Here’s a tip for anyone asked to read a piece of creative writing by anyone else – a relative, friend, co-worker, neighbor. No matter how savagely the writer deprecates their own work, in their secret heart they believe it is a masterpiece. They don’t want your nit-picking notes, your criticism or your suggestions for cuts and improvements. As they see it, no improvement is possible. Every word is perfection precisely as placed. So why did they give it to you to read and ask for your “honest opinion?”
What they’re looking for is love, unconditional love and approval for their very existence. Anything less than a flood of admiration will, at best, fail to satisfy. You don’t want to be responsible for “daunting a dream,” do you? It was more than a little galling to be so cavalierly dismissed by a cousin at least two years younger.
Perhaps the need for validation is more pressing for amateur (unpublished or unproduced) writers. Professionals like myself have learned to suck it up, absorb a torrent of “notes” from well-meaning but clueless production executives and remain standing. No one survives in this business without a thick skin.
Who’s kidding who? Professionals yearn for love and approval every bit as intensely as my 6th grade self craved it from my cousin Connie. A little love and approval goes a long way.
Case in point. I did my best work – above and beyond the call of duty – for a producer who started every conversation with five minutes gushing about the brilliance of my last draft before easing into that minor matter of a few “tiny” fixes. His praise was so addictive, so intoxicating – and, at least for me, so unusual – I’d hurl myself into yet another unpaid rewrite just for another taste of the sweet stuff.
Just to be clear, I do not advocate manipulating writers. But Thumper’s mother got it right in Bambi – especially when dealing with the tender heart of an amateur. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.