Reading other People’s Work

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Now that you’re a writer, people will want you to read their work. It’s inevitable. But reading every document sent your way is impossible. When should you say yes? Should you always say no? If you do say yes, then what’s the best advice you can give? Let’s break this whole review process down. 

When to Say No

If you’re busy, say so. Don’t take on someone else’s material if it’s going to sit on your desk for months. That’s not fair to the person who asked you and it’s not fair to you (I’d feel guilty). If you’re worried that you might say something harsh, upset the writer, or if you just don’t like reading other people’s work–then don’t do it. 

It’s okay to say no, but try to remember back to when you started writing. After you completed your first writing piece, was your writing so good that you needed zero advice? Probably not. That being said, everyone needs help in the beginning. In fact, that’s the time when people need the most help. Therefore, you can’t say no all the time. 

Well, you can, but it’s nice if you do your part and give back to the community once and awhile.

When to Say Yes

You should take on someone’s writing if you:

  • Like the person.
  • Like their writing project (or the type of writing project).
  • Have the time, and are actually interested.

 If you feel that your answer might be no or maybe to any of the above, for the love of Margaret Atwood turn the project down. Again, it’s okay to say no. You might be harmful if you say yes when your heart isn’t in it. Here are some phrases you can use to gently let someone know you’re not interested:

  • My dance card is really full right now, but maybe another time? (This might actually be true if you have a lot going on–but you’re the only person who knows that.)
  • I’m honored that you feel comfortable sharing your work with me. That’s a huge compliment! However, I don’t think I’d be able to give it the attention it deserves right now.
  • When I’m working on my own projects, I tend to avoid reading other people’s work. I’m sure you can relate to that. 

What to Say after Reading

So you’ve said yes. Now what? Before you crack open that document, start asking questions so you know exactly what the person is looking for. If they’re totally newbies and are like, I don’t know, can you just tell me what you think? First, cringe, then ask them the following questions.

Do you want me to look at this in terms of :

  • Grammar, fact-checking/accuracy?
  • Pacing, overall flow?
  • Character development?
  • Plot and/or setting?
  • General reader’s reaction?

Having a guided focus will help you as a reader. However, if the writer remains vague, maybe they’re just looking for an overall vibe. In that case, think and respond in terms of emojis (literal or otherwise) so you don’t overwhelm the writer with too much information. While reading, think hearts, sad face, surprise face, confused face, or shocked face. This will give the writer a sense of the flow in terms of a reader’s reaction. 

What NOT to say after Reading

Try not to be mean. Sometimes it’s hard when you just want to tell the writer, wow, this kind of sucks. But really, that’s not helpful. Find the positive as much as possible and gently tell the person where they can improve. 

Try using the critique sandwich. Imagine that your compliments are the bread of the sandwich. Your room-for-improvement comments are the innards of the sandwich. Be sure to start with a compliment, say your critique, then finish with a compliment. This helps soften the blow. 

Also, keep in mind that you’re hoping to help the person become a better writer, not crush their soul. As you read, keep these questions in mind:

  • What could help this become a better writing piece?
  • What’s really working here?
  • What could be expanded?
  • What could be cut?

In the end, we all need a little help, so make sure you do say yes every once and awhile. Also, you might want to read this post for a flip-side consideration about how your feedback might be received.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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