May 25, 2010 by Renee
When I saw this post on Victoria Strauss’s blog, I decided that yes, I would post something about it too. Editing etiquette, or the lack of, has caused me to pause and rethink how I’ve been doing things many times.
So, what’s my problem? Pull up a seat. This might be a long discussion.
I often read other writer’s work and critique or edit. I do this first because it helps me to learn. Sometimes I recognize issues in their writing that I struggle with and it’s easier to look at it and learn when it’s not mine. I also see new techniques that I haven’t tried or didn’t know about that are useful. It benefits me as well because I know if I ever need a reader, then I’ve got one. In most cases. Second, I do this because although I am still new as in ‘unpublished’, I have far more knowledge than I did starting out and I was lucky enough to meet an amazing group of writers who shared their vast experience with me without any strings. They were kind enough to critique my work and answer my millions of questions. I’m happy to return the favor where I can.
Great. That’s wonderful. So where’s the issue? Well, whenever someone critiqued my work I said thank you and tried to improve based on their feedback. If I didn’t agree, I first questioned why they corrected this or that and then again, I said thank you. In private I chose to either use their comments or forget about them. Never did I argue, belittle, or behave in any way ungrateful to them simply because I didn’t like their comments. Sometimes the writer found themselves extremely busy and simply couldn’t finish editing my work. No big deal. I appreciated what they did offer and told them not to worry. Hey, I understand about busy. Sometimes you can’t predict what will happen in your personal life and the bottom line is your work has to come first. It’s not like they’re being paid to help me.
For the most part the help I’ve given is met with politeness and gratitude. A healthy debate on a critique is fine and I’ve had many. But it’s all good natured and comes from a place of learning, where the writer really wants to understand why what they’ve written isn’t ‘right’. But I’ve experienced writers who don’t seem to understand that I am doing this free of charge, and because I want to. Not because I have to or because I owe them something.
I’ve had writers who offer no thanks whatsoever for the hours I put into their writing. A few of the stories I’ve edited and critiqued were published. In one case I didn’t get so much as a thank you when this happened. Am I entitled? Of course not. But it would have been nice. This particular piece of writing was a mess when we started and I worked as hard on this story as I would have on my own, staying up extremely late so that the writer could submit before the deadline.
I’ve also had writers who asked for my help and when they didn’t like what I had to say, they argued and then totally disregarded my efforts. Even going as far as to insinuate I knew nothing. Why did they ask me then? If they figured I was incompetent, unable to judge good writing from bad or unable to edit a simple chapter, then why ask me to read? Again, these writers offered no thank you; no ‘I appreciate the attempt’. Even a simple email saying ‘thanks’ and then ignoring my comments privately would have sufficed. No, they had to tell me how unimpressed they were. If they’d paid me for my efforts, I could understand…sort of. Ironically a couple of these writers requested my help a second and third time. How many times did it take me to learn? Well, despite popular belief, I am not a total bitch and I can’t say no to someone in need. Third time’s a charm though, and I have since declined these writers.
I have also run into a problem with expectations. I have limited time. I’m not bitching. Every responsibility that I have, I’ve taken on myself. Willingly. But, when I agree to edit, I always stipulate that it is based on the time that I have to do so. So far, I have finished each project. But there were a couple that I really had to stretch to complete and my own work suffered for it because I allowed these people to make me feel guilty for even considering not completing the work. An entire manuscript is a lot of work everyone. And any help is better than none at all. When someone offers to help, if they can’t edit all 400 pages of your manuscript, accept the 200 or so pages they did do and continue from there.
Last are the writers who must question every single edit that is made. It’s fine to ask questions. But if you feel the need to defend every single thing, there is something wrong. I don’t have the time to defend my edits, nor will I do it. If you don’t like something that another has changed, deleted, or advised you to rewrite, then ignore the edit. Move on. Don’t email them and argue it. I’ve also had writers who, rather than email me and clarify the edit if they don’t understand, they post on a writing forum (of hundreds of members) and tell them that I specifically said to do this and they think I’m wrong so someone else needs to help them. WTF? Luckily, in these cases, my edits were sound and the other members of the forum said as much.
So my point? I think we need to go over some editing etiquette so that in the future, I’m not tempted to shove a manuscript somewhere it doesn’t belong. And I’m quite certain that someday, it might just happen.
1. Thank you. Gratitude. Politeness. These go a long way. A few simple words, that’s all it takes. Thank you. I appreciate your time. Done.
2. Question but don’t argue. When you’re receiving help, FOR FREE, don’t argue. If you don’t agree, fine. Silently do so. If you need clarification, then definitely question. You can’t learn unless you do.
3. Time. Understand that everyone has lives. Published or not, all writers have personal lives jammed full of responsibilities and other obligations. To demand that they be available when YOU need them is selfish and immature. Wait until they are available and be thankful they’re making time in their busy schedule for you.
4. Respect. Respect is huge. Everyone has different thoughts and opinions and they aren’t always going to agree with yours. Respect this. Acknowledge it. Don’t criticize, argue, or belittle someone for something they’ve offered in the spirit of kindness. You may need help in the future, (if you do criticize and belittle, I’ll guarantee you’ll need help) and to burn a possible bridge to improving your writing is stupid.
5. Don’t nag. Emailing every day to find out the ‘progress’ of your edits is annoying and rude. If your reader hasn’t updated you in say, a month, then by all means email or call and ask them if they’ve been able to look at your manuscript. But don’t be rude about it. If they say no, then politely as if they have the time. Let them know that if they don’t, you understand. If you’re in a hurry to have this done, then scrape up the cash and hire a professional. Do not nag, insult, or send nasty emails to someone simply because they don’t work as fast as you’d like them to. It’s free. They aren’t your employee, you aren’t paying them. There is no obligation for them to do anything.
6. Remember that you are not the only person on this planet. No one’s world is going to revolve around you and your needs. Editing and critique when given for free at your request is a favor. Treat it as such.
I guess that’s it. Anyone want to add some editing etiquette rules? I’d be happy to hear them. I should add, since I’m currently reading for a couple of writers at the moment, that current company is excluded from this post. These writers exhibit the proper etiquette and make me happy to help. I’m hoping this means my streak of bad luck is over.