Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcoming Criticism For Your Writing

I haven't been a big TV watcher until recently.

Somehow, becoming a mother of small children forces you to find a way to unwind-- because really, going from 100 miles an hour (all day) to 0 miles an hour (sleep) isn't easy.

I suppose I could take a hot bath. Drink some milk. Read a good book. Get my husband to give me a back massage.

Actually I do those things quite often, but sometimes I just want to veg in front of a good TV show and finish off the carton of ice cream in the freezer. That's precious freezer space I'm saving!

We don't get great TV reception at our house and I'm too cheap for cable, but the most amazing invention of all time is available in my room on our computer-- Hulu.com! Some friends told me about the new show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution , and so far it's interesting and eye-opening.

The concept seemed logical enough -- go to a town with high obesity rates and try to change the school lunch menu and people's eating habits in general. I'm all for healthy eating (honestly, I don't eat ice cream that much, unless it's on sale). But something I didn't expect-- the amount of criticism that met Jamie as he started his "revolution" to help this town.

We're talking the radio host, the school cooks, etc. -- they all were skeptical and quite defensive of Jamie's methods and ideas. At first it really surprised me. Don't they want to be healthier? Don't they want fresh, awesome food going into their kids' mouths? And hello! Free help from an awesome chef? What's not to like?

Then I thought about it. How would I like someone telling me what I'm doing wrong and showing me how to change it without me asking? I'm doing just fine, thank you.

I can see both sides. It's hard. Change is hard. But I have been really impressed with Jamie's resilience. Some of the criticism he expects, some of it he doesn't-- and most of the time it's really hard for him to take. He even sheds tears during some interviews. But despite that, he is determined to try. He has a vision and no one is going to stand in his way. There is criticism, but he listens to it, he meets it head-on, and he tries to work through it. Because in the end, whether they see it or not, he's on their side. He wants to help this town and eventually the country not to be an obesity statistic. Above all, he's an experienced chef with the proper knowledge and tools that can help them change for the better.

After watching the show, I thought how much that idea relates to editing. An editor is sort of like a visitor to an author's town, telling him what he is doing wrong and trying to get him to do something better. At first it's unnerving. Even if the author knows and trust this person, it's still hard to take their criticisms/critiques/comments/edits -- whatever you want to call them.

The worst thing authors can do is to not welcome editors. Authors must give their editors a chance. Authors may think their manuscript is just fine-- but editors have insight. Editors have experience and the tools necessary to make a manuscript better. They can see things authors can't see. And in the end, they have their author's best interest at heart.

Editors can help trim the fat, keep ideas fresh, add in proper ingredients, and ultimately provide a product that readers will enjoy. So authors, don't resist change. Welcome it. Seek out criticism. Realize that there is always room for improvement. And editors, don't let authors who fear change stop you from helping them succeed. Don't give up or stop doing your job. Realize that theses authors are scared and aren't fully converted yet. Listen to their concerns and meet them head-on. Prove that you will be there for them and then make it happen.

What do you say? Let's learn from Jamie and not give up. Change can be a good thing. For his sake--and the sake of the TV series--I hope it is.

What do you think?

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