses, be they right or wrong, generally fall one of the following four categories:

#1. You say you're looking for a critique, but perhaps what you're really looking for is validation.
If so, please be careful: you're making yourself vulnerable to people who may say very damaging things out of their own ignorance, fear or envy. Don't let any one else pretend to tell you whether you have "talent" or "what it takes." Some spectacularly clumsy writers, after years of honing their craft, have gone on to deserved literary fame; while many of the most promising young writers end up wasting decades front of the television. All I know is, for an artist validation needs to come from within.

#2. You say you're looking for a critique, but perhaps what you're really looking for, if you can't get validation, is some encouragement.
If so, I'll let you in on the secret: though there are joys, a lot of days this business is about as pleasurable as crawling over broken glass. So if you feel the need for encouragement from me or anyone else, not only you but society as a whole would probably be better off if you were to spend your time doing something else. Think about it! You could keep bees, go to law school, run for Congress, plant tomatoes, save the whales, become a movie producer...

That said, if you are determined to write, help yourself to "Giant Golden Buddha" & 364 More Daily 5 Minute Writing Exercises. And while you're at it, why not take a writing workshop, join a writers association, or sign up for a writers conference? Attend a reading at a local bookstore (how about one of mine?), peruse a bookfair, go hang out at your local library. Read books about the craft of writing and the writing life. And write on.

#3. You really are looking for an honest, expert critique.
If so, I might be available. Click here to read about my rates and policies. Also, there are a number of freelance editors I recommend, all of whom are listed on my resources for writers webpage. You can click on their webpages to read about their experience, philosophy, and how they charge.

#4. You've taken one of my workshops, and you want to share with me how your writing has improved.
If so, I appreciate your open-heartedness, and know that I am grateful to you and indeed, to all my students, because in teaching I also learn.

Adapted from the Irish blessing:

May your Muse give you...
For every block, a sledge-hammer of inspiration
For every tear, a bouquet of giggles
For every care, the laser-like ability to focus on the writing at hand
And a blessing in each draft.
For every conundrum a manuscript presents,
Le mot juste
For every sigh, a sharpened pencil,
And in the end, a string of words, beads of a narrative to enchant your readers.