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

Painting and the Editing Process

Happy Easter Weekend, everyone!

I have to apologize for missing our date these past couple of Fridays. Truth be told, we’re in the home stretches of renovating our house following a flood last year and we’ve been feeling antsy to get it all over and done with, so forgive me if these posts are a little light. Most of my role lately has been painting, and this past week’s project has been painting the insides of our kitchen cabinets in particular. It’s been tedious, but worth it; that sentiment and the way our cabinets now seem illuminated from within got me thinking about the editorial process.

Those of you that have worked with me before may be familiar with my advice that rarely does a single round of editing get a text polished to perfection. I’ll frequently recommend at least two rounds:

  1. The first catches all the small and distracting errors such as spelling, grammar, and consistency (a proofread, basically); once those are resolved…
  2. The second round is able to delve deeper and catch flaws of ideas, character, pacing, and so on.

It’s similar to painting these cabinets of mine – on the untreated, raw draft of the wood, a single once-over with the brush does very little. By the second go-round, things are looking a lot better, but on a few I’ve needed a third or even fourth coat before they’re the best they can be. I use a fatter, broader brush – a wider-toothed comb, if you will – to do the bulk of the work, and then go back with the thinner detail brush – the fine-tooted comb – to get those hard-to-spot places and the edges. I’ll do this as much as I need to until it’s polished.

I’m sharing this because it’s useful for you to know that your editor has a variety of mental tools or modes in which they work to get your project on track. While there are those of us that may employ several of these all in one sitting, it’s best to prepare for the possibility that more than one session may be necessary in order for you to get a thorough service, particularly on longer projects.

It is of course possible that a single round of a broader brush does the trick, just as it’s possible to receive a manuscript that – on the surface at least – doesn’t need touching at all. While I firmly believe “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I also believe as a writer that an editor’s job is not just to catch that single typo in seventy pages, but to illuminate the project from within by making suggestions that can improve its overall caliber. In other words, there wasn’t exactly anything wrong with my unpainted cabinet interiors, but don’t they look so much more professional, so much brighter, now that they’re painted? Instead of focusing on the sub-par things, I can focus on the contents. Likewise would I feel negligent in keeping silent on conceptual, creative, or theoretical flaws or gaps that, when addressed, could bring a project from ‘Good’ to ‘Insightful and Engaging’.

It’s not complicated. Tedious, sometimes, but worth it. And we editors and cabinet-painters alike wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

When Editing is Bad

Happy Friday, everyone!

As all you poets are no doubt aware, tomorrow begins 2017’s Poem-a-Day April! As it says on the box, the goal is to write a poem a day for the entirety of April, which  – even as a poet who’s semi-successfully managed it a couple of times – I have to admit is pretty daunting. Not only am I writing this in solidarity and as a salute, but also as a chance to point out when editing can sometimes be a hindrance.

If you’re not a perfectionist, in a way I envy you. The fact of the matter is that sometimes – no matter what you’re writing – you can become preoccupied with making your first draft perfect on the first try. This can lead to a lot of false starts, over-writing, a sudden block partway through, or worse – never starting. If this happens enough it can even have longer-lasting effects on your overall confidence. All of these are killer if you have deadlines of any kind.

So say it with me: “It’s okay if it’s not perfect on the first try. Or the second, or the third, or…”

Say this, too: “What matters is that there’s something on the page. I can work with that ‘something’. I can’t work with ‘nothing’.”

Always keep those two things in mind, because I promise, you will get stuck otherwise. It happens to folks who have just started writing, and to folks who have been writing professionally their whole lives. You will get stuck on worrying whether you’ve got the right word, that you’ll forget all the others you were going to write after it. You’ll take a break to figure out the right metaphor or a good name, and you’ll get distracted for the next two days. You’ll pause to fact-check and end up down the rabbit-hole of the Internet.

Here are a few tactics to help you curb the tendency to become distracted by editing:

  1. Know there’s something you’re going to have to go back and change or check? Put in a placeholder or highlight it. One method I’ve heard of is the ‘ELEPHANT’ method, where if you can’t think of a word right then and there, just type ‘ELEPHANT’ and keep going – when you’re done drafting, you can search for all instances of ‘ELEPHANT’ and replace them when your mind is clearer. This helps you keep your flow.
  2. Set realistic deadlines if they help you, or remove them if they don’t. If you do choose to have deadlines, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet them. For example, you can start with something small like ‘write a poem before you have your second cup of coffee’ – it’s a deadline with a built-in reward. The idea is that when your brain grows accustomed to achieving small goals, it’s in a better position to achieve slightly larger goals, and so on.
  3. A friend of mine hand-writes her work and covers her prior lines with a sheet of paper to stop herself looking back and thus getting distracted by editing. You can feasibly do this with window-resizing on a computer, too.
  4. Devote specific times to writing, and specific times to editing, e.g. – ‘during the week I’ll write, but Saturdays I’ll edit’, or ‘I’m not going to look at these poems again until May, when Poem-a-Day April is over’. Knowing you’ve allotted time in advance can help put your mind at ease, as it’s no longer worried about missing the opportunity and feels bolstered by your organization skills.
  5. Remind yourself that beyond a simple spelling/grammar check, you can always leave the editing to – guess who! – your editor. That’s why this tag-team exists in the first place! Knowing someone else has your back can be instrumental to your process.

Although editing is still part of the creative process – and some would argue that it’s the most rewarding part – they are different modes of thinking and sometimes jostle for elbow room, to the detriment of each other. The fact remains that you cannot edit what isn’t there, therefore you should prioritize creation in the initial stages.

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered? Any other tactics for overcoming them that you’ve found useful?

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

P.S. – Good luck, poets! I’ll be writing alongside you this season.

Apples to Oranges – a Glossary

Happy Friday, everyone!

Like with any profession, you soon discover that there’s more to it than meets the eye. Editing is no different. As you grow more familiar with using an editor you will likely notice that not all editing is the same – nor is it charged at the same rate. To help you come to grips with the types of editing that are out there and which will best suit your needs, read on!

The following are listed in approximate order of the editor’s level of involvement with re-writing the text in any way, from the shallow end to the deep end. It’s not all the types that are out there, but the most common. Note that sometimes these definitions will vary depending on who you talk to and the level of expertise required by the text, and sometimes the terms may be used interchangeably. Additionally, each type of editing has optimum points at which it should occur in the process. Always remember to ask your editor what you’re getting.

Manuscript evaluation – while not an editorial service, strictly-speaking, it’s worth mentioning because you may encounter it and it may be all you need. A manuscript evaluator will provide a read-through of your text and then provide you with an in-depth critique (what’s working and what isn’t, and how it can be improved); they do not, however, go into depth or make marks on your text. Those spelling errors will stay where they are.

Proofreading – the most basic of editorial services, and probably the one you’ve heard in everyday use. Many folks think that this goes into more depth than it actually does. Proofreading will check your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other little things like format and any style issues (did you use a different font size accidentally, for example). Sometimes a proofreader will also do small edits for clarity or concision, but nothing beyond that.

Copyediting – the most commonly-used phrase to describe editing of any nature, and as such please be cautious. Some folks use it to describe what is actually proofreading or what is actually developmental editing, but the reality is that it’s somewhere in between. You’ll get a good proofread, but a copyeditor will also look at overall manuscript flow, consistency, and other broader issues. They may also do some fact-checking, though you should probably look for an editor who specializes in this aspect.

Line-editing – it’s common see this term used interchangeably with developmental editing. However, it can also denote a creative copyeditor, in the sense that while a copyeditor will look for technical errors, a line-editor will look for creative flaws or weaknesses such as pacing, strength of imagery, or voice-appropriateness. As you may have guessed, they go line-by-line (which isn’t to say that other types of editors do not). You’ll often see line-editing in conjunction with fiction.

Developmental Editing – as the name suggests, very in-depth editing. Developmental editors may work with a text that’s already finished, but it’s more common to find that they are there from the start of the text and help the writer see it through to fruition. They specialize in significant textual overhauls – structure shifts, reorganization of ideas, and other in-depth editing that takes place alongside codyediting/proofreading (though a second editor may be involved afterward to do this). However, if the developmental editor has to do any significant amount of writing they then tread into the territory of ghostwriting. You’ll often see developmental editing in conjunction with non-fiction, particularly academia.

Notice that the majority of these involve the editor working with texts that have already been created. Generally-speaking, if you’re looking for someone to help you create the text initially or completely rewrite it for you for one reason or another, the terms you’re going to encounter will likely have the word ‘writing’ or ‘writer’ in there somewhere. That’s a discussion for another day.

Once you know what you want, it’s easier to find it and ask for it. I hope this helps! Remember, you can always ask me if you’re uncertain.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

 

Auto-Checkers versus an Editor

Happy Friday, everyone!

I’ve been giving some thought to a common habit that others have pointed out to me: a reliance on automatic editing software, such as Word or GoogleDocs’ spellchecker,  or sites like Grammarly.

I should preface this by saying that I’m in no way condemning their use – that would be purposelessly elitist – and in fact, it’s remarkable what they can catch and they grow in sophistication as time goes on. They’re built on algorithms designed to catch specific errors in spelling, grammar, format, and – lately – concision and other weaknesses, and other software out there can, additionally, check for plagiarism and citation issues. Often, they’ll even correct the error for you without you having to break your flow, and many sites now have even a basic version built-in. It’s great to not have to know the spelling of every single word you’ll potentially use, and for those of us who are creative writers, the ability to add our own unique spellings to a personalized dictionary is a godsend.

“So Taegan, why can’t I just use Grammarly and be done with it?”

“What’s wrong with Word’s spellchecker?”

Well, until we reach the singularity, the fact is that auto-checkers will not catch everything. All algorithms have their limits, and are only as strong – and flexible – as we create them to be. For example, a sentence can read as correct to the auto-checker but does, in fact, contain an error, even if that error is no more than a poor stylistic choice. Here’s an easy one – ‘I had too coffees today.’ – where the ‘too/two’ (homophone) mix-up is obvious to us, but neither WordPress, Google Docs, nor Word picked up on it. Also consider how strange the following looks: ‘the Weather today Is beautiful.’ Not marked as incorrect, but it sure looks untidy to you and I.

The level of sophistication required to learn and check all the nuances of the written word equivalent to the human brain and eye requires more memory and programmer-power than most software can realistically maintain for the average consumer; frankly, for most of us we only need a limited percentage of the auto-checker’s power. That’s one part of it.

However, there’s a second, less obvious reason: it’s a great way to exercise your brain! The more practice you get with reading over your own work and recognizing your pet problems (and pet words), the better you’ll be at catching them. It’s always nice to learn more, isn’t it? Of course, not everyone has the time to do that. That’s where your editor comes in – your second pair of eyes. By all means run an auto-checker of your choice (please do – it’ll save your editor a headache!), but don’t necessarily trust it with your life or your promotion. They’re no match for a well-trained human.

Food for thought on a beautiful start to what’s hopefully going to be a beautiful, productive weekend. Enjoy it, everyone!

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan

PS – My plan is to post on Fridays, to give you things to think about and work on over the weekend. Let me know how it works for you!

The People Everyone Should Know

Have you ever heard the old saying that everyone should know a policeman, a doctor or nurse, a lawyer, a mechanic, and an accountant? It’s good advice. There’s been variants over the years – some would include a tailor or a plumber, for example, and nowadays it’s handy to know a photographer or someone in IT – but I’ve never seen a list that includes a writer or, more importantly, an editor. It’s a shame.

I can see a couple of arguments for why one would think it’s not important.

The first argument stems from a perhaps not unfounded overconfidence that I, too, am guilty of: “I’m really good at English. I don’t need anyone to look over it for me.”. It’s one of my favorites. True, you may have a high proficiency in the written word, but we all make mistakes and mistakes are not confined to spelling or grammar. Having a second pair of eyes can catch something that you missed because you’ve been staring at it too long, or offer a different perspective. Even if no errors are caught, it does wonders for your peace of mind.

The second is more of an oversight – “Come on, Taegan, why would you need an editor if you’re not a writer?” – a misconception of what an editor is and who they work for. When we hear the term ‘editor’, unsurprisingly it conjures images of a bespectacled individual hunched over stacks of loose-leaf manuscripts with a pencil, or a title given to someone tasked with collecting articles or photographs or short writings into periodicals or anthologies. These people work with Authors. These people are Very Busy (read: inaccessible) and only take on Serious Work.

The funny thing is, everyone is a writer, and all writing is serious if you want it to be. And you should want it to be. This is particularly true now that technology has become deeply-rooted in our lives and pushed for greater communication skills (you may have heard the term ‘soft skills’, too). If you are involved in the job market to any degree whatsoever, at some point you will be writing something, be it your personal resume and cover letter to a new job, or website copy for your business or blog. This doesn’t even touch on folks like me who – *shudder* – write for a hobby or a living.

Think, instead, of an editor as ‘a second pair of eyes’ – a second pair of very good, trained eyes who aren’t going to mince words, because they want your work to be the best it can be. They’re not just once-in-a-lifetime contractors, either. Having a good editor on your side is the same as knowing a good mechanic – it’s just a different type of tinkering. And just as you take your vehicle in regularly for maintenance or yourself to the doctor for a checkup, periodically checking in with your editor is a good habit to form, even if it’s just for a resume review. Don’t let silly mistakes lead you to miss out on opportunities or form a bad impression of you.

The written word is everywhere, and you use it much more than you think. Considering it is so often our digital fingerprint or a first impression, wouldn’t you want yours to be the best it can possibly be? Wouldn’t you want an editor you can trust on your side?

I thought you might.

Warm wishes,

~ Taegan