Reviewing friends’ work

Two friends recently asked me to look at novel manuscripts. When the electronic files popped into my mailbox, I immediately knew a few things: 1) This chance to see their new creations flattered me to no end; 2) As honored as I was, I would not be able to look at them right away, and; 3) When I did take in my friends’ carefully-crafted phrases, sentences, and pages entrusted to me, I would believe that they gave me this privilege because of my writing wisdom and experience—and would have absolutely no idea what to say.

Should I mark the margins with my comments about what I loved? Point out moments that confused me?

Would they want me to trot out the proofreading marks, dotting the page with missing-comma carrots and delete-it curlicues?

Or look at the pieces holistically, and offer comments that way?

If I go with that last idea, should I speak to the areas where I have experience—via life, my understanding of the writers’ perspectives, or my particular brand of fiction interest—or engage it simply as an innocent reader?

One did ask me to look at certain parts of the book related to a deaf character, because I have some involvement with the deaf community. The other explained that he is calling on reviewers because this is the first time he has written a major work without a workshop class to share it with. Should I stick to what they’ve asked, or decide what begs to come back to them?

I have worked through some of their words already. I found myself marking in the margins on my hard copy printouts, as if I were back in workshops. Where do I go from here?

What do you do when a writer friend or colleague asks for feedback?

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