Coping with Critique and Criticism: Part 1
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
As an editor, my job is to evaluate a piece of writing (be it an essay or a full-length book) for structure, thoroughness, organization, and PUGS (punctuation, word usage, grammar, syntax). But I also have a responsibility that I take just as seriously—to guide, advise, and, in some cases, mentor a writer. That is not an obligation, it is my choice.
What I have found is that some writers accept criticism well. And some do not. This latter group makes my job harder. But it makes my responsibility painful.
Self-published Writers Bypass Editors
I’m going to let you in on a little secret; the world of professional editing is being rocked by a surge in self-edited, self-published books. On editing forums (yes, we have those) editors lament this undeniable fact: people write, self-edit, and self-publish without ever letting a professional editor lay eyes on the work. With all due respect, this has resulted in a glut of books of questionable quality available for online purchase. And Amazon, the undisputed giant of online book sales, does not care whether the books that writers self-publish are fair, good, or stink to high heaven. It’s all the same to Amazon, which makes money whether your book sells 100,000 copies or none at all.
But I’m not going to debate the Amazon model, because, let’s face it, Jeff Bezos is doing pretty well and doesn’t want my opinion.
Skipping the Editor Due to Cost
I am in several writers’ groups on Facebook. These folks, many of whom have no training or education in writing and have never published anything, are constantly debating the necessity of hiring a professional editor. My brain nearly explodes every time dozens of people chime in about how “you are perfectly capable of editing your own work.” Or this question, which is common, “I’m finished writing, but I can’t afford to hire an editor. What should I do?” This question is answered with a barrage of bad advice like “You don’t need to hire an editor. Just ask friends to be beta readers and let them catch errors.” Should I cry or punch the wall? Decisions, decisions.
Here’s where I want to go with this discussion. It’s a change in direction and I don’t want to lose you. I want to focus on the issue I alluded to at the beginning of this article: self-editing creates writers who have thin skins.
They are happy, even proud, of what they’ve written, but have never subjected their work to the scrutiny of the eyes of a trained, professional editor. I am foolish enough to try to inject reason into some of these groups by making the comment “You don’t know what you don’t know.” You know? Your ability to edit your own work is limited by your knowledge, or lack thereof, of the rules of skillful writing. You could make the same grammatical mistakes over and over and not know it. No amount of self-editing is going to fix that. And your beta readers might not know any more than you do.
It is impossible for me, personally and professionally, to understand the attitude that doing everything you can do to make your work as close to perfect as it can be is unnecessary.
If a writer can’t afford to hire a professional editor, then this might not be the right time to publish.
Shop around. Just because one editor quoted you $1000 to edit your manuscript doesn’t mean that it is a reasonable quote or your only option. Investigate. Negotiate.
Writing Cannot Improve Without Critique
So, what I’ve done here is explore the “I can do it myself” and the “I can’t afford an editor right now” excuses. But I think there might be more to it. Some writers, even those who have already self-published, have never, even once, had a professional writer or editor read their work. They are content feeling they’ve cranked out a really good book; after all, their parents and friends love it. And this absence of listening to and accepting criticism is, in the long run, a barrier to ever improving as a writer. Ever. Your writing cannot improve if you do not allow more knowledgeable eyes to review it. Learning to accept and assimilate criticism for the betterment of your writing is crucial to becoming the finest writer you can be. There is no growth without objective scrutiny.
In Part 2, I will explore the many ways a writer can find helpful free writing critique. Learn from others and thicken your skin.