One of the most valuable things I have ever done was to offer to edit and critique some fellow writer friend’s books and stories. I was able to observe, with a deliberately critical eye, just what they did, good or bad or different, in their own work, and to learn from it. Building up some cosmic karmic balance isn’t a bad thing, either, pay it forward and all that.
One important thing is to do it only for those who can take and who want the critique; some folks only want praise, and that won’t help either of you very much. I am merely suggesting that you can learn a lot by watching someone else, much as any other craftsman learns from someone else’s technique. The advantage to doing it actively for a friend, a fellow writer, rather than trying to critique some professional in a vacuum, is that you have a sense of involvement and ownership – the knowledge that your friend will, or at least may, take some of what you have to say to heart and incorporate it in his or her work. It’s gratifying to know that you have helped someone and a little bit of yourself is now planted like drifted seeds outside the mere prescribed compass of your own work.
To me it is akin to the satisfaction of teaching – to help someone else create something permanent is to create something permanent yourself, and this is part of the reason we do what we do. At the same time, enlightened self-interest is a powerful motivator. You will learn better, more thoroughly, by being a participant, not merely a spectator. Like helping your buddy rebuild an engine, or giving him a hand with the plumbing or a new roof (ladies supply your own examples here) you end up learning while you help.
I have recently come to believe wholeheartedly that time is currency. It’s a truism – “time is money” and all that – but I only began to feel it as a couple of things happened. One is approaching middle age – that dread half century. The other is taking up this writing/authorship biz as a genuine goal, as a desire to quit my day job, which I think all real authors share.
Instead of viewing time away from job as a time to relax and escape from the irritations and misery of life, now I regard every moment as an opportunity to write – something. This blog, or my “real” work, or doing something like editing and copyreading my friend’s works, as above – it’s all an opportunity to create and frankly, though I’ve not exactly wasted my life – I had a solid career of service in the military, I raised a family – there is a part of me that feels very much behind the curve, feels that I should have been doing this all along and wondering how much farther along as an author I would be had I started three decades and a half ago.
Not that it was wasted time even in the writing department. I did a lot – a lot! of technical writing. There are thousands if not tens of thousands of anonymous pages among the missions of government files, technical manuals, intelligence reports and so on, that are mine, but I shall never be credited for them because the government generally doesn’t give bylines, or if they do, the writers seldom get any real credit. It’s one of the dangers of being on salary – a guaranteed income seems nice but becomes a mind-numbing impediment to genuine accomplishment if one doesn’t watch out.
My friend and fellow author Vaughn Heppner once told me that the best thing about his work was it was his and his alone – well, at least 95% – as he kindly declined to collaborate, and a big part of me can understand that. It’s the desire to do something distinguished, that virtuous pride in accomplishment that drives.
So stop wasting time and write something with your name on it.