Lucy, our four-year-old, is endeavoring to teach her two-year-old sister Zoe to “talk right.” The results are pretty humorous:
Zoe: (looking at the green monster “Mike Wazowski” in a Monsters Incorporated picture book) This Mike Asky-Asky.
Lucy: No, Zoe. That's Mike Tchaikovsky.
Zoe: Hi, Annie-Ann!
Lucy: No, say Raggy Ann. Like this: Rag.
Lucy: See, Raggy Ann!
Mama: Actually, Lucy, her name is Raggedy Ann.
Lucy: What? Is that her name in the book?
Lucy: (annoyed) Well, we're calling her Raggy Ann, cuz that other name is too hard to say.
I laughed (afterward, in private).
But then I had to consider: how often do I do the same thing? I've probably given my children the wrong answer a few times (my explanation of the wind, for example, was severely lacking—thank goodness their Papa is more scientifically-minded than I...), and they haven't even started in on the really tricky questions.
And as a writer, I know I've felt just like Lucy must have: I had all the answers—about somebody else's writing. Maybe I couldn't do it myself—but I could tell someone else where they had messed up. I know now, that in some of the early critiques I gave, I was over-eager to come up with a solution for every problem. I cringe to think how many times this may have confused or misled rather than helped.
Nowadays, I try to be very careful and very thoughtful. I do point out problems, but I'm reluctant to suggest solutions unless I'm very sure of them—and if I feel they fit with the author's intention for their story.
And I'm very grateful for my wonderful critique partners, who have always helped me this way, and who helped me learn through their example how to assist them.
Of course, sometimes things seem like obvious problems that need to be fixed, and even they are actually perfect little moments of the voice that brings the story to life. Which is why I'm off to play with Mike Tchaikovsky and Raggy Ann now.