Accepting Criticism

Happy Friday, everyone!

Things are getting back to normal of a sort in my household, and we’re preparing to have the pseudo-housewarming we never had now that there are bold new colors on the walls and our eclectic furnishings are front and center. Being the homebodies that we are, and relatively ‘house-proud’, we’re also preparing for these things to not be to everyone’s taste. That’s why I wanted to take today to talk about criticism – namely how to be better at accepting it, and when to politely pay it no mind.

You might tell yourself that there’s no point in contracting an editor if you’re not comfortable with accepting criticism. Often, though, we may think we’re good at it but when it’s staring us in the face, it becomes a little more difficult. Naturally one would hope that any editor worth their salt – particularly with a client they’ve never worked with before – would provide constructive and courteous commentary rather than the clinical, bleeding-red ‘hacking and slashing’ reminiscent of a worn-down schoolteacher from our childhood. There’s a time and a place for the clinical, mind you, but ideally there should be a balance – ‘criticism’, after all, means both the good and the bad. So what do you do with criticism that appears a little harsh? What if it’s your first time getting something back from an editor and now you’re regretting it?

  • The first phase is context: remember that the vast majority of editors have your best interests at heart, and want your document to be the best it can be. Egos and personal tastes shouldn’t be part of this. Also, consider what type of editor you’re working with – a proofreader should not be expected to provide the level of commentary of a development editor, for example (with vice versa being true, too).
  • The second phase is to evaluate the document holistically for understanding:
  1. Read through all the comments, and the material to which they pertain. Refrain from judgment at this point, but get as happy or angry as you want! If you have to respond to your editor at this point, a simple “Thank you for sending this, I’ll be looking through your suggestions in the next couple of days.” will suffice.
  2. Once done, put the document away. Don’t make any changes yet! Just as writing and editing require specific conditions in order to be effective, reviewing suggestions and making changes of your own need the same kind of clear headspace.
  3. When you’re calmer and ready, look through the suggestions again. At this point, if you have any questions about anything your editor has written, ask! Keep your questions centered on clarity rather than vague, subjective topics such as “Why didn’t you like this?”.
  4. Tackle the small, black or white things first – typos, grammar, formatting, etc – so that not only do you get used to looking at the criticism, but you get the clutter out of the way so you can focus on the big, maybe gray things. You can have a separate session for the little black or white things and the big gray things, if it makes it easier! Don’t feel like you have to tackle everything all at once.
  5. Save your edited document under a separate file name, so that if you need to compare or revoke changes later, you can.
  • The third phase is to evaluate yourself, and which pieces of criticism may still bother you:
  1. Read through the document again. Make notes on what suggestions you don’t agree with.
  2. Ask yourself why you don’t agree with them, and be honest – is it because it just gave you a whole lot more work to do? Was it something you didn’t want to hear, or were you expecting more flattery than you got? Has it meant that you have to completely rework something you loved? If the answer to any of those was ‘yes’ – don’t worry! These are fair, if tough, criticisms. There are solutions to all of them! Make a note and put it aside. You don’t have to tackle it right away.
  3. If a suggestion bothers you and it doesn’t feel like it’s a fair criticism, seek a second opinion – a friend, another editor, a stranger. They can help you determine if it fits into the ‘fair’ category above, or the ‘unfair’ category. If it’s the latter…
  4. If, objectively, both you and your second opinion feel that a suggestion is unnecessarily harsh, unrelated, or plain doesn’t make sense – bring it up as calmly as you can with your editor! Mature, constructive conversations may resolve the suggestion entirely, or provide further elaboration to make it fairer and worth working on.

It takes practice. Another important thing to remember is that once you and your editor form a relationship, this process becomes far easier: you both begin to understand how the other works and thinks, and lines of communication are more open. Your editor does not exist to merely give you compliments; however, if after a couple of sessions the relationship does not seem to be improving (and be honest with yourself – is it you or is it them?), or isn’t constructive at all, this may be a sign that you need to find a different editor.

And lastly, remember you can always ask me if you have questions! Have a great and productive weekend!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

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