Solutions not Resolutions – I’m Learning to Listen (Be Patient)

January 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm (writing) (, , , , , , , )

On one of the writer groups I belong to, someone posted a copy of a letter from an editor offering constructive criticism because he had been asked for more detail on why he had rejected a particular work. She was having difficulty interpreting his feedback and asked if others could explain it. Some people offered their suggestions of what they thought he meant while others railed against the letter, a response which in my opinion was a little reactionary, but I’m guilty of that myself at times.

The letter was from an editor, so someone involved in the industry who is probably very busy, and his feedback was quite concise and civil. Believe me, I’ve gotten both respectful constructive criticism and rude and insulting “constructive” criticism – there is a substantial difference. He never suggested her work was bad; he just explained what he was looking for but felt was lacking. He had positive things to say as well. I’ve gotten letters from editors like that before and made changes to stories as a result. I try to see past my own biases, and consider their perspective, but it’s not easy.

I told the recipient of this letter that if I were her I would take some time to absorb it and then see if it’s just a matter of a difference in stylistic preferences or if he makes a reasonable point that could be used to improve the work. Just because someone gives you feedback doesn’t mean you have to use it. I also pointed out that the editor wasn’t rude or harsh, just offering his opinion and suggestions. I’ve made a habit of reading through feedback and setting it aside to hopefully let it sink in past that first inclination to be defensive, then I reflect on it and come back to re-read it. It always makes more sense if I’ve given it a chance to ferment a little.

Accepting feedback that isn’t positive is a struggle for many writers. It’s one of those things I want to work on with regards to my own self-improvement, because I know my knee-jerk reaction is always a defensive one. I’ve never been wonderful at handling criticism. Anyone who has been bullied during their life has had to build a wall against the negative, or the bullies will tear you down. If you fight the insults and harassment internally, you learn to stubbornly resist anything negative that comes your way, to the point where it becomes a flaw – one of inflexibility. Add to that the fact that most artists of all types tend to be sensitive souls and you get a rather nasty, restrictive combination, one that can be difficult to overcome in order to make use of good advice.

I also told the letter recipient that being overly defensive or hostile in response to this kind of feedback is a way of guaranteeing you’ll never be able to improve using advice from others (she automatically assumed I was saying she was being rude and hostile, which wasn’t the case, but I think the letter had her frustrated and a little flustered and maybe I could have phrased my comments in a better way). I know from experience that it is tempting to be defensive when others offer feedback that isn’t glowing, and some people can be trollish or hypercritical when offering a critique (I honestly think you should just ignore those people), but that wasn’t the case with this letter.

Anyway, I’m bowing out of that thread now. Those who were angry and spouted insults about the editor offering feedback will probably turn their hostility on me for defending him.  I just hope the letter recipient, whether she chooses to use his feedback or not, appreciates the time he took to spell it out for her. I know I would.



  1. rdteunr said,

    I know who you mean, they are a touchy bunch. I wouldn’t worry. I got a lungful many a time there with a few “editors” (and yes, I put quotes because I don’t consider them as such). But what the hey, I learnt from some of them that they are just not willing to listen to good advice when it comes along, also the truth for some of them can be a bitter pill to swallow. I think that is why I have backed away from this group. I put something up for fun and some of them teared it apart. Writing should be fun, an adventure. By the way, I agree with you, a personal rejection is a good thing, to me it says that they sat down and read it and not just let it slide to the bottom of the slush pile. We learn what we can, from who we can. It’s all a wonderful process.

    • chantellyb said,

      I’m not worried, and I can be touchy at times too, so I’m not going to fault anyone for that. I usually find if I’m going to comment on any of those threads, it’s best to keep it to one or two comments ot I’ll end up getting riled up and sucked into the nastiness. I still like to share my opinion, but I try to limit it to controlled doses or I might end up going on a rant (and I’ve done that too often, to say the least.)

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