A few years ago, before I’d completed my first novel, Later With Myself, I was fortunate enough to have coffee with a traditionally-published novelist. A real, honest-to-goodness author who’d managed to land an agent through a Connection (see “The Elusive Elements of Success,” below) via her writers’ group. These were the first words out of her mouth—even before “Double decaf latte, please”: “You should know, I have a personal policy never to review aspiring writers’ manuscripts.”

Excuse me? Had I even asked her to review my manuscript? Would it be so terrible if I did?  

Boy, was I naïve. Having since fielded several requests to critique (and sometimes review) other people’s work, I now understand why this woman was so prickly about being asked to opine on an amateur’s efforts. At the time, I did not appreciate the surprisingly sensitive nature of this undertaking. Unless you genuinely love someone else’s writing (and face it, among wannabes, what’s the likelihood of that?), you’ll find yourself in the unenviable position of having to put the best possible “spin” on your opinions, while simultaneously trying to preserve a modicum of personal integrity. But just as insincere outpourings of flattery do nothing to help an aspiring writer (and can even hurt, allowing him or her to put forth product that’s not quite ready for prime time), hard truths can cost us friendships.

I’ve said before that we writers are completely delusional. Whereas we ingest praise like a coke addict snorts lines, it’s a bit harder to accept a candid, less-than-glowing assessment of our material, no matter how meticulous the delivery. Why is that? Much so-called “constructive criticism” is altogether arbitrary—nothing more than another person’s unqualified opinion. So why does it hurt so much whenever someone doesn’t love our work? Are we really that needy and desperate for approval?

In a future blog, I will talk trash about reader reviews, those pointless-but-oh-so-coveted badges of popularity that often reveal absolutely nothing about the quality of a writer’s output (and oh-so-much about how many loyal friends he or she has). But for now, if anyone asks you to critique their manuscript, you might take a tip from that author I met and decline graciously.