Dealing With Constructive Criticism

The Silent and Brave revision page #141

My editor has returned my manuscript to me. I am fortunate to have their help. They work for free, and they have an excellent knowledge of the English language. It is also someone close to me, which means that I may take their criticism more personally than I should. So with that double-edged sword to deal with, I think I will offer my impressions of criticism and how to manage it.

It definitely affects me. I think that I, like all writers, feel that once I have done the difficult work of setting the words down, tossed it on the desk, and said, “There it is, my masterpiece,” no one else should have any say about it. From that point of view, criticisms are slights on all of the time and energy I have invested, and my first desire is to throw them in the trash, to say they are not valid, to say that the notes and note-maker have no idea what was going through my mind when I wrote this, so how can they make any changes?

That sort of thinking is counter-productive and just wrong. At the same time, as I look through the red and blue ink spread all over my manuscript, I can’t help but notice things that I did deliberately and with much thought marked as being incorrect or in need of more work. So how to consolidate the two points of view? It all seems like so much work! (Work that I, as a genius writer, don’t feel like doing, and am somewhat insulted to even have pointed out to me.)

The first thing is to realize that my manuscript can always get better. In fact, that is why I asked for my editor’s help in the first place. Though it pains me, since I asked for the help I had better listen to what my editor has to say. I really wanted this person to read it, and I knew that I wouldn’t come away unscathed.

The second thing is to realize that there are benefits to a different perspective. When I write, I become so emotionally invested in my work that it becomes difficult to see problems with it. So I have to ask myself: what I can learn from a different set of eyes?

Here is one example: I hate the way that it is formatted. I use Pages, Apple’s excellent word processing program, but to send it to my editor I had to convert it to a PDF or a Word Document. In the process, I lost my double-spacing, all my paragraph indents, and my font size. Although it cut down on the number of pages, I don’t know how my editor even read it. With my eyes, I need a magnifying glass. This is really annoying, and I need to figure out how to fix it. If I was an agent receiving this manuscript, I wouldn’t even look at it, and that has probably happened to me already. So that’s one thing I learned, although my editor was kind enough to work through it and not even complain about it.

Another example of a way I can use that different perspective to my advantage without becoming upset is to realize that a mark made by my editor could mean that they didn’t understand what I was saying. It doesn’t always mean that it was wrong, because they are not privy to my thoughts. However, if a word or phrase was something that they didn’t understand, I should take the time to go back and further explain it, and just doing that may make my manuscript better, because then the next person who reads it won’t get stopped in the same place.

By trying to use my editor’s comments as post-its, indicating places where I can take a second look at my manuscript, I believe that I can maintain my own personality within the work, and still go through it and find spots that can use a little extra love, places that I might not be able to find on my own. That is the benefit of having an editor, and of using constructive criticism to my advantage, rather than becoming upset by it.



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