Hello. I’ve read the pages you sent me. I know all of your hopes and dreams are riding on this, so I’ll get right to it.

Here’s how this is going to go down. I will start and end this interaction by smothering you with hyperbolic praise. I will stroke that ego until you are so lubricated that you could effortlessly slide through the ductwork to escape the building. By the time this is over, you’ll certainly want to try.

I will bury my actual feedback between these stroke sessions. It will be a long and meandering walk to get there, and I’m counting on leaving you too confused to be mad at me when I rip you to shreds. I call this strategy the “Compliment Dog Pill.” It’s never been done before, and you won’t instantly recognize it as a manipulation tactic. I will present to you what looks like a tasty cheese snack of compliments that you will lap out of my hand like the simple, idiot dog I think you are. Embedded within this kindness cheese is the bitter pill of harsh criticism and crushed dreams. But by the time your tongue detects the unsavory deception, I’ll already have my knee on your chest and my hands around your snout to force it down your gullet.

Perhaps “Compliment Dog Pill” isn’t the best metaphor. Maybe I should call it the “Compliment Sofa” because I cushion the writing feedback between two soft throw pillows of disingenuous accolades. Between the cushions is devastating criticism, all the dirt and hair and loose change—wait, is that coin an Italian lira? Those don’t even exist anymore. How long has it been since this sofa was cleaned? You’ve probably noticed I still haven’t given you any writing feedback. In all this time that I’ve been going on and on, your heart rate has increased, tiny beads of sweat have formed on your temples, and your hands are beginning to shake. Your body is having an adrenaline response because you’ve got a lot riding on this piece. The anticipation is dreadful, isn’t it?

Okay, I should get started. First, let me say that you are a genius. Absolutely brilliant. Your future is blindingly bright. Remember in chemistry class when they burned magnesium and told you not to stare directly at it? But one kid did anyway, and for the rest of the year everyone called him “Perma-squint Kent”? You are the burning magnesium, and the rest of us are Kent’s scorched retinas. You are so good at writing that I worry about you rising above me. Of course, I don’t actually mean that because if I weren’t already a much better writer than you, I wouldn’t be in the position to feed you this dog pill.

You’re lulled, aren’t you? Like the silver argiope spider, I have spun an elaborate, distracting web to lure you in before I plunge my fangs directly into your sense of self-worth and completely exsanguinate every delicious, iron-rich ounce of your ambition. In nature, it’s called aggressive mimicry, and I read about it on Wikipedia. You can really get sucked into a time vortex clicking around on that site. Scientology is wild! What do you think happened to Shelly Miscavige? She’s probably in the same place as my feedback on your work. Good luck finding her or it. I bet you are totally freaking out by now.

Okay. Your writing. It is almost there. Just a few extremely minor tweaks, and it is going to transform the way we think about everything. Everything about it is perfect except for the genre, format, voice, concept, and execution.

Why this story? Why now? Why ever? This piece is trying to do too many things and succeeding at none of them. Was it supposed to be funny? Try adding some jokes. Was it meant to be serious? Well, I laughed. Great writing should punch up, not down. This doesn’t punch at all. It half-heartedly mud-wrestles a toothless crocodile and the stakes have never been lower.

I think you’re too close to the work. I see a lot of you in here. So for your next iteration, try writing it like you are someone who is better than you at writing things.

Honestly, great job. Really. I’m constantly in awe of your immense talent and craftsmanship. I bet if we reanimated the dusty old corpse of Fyodor Dostoevsky and he read your work, he’d be like, “Wow. People called me the master of the human condition. Please kill me and send me back, because seeing how short I fall in comparison to such profound skill is the real Hell.”

But seriously, if you get those revisions to me by the end of the week, I’d be happy to take another look!