Digitalization has revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives, and the writing industry is no exception. We are living in the 4.0 era, also known as the information age. And it is probably the best time to be a writer.
The advent of the internet has created multiple new avenues and opportunities for publication, enabling writers to more easily share their work with the world. Overall, the writing industry is at a much better place than it was 10 years ago.
There is, however, a downside: Getting bylines has become relatively easier. As a result, as writers, we may begin to build a sense of disregard for any feedback or criticism.
The more bylines we add to our portfolio, the more confident we feel. Getting bylines is amazing and building confidence is great. However, when this confidence graduates to overconfidence and turns into a delusion where we stop accepting any criticism or feedback on our work, it becomes a problem.
When it comes to books about writing, one of my all-time favorites is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. She writes, “It is odd that we never question the feasibility of a football team practicing long hours for one game, yet in writing, we rarely give ourselves the space for practice.”
“I am still learning,” said Michelangelo at 87, so how can you and I know everything about our craft, right?
We need to give ourselves the space to continue learning from our mistakes, so we can grow as writers. I have been writing professionally for almost seven years now. Trust me when I tell you that I know what it feels like to have your work dissected and criticized.
I realize how much heart and sweat goes into every single piece of content that you create, and I totally get that it stings when someone says that your work is not hitting the mark.
However, let me share from personal experience that having a negative approach toward feedback is not going to help you in the long run. It will stagnate your growth and stop you from learning anything new. Constructive criticism and insightful notes not only add value to the piece being vetted by the editor at the time, but they also help you avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
It is crucial to understand that any feedback on your writing is not meant as a personal offense to you, but as a critical analysis of your work with the sole intention of helping polish your craft.
Furthermore, when an editor invests time and effort into your submission, they expect you to work collaboratively on the draft. Closing yourself off to feedback can affect your relationships with editors and you might end up burning bridges with leading publications.
Also, please remember that if you limit your circle to people who always praise you and never provide any valuable feedback on your work, it won’t help you or your craft. You will end up confining yourself to people who just say yes for the sake of it and have no interest in seeing your writing improve. There will be zero growth, limiting your portfolio to certain “types” of publications that accept everything you submit blindly, limiting the scope for growth.
If you start looking at criticism, feedback, and reviews as learning opportunities, you will go a long way as a writer. From formatting a doc correctly to knowing how to present a pitch, my editors have taught me many things over the past seven years.
One thing that I learned the hard way is the importance of communication. If you have any doubts or you disagree with a certain edit suggestion, you can always reach out to the editor and have a healthy discussion for clarity.
Early on in my career, I never had a disagreement with an editor because I never discussed the edits, never asked why or what. I would get disappointed and disheartened by rejection or simply follow the suggested edits—no questions asked.
Fortunately, along the way, I was lucky enough to meet editors who were proactive and showed interest in having two-way communication. Gradually, I started asking questions and even seeking feedback on how to be better.
There is no harm in asking questions—the right questions. Do not make personal attacks, and avoid getting too emotional. Be professional and stick to questions that might help you understand the gaps in your writing and do better moving forward.
For example, if your pitch is rejected, ask what went wrong and how you can improve. Was it your idea or was it the way you presented the pitch? You can apply the advice to your next pitch and become a better, more successful writer.
It is your duty as a writer to help the editor feel heard. They need to know that you are willing to take input and work on the draft accordingly.
Keeping an open mind toward an editor’s point of view and understanding where they are coming from helps writers take feedback more sincerely. Editors appreciate writers who ask questions and are open to putting in collaborative work.
To err is human. Sometimes, even as an editor, I get things wrong—after all, editors are human too. And, I don’t mind if a writer points out an issue, as far as there is clear communication.
Basically, in both scenarios, as far as the critique leads to healthy and positive collaboration, the result is the best version of the work and everyone is happy. This helps writers, editors, and publications produce quality work for the readers.
In a nutshell, it is 100% justified to feel protective and possessive of your hard work, but at the same time, it is equally important to sometimes detach yourself from your content and let someone with a fresh perspective guide you.
After all, when we are approaching someone to give us a platform, we are writing for them and their audience—not just for ourselves.
Remember, being closed to feedback will stagnate your growth. Allow yourself the chance to learn from your mistakes by being open to healthy criticism. Take feedback as a learning opportunity and apply those great insights from editors to your future work.
Instead of feeling hurt and burning bridges, simply communicate with your editor and seek clarification where needed. This will help create a collaborative work environment and will benefit you, the editor, and the publication.
A journalist by training, Surabhi is a writer, editor and content consultant currently based in Singapore. She has over six years of experience in journalistic and business writing, qualitative research, proofreading, copyediting and SEO. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies. Surabhi writes on topics related to business, tech, travel and lifestyle for multiple publications across Asia and the US. She also runs her website—a lifestyle publication called The Vent Machine. You can follow her on Instagram @surabhi.pandey.161