Asking and Receiving

A person wrote a story, and the only comment she received was someone pointing out typographical errors. This person is angry that typos were pointed out, and angry that others didn’t compliment her. In other words, this person did not want honest critiques or editing, she only wanted to sit back and bask in the rave reviews of writing she clearly thought she deserved. I’m not involved in this person’s drama but it did make me think about the whole editing process.

By the way, I’m not referring here to the whole topic of how to do constructive edits.

My friend Jenni, who often comments here, is also a writer. She is tentatively stepping out into the world of releasing your writing to others to read, and has asked me to comment. The first time I edited her work I overwhelmed her. I now ask if she wants comments from me as a reader or an editor. We have found a balance where we can talk about writing without scaring her. But the thing is, her reaction came from the standpoint of ‘I have so much to learn’ rather than ‘I don’t deserve this because I’m so good’.

We writers need to build up a thick outer layer that protects us when we first begin this process of sharing our work. And it’s not just that thick skin to repel unkind, cruel, or unhelpful comments. We need some sort of barrier between ourselves and our emotional connection to the story. Because isn’t that where all these reactions come from? We pull that feedback deeply into our hearts as a commentary on us personally, rather than realizing the comments are about the work.

I know, it’s nearly impossible to not take critiques personally. After all that work is something we’ve poured ourselves into. At the same time, in order to grow as writers, we need some way to step back from that emotional connection.

For me what works is time. If I immediately pass my writing on, I’m still extremely emotionally attached. If, however, I wait even a few weeks, I regain a healthier, more realistic attachment to the story. The longer I wait, the less emotion is involved. It’s like looking at that newborn child and knowing he’s a genius vs. looking at the teenager and counting down the days until they can drive themselves.

Years ago I had a cartoon with an older woman standing, arms across her chest, smug smile on her face, and wearing a sign that read, ‘I’m more humble than you are’. I am picturing that woman’s face tonight as I think about the person who expected only compliments. I would change the wording on the sign to read ‘I’m a better writer than you’.

I’d say she’s had a rough break this week, finding out that maybe she’s not as good as she thinks she is. I can only hope that with time she loses that emotional attachment and gains the distance to see that when a person points out some typos it’s not the same thing as saying you stink as a writer, or your writing stinks.

Don’t ask until you have the protective barrier in place and have the distance to be able to receive. I’m going to try very hard to follow that advice.


6 thoughts on “Asking and Receiving

  1. HEAVY stuff. I know I’ve been hiding this year, feeling alittle overexposed somehow. Never rational responses. Still working it out. And that was with all POSITIVE comments and evaluations!

    LOVE that photo! Phil is in MT right now in exactly that weather, Lewistown. The only thing missing is a couple dozen bullet holes in the sign!!!


    • I think the only reason there are no bullet holes in the sign is because there aren’t many people out where it is. Of course the people who are there are all my extended family, which now has me wondering why there aren’t bullet holes…


  2. I hear you. It’s hard for me to read things from writers who want comments but haven’t developed a healthy relationship with gentle critique. Writers who think the work is perfect and writers who can’t even bear to hear that some words are mispelled both scare me away from reading it at all.

    As for myself, I have one old story that I’ve worked on for years but, except for some help from my daughter, I’m still not ready to have anyone else’s critique on it. Part of me knows I need it, but I’m not sure I can get enough distance from this one to hear it without feeling crushed. Other than that story, everything I’ve written is fair game. I’d rather cry than to keep making mistakes without knowing.


  3. I am glad I have Lisa to show all my writing to, because I know that she never critics to make me feel bad. Still like she said, I get overwhelmed and discouraged when she points out how I could change something or what else I could add. I know she is only making suggestions and I dont have to do it, since its my story. But I always feel like she is the one with the experience and who am I to question that. She is my Idol. But when she tells me too many things I feel like in school and as if I have to redo my homework and I give up.
    But as I said, I am glad I have her, because she is one person I can talk to about those silly feelings and we can work it out and find a way to make everybody happy.


    • I’ve learned that it’s the amount of comments not the type or content, that overwhelmes you. But please remember, it’s your job to question everything I say because it is your story. My level of experience doesn’t come into it because I’m still learning and making mistakes, too. So question away, friend! You’re the parent of that infant story and it’s your job to stand up for it and defend your words and question anyone who takes a jab at it, even it’s a kind, productive jab.


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