It’s never a good idea to critique a story at 12:30 am when you’ve got a frozen shoulder from being on the computer too long and you’re exhausted and downright cranky.

Increasingly I have been getting pleas for help from aspiring authors and darn it, I can still remember what it felt like to be struggling so hard that I have a very hard time ignoring them.

Most of the people who send me inquiries are, quite frankly, hopeless.

They seem to think writing is ‘easy peasy, might as well try it, so and so made it big, what do they have that I don’t’?

They don’t want to learn HOW to write. They don’t want to do the WORK! They want me to hold their hand, take them under my wing and introduce them to my agent and all the right people–as if that’s all it takes.

They don’t realize that even if you were introduced to the top people in the field, if you haven’t learned your craft, if you haven’t striven to excel in making great art, then knowing the right people just doesn’t matter!

I’ve developed a standard email reply for the most part. I send these people to my articles on my website–which I wrote precisely for the purpose of helping new writers get published (which of course they didn’t bother to read!)–and I direct them to my links section on my website–which has all kinds of useful information, more than enough in fact, to get them started!

But every once in a while I get a passionate email from someone who seems a little more serious.

And I sit up and take notice.

I received an email from a lady who sounded pretty desperate. And something about her email made me respond out of the norm. I gave her some encouragement and then went on with my life.

Then a few nights ago she emailed me again and yikes! included a nine-page story she wanted me to critique.

You don’t do that.

Every writer I know is a very busy person, mostly just trying to survive! Writing the best they can, dealing with editors, publishers, teachers, educators, agents and media inquiries and yes…many many emails from aspiring writers!

My first instinct was to tell her I was sorry but I didn’t have time to critique her story, she should join a writer’s course where she’d get the proper attention for it. (I’ve done that plenty of times! And I’ll do it plenty of more times.) But then I read down the email and saw her original query and my first reply and I remembered who she was and how I’d sat up and taken notice.

I thought, hey, maybe she really isn’t so bad. I did see ‘something’ in her.

But then I read the story.

Oh boy.

It was a parable.

About a time when all the light was gone and there was nothing on the horizon except a territorial BLUE guy, who meets up with a RED guy and then a whirling YELLOW guy shows up too.

Get where this is going?

Yup, the solution eventually involves some ‘merging’.

She’d been to some kind of creative conference too where folks had loved it and (GAK!) thought it was a children’s book!

I actually think that the best parables are from God. Most people should not attempt to write a parable. They’ll come out hopelessly hokey.

That said, when I was first starting out and didn’t know any better, I wrote a parable or two as well. (I’ve learned since then.)

Like I said before, 12:30 am when you’re shoulder is extremely sore and frozen and you’re exhausted isn’t a good time to read a crappy parable where a Blue man, Red man and Yellow man are ‘merging’ for the sake of some sort of peace.

And the worst thing was this lady had taken a page and a half of rambling to get to the beginning of her story. Somewhere on page two she even says, ‘and now the story really begins’.

I think that was the kicker.

She asked me for honest feedback, so I gave it to her! Without any tact or gentleness or diplomacy whatsoever! I lashed her–hurricane force!

Telling her that for goodness sakes she couldn’t take a page and a half to start her story, people had lives to live and ended by telling her that Blue, Red and Yellow  men ‘merging’ into each other was frankly homoerotic and changing them to male and females was no better because it was still WEIRD creepy and as a metaphor it just didn’t work.

At the end I told her to take some writing courses, where she would find a teacher who had the time and incentive to be gentle and nurturing.

I also told her that although I didn’t mince any words, I wasn’t trying to be deliberately mean. I really did believe all the things I said, and to take it as my opinion alone which she was free to disregard.

And I told her not to send me any more stories.

And frankly I thought she’d just curse me and bad mouth me to anyone she could find as being some kind of diva who didn’t take the time to help people.

Surprise, surprise…

She responded back and actually THANKED me for the honesty of my feedback!

Do you know how rare that is???

I’ve had professionals in the business, librarians and what not, email me for critiques(you don’t want to piss off librarians!) and then when I took valuable time out of my own schedule to respond with a detailed and DIPLOMATIC critique, they were so MIFFED they didn’t even acknowledge that they’d received my comments!

And here’s this newbie who has the presence of mind to realize what a GIFT I had given her with my honest feedback. She even said as much!

She went on to say that when the people at the conference had praised her story she’d felt uneasy about it, feeling as though they were trying to feed her a sandwich filled with *ahem* excrement (although she used the four-letter word term instead–which I thought was hilarious–it’s just so visual) and she had appealed to me because even though we’d had such a brief email encounter she thought I’d be honest.

And she said she’d laughed out loud at the idea that the imagery of her parable was homoerotic, saying in her naivete it had never occurred to her.

And she graciously apologized for the imposition of sending me her story without a tacit invitation from me to do so.

And you know what?

Just from her reaction I’m more convinced than ever that she has a future in publishing! And I told her so.

People think talent is the most important thing when becoming a writer.


I’ve seen scads and scads of people who were VERY talented, MORE talented than I ever was, fall by the WAYSIDE. Never ever make it as authors in this field! All because they COULDN’T TAKE CRITICISM!

And honestly when I finished writing my scathing indictment of her parable, I hesitated before clicking on the send button. I thought to myself, “What if I ‘crush’ her spirit?” “What if I destroy her hope?”

But then I answered my own question with the reply, “If this crushes her, she’ll never make it anyway.” And it might even do her some good. It might even make her mad enough to say, “Oh yeah?! I’ll show her!”

Like when I was kicked out of that writing group I’d paid to join because the teacher basically said I was ‘hopeless’.

But I never expected her to have the presence of mind to actually APPRECIATE my feedback under these circumstances!

And she said that she hadn’t taken my criticism personally because I wasn’t critiquing her as a person, I was critiquing her work and she WASN’T MARRIED TO HER WORK. Her identity was INDEPENDENT of her work.


That’s EXACTLY how you have to look at it if you want to make this your profession.

That speaks volumes!

Jerry Seinfeld said something like there’s no point mentoring people. They’ll either get it or they won’t.

For years I would ‘cheerlead’ other people, encourage them, tell them, “You can do it!”

It was exhausting!

These were people who were hugely talented. Who I looked up to!

And when they fizzled and went back to nondescript lives in insurance or banking, I felt it was a real loss to the world of children’s literature.

And I even questioned myself, thinking who was I to forge ahead doggedly when these better writers fell away?

I don’t think that any more.

Writing is SO much about perseverence!

And it’s about loving it enough to really work your very best, give every ounce of creativity you have to pull out something wonderful! Something that will hopefully enrich the world. Something that people will think to themselves, “My life is better because I read that.”

I know that may sound lofty and pompous, but hey, these are just my personal goals.

And what else they say is if you reach for the stars you still might get as far as the moon, or something like that.

Anyway, I wish her the best of luck, and I really did mean it when I told her that I’ll be looking for her name in published works in the future because I really do think she has the potential to make it, and I’m rooting for her!