Having worked as a teacher of writing for four years now, and having studied it for four years of college, I’ve decided I can make a broad statement on the sharing of one’s writing.

It’s tough.

There are a few possible outcomes when we hand our writing to another person, expecting feedback.  I’ll detail three of them.

1.) The “Please sir, can I have some more?”

When I was in 3rd or 4th grade I went through a phase during which I was obsessed with sea dragons, which are basically like sea horses but a little less feminine. I wrote a story about a family of sea dragons, centered around a main character named Flip.  I wrote three short chapters and gave them to my parents to read.  They were excited that I cared enough to dedicate my 11-year-old self to writing about anything, even sea dragons, and my dad was so proud that he sent my chapters via email to his mom.  My grandmother read those chapters with a red pen in hand, and at Christmas time she went over them with me and bubbled over with praise and advice, asking if I planned to write more about Flip.

I never wrote another word about him.

Today, ten years later, it’s hard to say if I dropped the sea dragon saga just out of a childish lack of attention span, or if it was because the added pressure of an expectant reader was just too much to handle.  What I do know is that it was a long time before I shared any writing with my grandmother again.

2.) The “Awesome”

This is what we need most when our confidence in our writing is at its lowest.  When we need a boost to keep our faith in writing, we just need someone to tell us that our writing is great, even if it’s not.  That’s where the “awesome, but…” comes in.

3.) The “Awesome, but…”

When I first started dating my girlfriend Melanie, we would send our schoolwork writing to each other every once in a while.  We said it was for edits, but every time I sent her anything to read, she just read it and said how great it was.  I know that not all of it was great.  In fact very little of it was better than passable, but she would send me back loads of praise.  It was definitely a confidence boost for me.

I, on the other hand, would spend time trying to come up with helpful advice for her, even though she’s a great writer and her essays were often near perfect.  I would find the places where even the slightest improvement could be made, and I’d spend an hour trying to explain how to change the writing.

It was stupid.

She was sending me these pieces of writing late at night, often the night before they were due.  She also lacked confidence in her writing, despite how good it was.  What she needed from me wasn’t picky line editing—she needed reassurance from someone she trusted that her writing was good.  Instead I was tearing it apart.  It’s probably a fireable offense in the dating world.

Since I’ve started working as a writing coach for high school and college students in Boston, I’ve learned how valuable a little bit of praise can be, especially for a writer lacking confidence, and I make sure to point out strengths in a student’s writing every chance I get.  Sometimes the best edit we can give a fellow writer is a short, honest assessment of what’s great, and leave it at that.  I only wish I’d realized this obvious truth a year or two earlier, so I might have avoided putting so much stress on such a beautiful girl.