On the last episode of Girls (season 2, episode 2) Hannah asks her boyfriend to read an essay she’s written. First, he claims not to have read it. Then, he says it “wasn’t for him.” Then, he says it was “very well written.” Finally, he says “I just didn’t feel like anything happens in it.”
A few minutes later, they break up. In those few minutes, they argue about politics (he’s a Republican, she’s not) and race (inter-), and the recaps I’ve read focus on those very juicy issues. But to me, it seemed so clear that those were red herrings, and the break up was totally about the writing critique. Which the boyfriend handled very, very badly.
Here’s the deal: No matter how much experience you have, no matter how tough you are, the only thing any writer ever really wants to hear from a reader is: this is perfect, and you are brilliant! Brill-i-ant.Which is nice for the writer’s ego, of course, but more importantly and practically it tells the writer that she’s done, she’s done it and she doesn’t ever have to touch the fucking draft again.
Any writer who says that they’re not secretly hoping to hear some version of the above is lying.
Now, of course anyone who’s written professionally, or for a while, knows that the chances of hearing these words in response to an early draft are glancingly slim, and if you do hear them they’re probably untrue. Especially if they’re coming from someone who’d like to sleep with you.
So is it best to avoid mixing early drafts with romance? Not from my perspective. When I teach, I don’t allow vague critiques like “not for me” and “nothing happens” during workshopping, because they’re another way of saying “I didn’t read your work that closely and I don’t really care.” This is a totally unacceptable sentiment in a writing class.
It ain’t lovely in the dating arena, either, but if you’re a writer and that’s what you’re hearing from a romantic prospect, you have indeed learned something useful. Not about your writing, but about your intended. Good to know, and good day to you, sir.
But what if you hope to bed a writer, and you’re confronted with a critiquing opportunity? Well, you do have another option besides lying. Although nothing is quite as good as hearing that the draft is perfection itself, to a writer, a very close second to unfettered praise is the realization that someone has seriously and carefully read a piece, and has really taken the time to think about it. Even if that writer still has work to do, even if the writer doesn’t agree with what you have to say.
That is useful to the writing. That is flattering to a person. That is hot.