Updated: Dec 25, 2022
I have critiqued hundreds of budding authors’ transcripts. A too-common reaction I receive from such creative people upon receiving my comments is frustration. Sometimes anger. I haven’t yet received a death threat.
I am speaking of authors who have presented their work to me to review.
I’m happy the majority of recipients of my literary jewels appreciate my thoughts. Yet, I’m puzzled why there is even one who expresses frustration with me. The minute my back is turned, they may throw out my markings without consequence. I will never know, and that is all right with me.
Why do people sometimes feel threatened when I am powerless to affect their lives? I’ll leave the answer to the psychologists.
How do I react to other reviewers’ annotations to my manuscripts?
I adore them. I enjoy studying them over and over. I walk about the house reading them aloud. I treat them like giant boulders of sparkling gold given me to enjoy forever. They are priceless gifts never to be repeated or seen by anyone else. I can have as many of them as I want, and they are calorie-free.
Recall the adage, the customer is always right? People who review my manuscripts represent my future customers. Each marked manuscript contains the opinions of ten thousand readers.
Does this mean I incorporate every comment? Yes, and no. Almost all the time I will. It may take me a while to let go of some of my beloved word-children, but I eventually come around.
The evolution of critical comments
As you continue to improve your writing skills (see Steps 1 thru 6 here), the nature of the comments you receive from your critics will change. When your work is initially rough, you'll receive comments like,
"Your sentences are too short"
"It's 'their,' not 'they're.'"
Later on, you'll receive comments like,
"The post-status-quo transition could be strengthened by inclusion of a more stylized secondary protagonist."
This increase in comment sophistication should be very satisfying to you because it means you're making it increasingly difficult for your critics to offer you meaningful comments.
Take this change as a great complement to your expanding skills!
What if they're just wrong?
What about criticisms I disagree with? There lies the heart of it. In those cases, I must improve the persuasion, clarity, color, depth, interest, and consistency of the passage surrounding the comment to make it go away. In other words, I must do something about each criticism.
But what I never do is nothing at all.
Unless, of course, it is a really stupid comment. But those are too rare and insignificant to be acknowledged in a blog of this quality.
They're not you, and you're not them
At some point you'll realize that your talent is coming up with exceptional stories, and your critics' talents are finding problems with your stories. You're good at what you do, and they're good at what they do.
Neither of you can do each other's jobs. Where critics go wrong is when they tell you how to fix your story's problems. While critics can see your creation's glitches, they're not so good at storytelling. In fact, they're often bad at it.
How many times have you seen opening movie or TV credits that say,
Written and directed by....
I daresay you've never seen credits that say,
Written, directed, and edited by....
That's because the same brain can't do both.
And moreover, the people who become famous are the writers, not the critics or editors. Who was Robert A. Heinlein's editor? Who was Agatha Christie's editor? No wonder editors can be bitter and vengeful and give us such scathing comments. Let's show them our appreciation, support, and love even though we're smarter than they are.
We must be grateful for everyone, even our critics who help us write much better stories.