Yeah, I know. Old joke, but then old jokes come to mind when I find myself repeating old mistakes. Stale humor goes with stale habits.
Some time ago a friend asked me to comment on another story in a magazine I was also in, and I did. Regretted it immediately, and belatedly remembered why I stopped doing that. I see it as no win, at least from my own perspective. Whether I honestly like a story or not, and especially when I have a “stake” in the issue I can’t see it as anything other than 1) sucking up to my peers or 2) dissing the competition. You see the problem — I don’t trust my motives. I consider this wise, because anything I write about the issue will involve my own writerly ego, which is an extremely unreliable narrator. The ego is important and extremely useful, but move it out of its proper sphere (getting the work done, dealing with either the hostility or (worse) indifference that usually follows) and it becomes a liability. By extension and in hindsight this is why I stopped reviewing, period (though of course I never reviewed a magazine issue I was in). Now, reviewing was a useful phase and I’m glad I did it when I did. It helped me analyze my own work when I had to figure out what was wrong (or right) with a story I was reviewing. I think I was a very decent reviewer while it lasted, never pulled a punch or skimped on praise when appropriate. But then it was time to stop, and wanting more time for my own work was only part of the reason. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I was never comfortable with it and was never going to be. I will do it now and again, but only when I can’t help myself. The infrequency of reviews posted here should attest.
Oddly enough, in the context of a writer’s group I have no problem at all giving very harsh criticsm when I think it’s required. That, of course, is when the story can still be saved. Sometimes, it comes down to telling a proud parent that their baby is really, really, ugly. I have a problem with this. Other writers don’t.