Back in the day, when we first learned editing and peer critiquing, we were taught that before we point out the weaknesses in a piece, we should always provide a positive comment. The positive comment makes it easier to digest the negative, sort of like a literary ‘spoon full of sugar.’ An encouraging word also gives the writer an important sense – however small it may be – that the editor truly wants the writer to improve, and that improvement is indeed attainable.
It seems that editors are abandoning this practice, however. Perhaps due to the millions of pages they have waiting on their desks, ready to be graced by their red pens, their limited time makes them focus on the changes which need to be made, neglecting to give an encouraging word. But for those of us on the receiving end of that, such an oversight can be debilitating.
Writers need to have thick skin because there is no question that one’s work will often be met with harsh reviews. The difference, however, is that a review comes after publication, after the writer signed her piece and someone, somewhere saw it worthy of putting it out into the world. Regardless of whether or not it makes any kind of bestsellers list, being published is, in and of itself, a milestone, a mark of success. A review can often be more tolerated than an editor’s comments because that review comes once the piece is completely out of her hands. The words of an editor, however, have the power to keep her piece crumbled up inside of her, soaked with the stench of failure.
As an editor, I make an effort to point out the positives in all my clients’ work. I do that because, as a writer, I know that we can swallow a mountain-load of negative…but without a sip of positive, it can easily get lodged in our throats, choking us into a stationary state.
Fellow writers, find solace in knowing that we’ve all been there. The disappointment feels unsurmountable, but breathe deep, and keep moving forward. Remember the last words of encouragement you heard from anyone, and let that reignite your confidence.
And my fellow editors, please don’t overlook the encouraging words. Your are on the same team as your clients; make sure they know that.