The Surprising Benefits of Reciprocity

Over the past few days two different writer friends of mine flattered me by asking me to critique their work. They each separately told me that they wanted to polish their newest piece up before submitting it to journals. Both of these friends are engrossing writers, so reading to spot opportunities for improvement was a bit of a struggle, since their short stories had a tendency to sweep me along with the fun.

I sincerely wanted to help my pair of friends, though, so I buckled down and tried to look beyond their pretty words to spot the flaws an editor might highlight. I didn't spot many, to be fair, but I did catch a few. I hope that my comments help two talented writers get their work read by a wider audience than me.

Here's the thing: the few comments I made were all about things that I do too. That critiquing improves your own writing is an aphorism tossed around in writing circles, but the mechanism for that improvement is left to the aspiring writer's imagination. Spotting something in another's work and then realizing, "crap, I do this all of the time, only more and harder," is a wonderful opportunity for self-improvement.

Perhaps I should remove the plank from my own eye before removing the speck from my friends' eyes, but the reality is that helping my friends remove a few specks helps me extract planks of errors from myself.

Oh, by the way, if you two are reading this, be warned: I will be giving you a chance to improve your own writing by spotting my errors shortly. Since you helped me so much, I feel like I should reciprocate.