Years ago a legal secretary from another state applied to work at my school. She had plenty of experience running a law office and was looking at retirement from the law office, though she wasn't ready to stop working. She'd been to Seaside and thought it would be a beautiful place to live. She had amazing qualifications. In the cover letter of her application she also noted three typos in the job posting. That posting was written by the secretary she would replace. And yes, by the very person who was screening all the applicants. The application never even found its way to the principal's desk.
There's danger in correcting someone. Even in writing. Even on the page. Even when they have deliberately asked for corrections. Even when the correction is something trivial. Maybe especially then. Writers might not want to hear about mistakes. They might get mad, or misunderstand. And even though you don't think you care all that much what they do about your suggested correction, you might get mad yourself, especially if they don't take your advice. And then again, you might be mistaken, or you might really want something entirely different from what you thought you wanted when you offered the correction.
I've edited manuscripts for a number of writer friends who cannot afford to pay someone to do it. (I once paid for editing and it was a terrible experience—when the editor and I met it was clear she hadn't read my manuscript, didn't like it or care to understand what I was trying to do, and her advice mostly consisted of trying to create a YA book out of what was meant for adult readers.) It might be easier to stomach lengthy corrections and vile comments when I don't have to pay for them, but I doubt it. I deliberately chose tough advisors in my MFA program, which I did pay for, so clearly I haven't learned that particular lesson myself.
I give pretty tough critique. I don't even try to be polite, though I am looking for the good as well as the bad. I look for the inside-out sentences, the twisty chronology, the unclear, convoluted, inept, and hopelessly awful sentences. I look for tension and beautiful language. I look for unnecessary repetitions and sentences that I have to read twice. Because those are all things I have plenty of personal experience with I can't help noticing if I'm paying attention. I look for that moment when I fall in love with a character and the moment I snap right out of love. I predict where things are going, then I am wrong and with delight I make new predictions and note all this in the margins. I look for inconsistency that makes me tap my foot and the blooming passages I wish I'd written.
Sometimes I ask people to edit my work. I know lot of the writers who are smarter and more talented than I am. It's no good trying to be polite. Just tell me.
The hardest critique I've every had came from a dear friend and very talented poet who teaches in an MFA program in another state. She didn't like the story, not the way it started or the way it ended or anything in between, not the characters, the plot, or the voice. I listened hard for something I was doing right, and there wasn't a darn thing. I was depressed for about two and a half hours and then I laughed. You know what I really wanted was for her to tell me how good the story was. And it just wasn't very good. Most of what she said was absolutely spot on, and the rest probably was right on too, but I wasn't a strong enough writer to know how to fix it. I shrugged and moved on.
So my motivations in accepting and offering advice are always suspect.
And then there is the unasked-for advice. You have to be especially careful about that, especially when you don't know who will read it. Remember the legal secretary who didn't get the job.
Typos on a website are not exactly a ringing endorsement of a literary journal, but they happen to the best of us. I've found typos in a lot of journals such Tin House and The Missouri Review, and I love those two journals. I wrote to Tin House about a typo and never heard back. In fact I never heard back about anything I sent after that. So maybe I burned my bridges there, huh?
I just found a typo on the "Submissions" page of another literary journal that I want to submit to. Usually I ignore such errors and submit elsewhere, but this time I took a chance. I sent a correction, acknowledging that maybe my correction was incorrect. I was polite, and I might hear back that they hadn't noticed and thanks. They might tell me to shove it. I'll see. Maybe I just blew any opportunity to be published, but then again, maybe the tiny error will simply go away. That would be nice.
[follow-up two days later: The little typo went away and I even received a Thank You!]
And these blog posts? Riddled with errors, which I sometimes correct as I catch them.
ABOVE: Gulls flying out front.