Compromise When It Comes to Criticism
EDITOR: When it sings. When it literally sounds like a free flowing melody in my head.
After all the toil and trouble you’ve gone through to get the manuscript completed and accepted, there are some days the editing process is a downer. On the list of “things I like to do to myself”, receiving criticism is rarely in the top ten. We remember school days and big red letter grades at the top of papers flying from the teacher’s hands. A wrong answer is a wrong answer on a math test or a multiple choice exam. It’s in the classroom where I believe we learn to receive constructive criticism the wrong way. We take it personally, and we shouldn’t.
Overloaded classrooms, overworked teachers, and over bearing administrations do not make for a successful working atmosphere. Teachers are busy, busy, busy, but this isn’t about school. ( I love teachers, by the way.) It’s about editors who are busy, busy, busy and writers who sometimes need to relearn accepting comments on their manuscripts. Editors are always teachers. They have to be. Writing is a perpetual learning process. Editors and writers are always learning. But teachers are not always editors. It isn’t right to assume that your editor’s comments are the same as what you received in school. The whole process is totally about getting better by learning something new and learning requires CHANGE. Some writers and editors find it harder to change than to take the criticism.
Notice I’m not saying, “Take criticism of their writing.” I’m intentionally avoiding the possessive pronouns (our writing, your writing, my writing, their writing, her writing, etc.) because in order to learn, grow, and change as a better and better writer, we all have to learn to write it, get out of it, then let it go. Only then will the editing process be less personal and less stressful. Constructive criticism is for the good of everyone: author, editor, publisher, sellers, readers, relatives. Editing is the only way a book can be the best it can be because a group of grey matters has contributed to the final product. Several brains have come together and created a group project that started with the seed of your novel’s manuscript. That’s a wonderful thing to behold. But we know from experience it isn’t easy.
But how do we get comfortable with being told to change our baby (manuscript) when we don’t think it stinks? We are the proud parents of a perfect child. How could anything be wrong with something we’ve put our hearts, souls, and DNA into? That’s the point. Super-imposing a writer’s own persona into a novel will cause everybody problems. What’s the answer? Compromise.
The word compromise is descended from the glorious language of antiquity Latin. Compromise is derived from the Latin comprimittere which means “to bring together”. A compromise means pressing together for a mutual goal. The end result is not always completely fifty-fifty. A compromise is the result of whatever it takes from all parties involved to get the job done. And therein is the rub. If the job of editing and revising is a constant struggle, the job is never done and fewer books are written because some aspect of the editorial process is resistant to change.
It’s also interesting to note that one of the many other definitions of the Latin word comprimittere is “to embrace”. Barrel hugging the idea of criticism might be one way for editors and writers to arrive at the compromises needed to complete the project with as little stress, wine, and bandages as possible. The option is to struggle and stagnate or let go and write the next book! Of course, you can always visualize the royalty check and be done with resisting.
Do you have any constructive examples of compromise where writing is concerned? Any good advice on how to avoid the struggle and embrace the process?
Keep in mind that nobody is perfect.