A dear friend and fellow writer challenged me to put my manuscript where my mouth is: After she’d asked me to review her manuscript for typos and grammatical errors (and I did my signature Sorrentino slash-and-burn), she dared me to let her stick her nose into to my own, upcoming third novel, The Floater. Well, have I ever been told a thing or two (excuse me, “shown,” not “told”).

Our battle of the pens has gone something like this (I paraphrased a bit for the sake of propriety, yet I quote):

“At first, it's unthinkable. No way, it would hurt too much! It would be toooo painful. It would be . . . unbearable!

But then, you get talked into it. You tell them to take it slow. You're still afraid, but you let them try. It hurts, but you let them keep on. You cry and whine, but they keep going in deeper.

Each time, it gets easier and easier. Then it doesn't hurt so much. Then it doesn't hurt at all. Wait a minute, this is starting to feel good. Wow, that feels really good. It begins to feel so good, you start asking for it. You want it all the time. You don't want it to stop!!”

The irony of my friend’s off-color analogy is that I make two specific references to Norma Reyes going through this very thing in The Floater—one positive (regarding her increasingly intimate relationship with Oscar), and the other not-so-positive (in relation to her “leaning over and taking it” from her racist and lecherous boss). In a similar vein, I was willing to let my friend have at it, but no way was I about to bend over. I accept that “there will be blood” in the quest for literary excellence (meaning, my feelings may get hurt). But no one should tolerate gratuitous nastiness where their work, or anything else, is concerned.

So remember, if you happen to be on the “giving end” of this process, be gentle. My friend has shown me the error of Norma’s (and my) ways—while always remaining kind, encouraging, and positive. (Much more so than I was, I have to admit.) I want to thank her for that. And while Norma might not be quite ready for “prime time” (and I may be just a little worse for the wear), her feedback was masterfully delivered and has proven incredibly worthwhile.

Accepting constructive input, while humbling for sure, can also be enjoyable and enlightening, provided you relax and remain open to it. However brilliant you deem your own work, it probably won't pass the “white glove test.” If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or colleague with a discerning eye, let them give it a brushing off. (Just be sure to break out the Vaseline first.)