You can listen to Judith Ortiz Cofer as she introduces the activity.
Listen to the audio.
"How does peer editing work with creative writing? The way I run my workshops is that everyone has to learn to be an editor. They have to agree to this even before they take the workshop. Everyone is required to produce their manuscripts one . . . at least one week ahead of their scheduled workshop and then they put them. . . a copy in everyone else's files, and everyone reads the manuscript and critiques it in writing. And then, on the day of the workshop, the author reads the manuscript and the rest of the class critiques orally also.
"And so the rules of the workshop is that they have to learn the vocabulary of the editor and they have to become familiar enough so that the comments are not general or destructive, like 'This doesn't work,' 'It really stinks,' or whatever, none of that. It has to be. 'This sentence doesn't quite work for me.' 'I believe that we should examine the syntax.' Of course, I'm not going to get them to talk like that, but something close, and to offer positive suggestions.
"The other way that it works is really valuable, and I tell them that it's a privilege to have a board of editors that are looking at your manuscript. You not only get fifteen other, you know, responses to their work but a lot of inaccuracies-historical, geographical, and otherwise-come up. And young writers will sometimes think that it doesn't matter. 'I'm writing fiction. I can just invent, you know, a season for this fruit, or I can just, you know, put a building in Baltimore that, you know, doesn't belong there,' And I have to go with . . . into the explanation of that part of suspending your disbelief and reading is being able to trust the writer not to be fooling you.
"And so, yes, you can put a building that doesn't exist in Baltimore, but there have to be many other buildings that do exist so that you do believe it, so you still have to learn Baltimore. If you're setting a story or poem on the day that President Kennedy was killed, you can't invent the historical events that were happening. What can you invent if you're setting a poem or a story on any historical day? Well, the emotions, you can invent the characters' emotions. You can create a character very unlike yourself and have him go through the motions on that day.
"I have a story um, called 'American History' that's often anthologized and most people think that I'm the character in it. It's a girl who happens to have a crush on . . . a Puerto Rican girl who has a crush on an American boy, and the President gets shot but she's not thinking about that. She's in love. And so, the point of the story is that even great tragedies are in the background of human events, and I wanted it to be totally believable. But I was only ten that year and the girl is fifteen. That doesn't matter. I still have to research it. And I thought I had done a good job. And I am going to read you just the last paragraph where the girl has been through a terrible day, a broken-hearted . . ., and she is about to call it a day."