In an attempt to break out of my “inner circle,” I decided to share a post with someone I haven’t seen since high school, when we worked on the literary magazine together. Her name is Brianna and she’s a senior now at Elon University. She’s a remarkable writer—about to publish a novel, actually—and I haven’t seen her in almost seven years.
I asked her to read “Frontier,” the post that I wrote for our three mini-essays assignment. This time, I offered specific questions that she could think about in her response.
1. What does this post make you think about?
2. Which stylistic choices do you like? Which do you dislike?
3. What could I do to make the writing more polished?
4. Was any part of the post confusing or difficult to follow?
5. What does this post tell you about me?
6. What does this post tell you about Mormons?
In return, she sent me two pages of reactions and advice. I was stunned. I had no idea she would be so thorough for this assignment, nor that her advice would be so specific and concrete. I wish I could copy and paste the whole thing onto this post, but instead I’ll point out some of the major tenets of what she said:
She appreciated specific things. In particular, she liked “moments of elegance” in my writing, especially since most of my writing is so colloquial. She pointed out lines that she was “obsessed with,” and told me how they made her feel, and what they provoked her to wonder about/ask.
She suggested that I reverse the order of the essays. I hadn’t even considered this as an option, since I had just written the essays in the order they were assigned. But Brianna made me realize that the essays do connect to each other, and thus the order that they are in is an important part of the experience reading them. The stories in them, she noted, are reverse chronological—putting them in reverse order would thus build chronologically as well as emotionally.
She noted specific technical flaws. Since writing is so personal/subjective, casual critics almost never do this. But there were verbs in my essays that were trite, stylistic choices that were confusing, and moments that could have been made more specific. Brianna noted all of them, and offered examples of how to fix them.
In short, her help was just what these essays needed. Everything really synergized for her critique of this essay: the fact that we haven’t seen each other in a while (and she doesn’t know as much about me as closer readers), my specific questions, her literary expertise, and her honesty in critiquing.