I love to read good writing. I especially love to read good writing when it’s written by someone I know.
Since I’m a writer, lots of my friends and friends of friends and cousins and neighbors have asked me to take a look at something they’ve penned and provide some feedback.
“Hey, I worked really hard on this short story. Do you mind reading it and telling me what you think?”
I almost always say yes, because I want to keep my writing karma sparkling. I mean, I email my works-in-progress to friends all the time, sometimes going so far as to call them ten minutes after I hit SEND, asking them what’s taking so long.
I’m not good at waiting. Like a hungry seven-year-old awaiting the pizza delivery boy, I dance around on one leg and bounce off walls and chew on my nails until the comments arrive.
Where is he already?
My husband has more than once and fewer than a million times, come home from work and had me thrust a new chapter of my latest novel, or some parenting essay I worked on all day, into his face with the accompanying demand that he “read this now, please.”
He usually sighs, puts his computer down and says, “Can I at least wash my hands first?”
I back off and say sure, impatient as a chicken as I watch him ramble around his bag for his reading glasses and make a cup of tea and look for a good pen with which to scribble edits and opinions.
And then, while he’s reading, I dance around on one leg and bounce off walls and chew on my nails.
Getting feedback about one’s work is a little like seeing the UPS guy stop in front of your house: the beep-beep-beeping of the parked truck pinging the air; the heavy slam of the door; the quick footsteps as he makes his way up the sidewalk.
What is it? Is it for me? Is it the special cat foot we ordered for our diabetic cat, or is it the printed copy of my new book?
That moment when my husband looks up from the papers. That moment when the brown-uniformed man reaches his arms toward you.
Do I want to hear this? Do I want this package?
I do. I want it, no matter what. No matter what, I want to hear what you think of my efforts. Because I love you and because what you think matters to me.
Even if you’re totally wrong and I fight you on that stupid edit where you think what I wrote sounds trite, but it’s not: it’s funnier than shit.
Sorry, I’m straying off topic.
Truth be told: I like getting less than I like giving. I don’t like hurting people, even the tiniest bit. Constructive criticism is an art; one at which I am still learning how to be good. But when I read something by a friend and it’s good, really good, I am going to be the first in the room to raise my voice and tell them, “Congratulations. This is amazing.”
Which is what I’d like to do right now. For two people. Two writers. Two talented women who make it easy on their friends when they tell you, “Hey, I wrote this…”
Nancy Stearns Bercaw. She wrote a book called Dryland: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety, and it’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. She didn’t ask me to read it, but the moment it was out, I bought it. I finished it last night. Nancy is so quiet and gracious in real time that I almost expected her story about her travels, and finding sobriety while living in Abu Dhabi, would be circumspect, quiet. But no: Nancy lets loose (sometimes literally) and gives the reader the truth, the proof, the pudding, and all that went into making it. She’s funny smart and knows how to keep the action boiling along.
Before I read the book I was worried. Whenever a friend writes something, there’s always worry. I knew I was seeing her for lunch next week. What would I say if the book wasn’t good?
In this case, I need not have worried. When I see her, I will say, “Nancy. Your book is fantastic. Your story and your strength touched me. Thank you for writing this book and for letting me read it.”
Friend #2: Aimee Picchi. She’s a journalist mostly, but writes sci-fi and fantasy and assorted other genre stories when she has time. A few of her pieces have been published, but I’ve not bothered to read any until two days ago. I printed “Only Then Consume Them,” her latest, and read it in bed. The next morning I wrote a comment on her Facebook post. I told her how great the piece was and that I wished it were longer. I let her know without a moment’s hesitation that I wanted more than anything to follow Sabina—her main character—to the ends of the earth, even if it is an earth in turmoil.
Friends are a gift. Friends with gifts are a blessing.