Critiquing another writer's work is tricky.
It's a fine balance of compliments and criticism. If you're really good at giving feedback, you offer gently worded suggestions.
I like to think I've gotten pretty good at giving honest, useful, suggestions that don't wound the recipient's soul.
A careless critique can damage a writer's self-confidence.
The first reviews I received was from teachers in elementary school. A few months ago, I pulled out the 1st books I'd ever written - circa 1979.
Over three decades ago, I was an eager fifth grader and these first works were school projects. I vividly recall their creation and how at first I felt proud, followed by frustrated, and finally ashamed.
I'd squish all my words together, making each sentence resemble one elongated word. Supercalifragilciousexpialidocious had nothing on 10 year old me.
Saying printing was a little difficult for me, is like saying a little chocolate is never enough.
During the previous year, in fourth grade, Mrs. Burmeyer took me to task nearly every day for my poor penmanship.
She had a menacing German accent, kept her grey hair pulled into a severe bun, not one hair dared stray. Do I need to mention she wielded a wooden meter stick? Well, she did. With fury. In outrage she broke it over my best friend's desk. But that's another story.
If I close my eyes I can hear Mrs. Burmeyer yelling, "Spaces, Jodi. Spaces!"
One day, when I began to cry she chastised me for my tears. You see, when they dropped to my page they smudged my pencil marks, making my work even messier. For shame. Uh huh, that was sarcasm.
Needless to say, fourth grade was not my favorite. But back to these books and onto fifth grade. I painstakingly rewrote each book, writing in my absolute best longhand, and submitted them with fingers crossed.
Rather than focus on what I had done well, she drew special attention to my faults, underlining the word, "neater", as if somehow that would finally make me say, "Aha! Now I get it. My handwriting is sub par."
What her words did quite successfully was make me feel horrible about myself. I handed in my best work, but apparently my best was not good enough. My pride turned to shame.
Thankfully between then and today, word processors were invented. Both my editor and I are grateful, as my printing and handwriting never improved much beyond my middle school abilities. And thankfully teaching has come a long way in thirty years.
When I give feedback, I bring my life experience with me and I leave my red pen at home. My goal is to uplift, support, encourage, direct, and inspire my fellow writers to create their best work.
Shame never enters the picture. Not does a measuring stick.