Critique and Criticism: Part 2
Updated: Apr 3
In Critique and Criticism: Part 1, I revealed the painful truth—many self-published writers also self-edit. And self-editing has distinct limitations.
My greatest concern about this self-editing trend is not that editors like me won’t have any work before too long. Editing professionals will always be a hot commodity. Instead, my fear is that self-editing is creating a plethora of so-called published authors who have never subjected their writing to the scrutiny of a professional editor. And, should the time come that they are asked to do so by a publisher or editor-in-chief, they aren’t going to handle it well.
There are two ways to toughen your writer’s skin: one is by hiring an editor like me (please, do), but another way to learn to receive criticism well is by joining a writing group whose purpose is to offer critique to one another.
Fun fact: Someone who critiques the writing of another is referred to as a critter or crit. Yeah. Really.
So, if you are reading this and you have never had your writing critiqued, I would like to offer some guidelines, dare I say rules of conduct, to make the experience productive and relatively painless.
How to Receive Critique in Groups
If you have been writing and self-editing for a long time, accepting criticism of your writing can be tough. Remember this—it is the work that is being critiqued, not you. You must separate yourself from the work. Some will find this challenging, especially if they have been told for years by family and friends that they are great writers.
It’s hard to not take criticism personally. Let’s examine how to do it gracefully.
If you show up to a group meeting expecting to hear applause and accolades for your work, you might be in for an embarrassing disappointment. The time has come to let your work experience scrutiny. By learning to differentiate helpful criticism from nonsense, you will grow as a writer. But you must be willing to let others put your work under their microscopes.
Prepare yourself for negative comments. Think through how to receive less-than-stellar remarks about your writing. Remember, it is not about you, it’s about your work. Critique groups will always have their fair share of jerks who see only what they don’t like. Don’t fall into their trap.
Don’t get angry or defensive, which is easier said than done. Remember, these are just the critters’ opinions. Take them for what they’re worth to you. More often than not, you will hear comments that are valid and helpful. Don’t let the sound of negativity drown out constructive criticism.
You do not have to accept every piece of advice or make every suggested change. Your work will always be your work. If criticism seems to lean toward altering your tone and a bulk of your wording, you might be at risk for losing your writer’s voice. Accept the remarks politely and move on.
How to Work With an Editor
Since I am an editor, I assure you that all editors are perfect and they never say or do anything that is inappropriate, in error, or hurtful. And pigs can fly.
The fact is, editors are human. We are as flawed as any other human. Some are OK, some great, and some stink.
As with accepting criticism from a group, be open-minded when working with an editor and acknowledge that you might actually have something to learn. A good editor is a partner in the creation of your work.
What should you expect from an editor? Here are general guidelines. Follow them if you are asked to be a critter of the work of another writer. Treat other writers as you wish to be treated.
If a passage doesn’t make sense to an editor, he or she should talk with the writer about it. Clarification stops the editor from spending time reworking a passage while guessing what the writer meant.
The editor’s critique should be worded in a constructive—not accusatory—manner.
An editor’s comments should never personally attack the writer, never belittle, and never, ever take an adversarial position.
An editor should not indiscriminately rewrite large chunks of material. An editor who takes it upon him- or herself to do major rewrites has wandered from editing into ghostwriting. Do not let an overly zealous editor steal your voice.
Speaking for myself, as I said in my second blog article in May 2018, I ask that you receive my comments and suggestions in the spirit of fostering teamwork and allow my editing skills to complement your writing skills. Trust is a requirement of the editor-author relationship. You must trust that I want your work to be of outstanding quality and I will perform my services in your best interests.
I’ll end by quoting the wildly successful author George R. R. Martin, who said this when he was addressing an audience at CoastCon II in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1979:
A good editor tries to figure out what the writer was trying to do, and helps him or her do it better, rather than trying to change them into something else entirely. A good editor doesn’t insist or make changes without permission. Ultimately, a writer lives or dies by his words, and he must always have the last word if his work is to retain its integrity.