I got an email from a reader recently, spurred by one of my newsletter pieces (the “Appetizer” course of THIS issue). It’s a subject a bit different from the usual commercial freelancing fare on the blog, but thought it was worth running, given that it’s something any reasonably experienced commercial writer has no doubt encountered—whether a scenario like hers or one like mine.
Several years ago, a writing conference director sent an email inviting all to view the new conference website and let him know what we thought. I followed the link, and immediately saw a word had been left out of the first sentence. A few sentences below, the wrong verb tense had been used.
I emailed and suggested he might want to correct the mistakes. His reply? A glib comment about being in a hurry and no one else would catch the mistakes. Really? I had served on faculty for this conference a number of years so it wasn’t like I was unknown to the director. The next year, I was not asked back to teach at the conference and the director no longer speaks to me.
I had a similar experience with someone who was starting an editing service. He invited comments about his new website. In the first sentence on the site, he used the wrong verb tense. Another error, a wrong/mistaken use of a noun, was in the next paragraph. I emailed him, mentioning the errors.
His response: “Yeah, I asked my wife, and she said it supposed to be that way so I’m going with what she said.” Really? A startup editor is going with grammar errors on his editing site to please the wife? Needless to say, his editing business never got off the ground! He became the owner of a small press instead, which consistently publishes books with grammatical errors. No surprise there. And he ignores me when we happen to be at the same writing conferences.
What I’ve learned: Even when people invite critique, they really don’t want critique. They want validation for what they’ve done, whether correct or not, and view anything else as personal criticism. Folks are interesting!
In response, I shared a story of my own:
Reminds me of a lovely woman for whom I wrote a column many years ago, for her local monthly rag. A few years after I stopped writing for her, but while we still considered each other friends, she asked me to critique a novel she was working on. I said I would be happy to take a look, though quickly realized what a bind I had put myself in.
It wasn’t just bad, it was really, really bad. Incredibly clichéd, poorly written, poor character development, uninteresting, and most of it no better than a seventh grader’s essay. After getting her assurance that she really did want me to be honest, I was. I wasn’t brutal, but I made it clear I thought it needed a lot of work to get it to a viable stage.
She thanked me profusely for being honest, going on and on about how much she appreciated the input and feedback, and…I never heard from her ever again. Remember, we were far better than acquaintances, though perhaps less than good buddies, and we talked pretty regularly. But after that, we never talked again. So I hear you!
Ever been asked for feedback from a writer or friend?
How did you handle it?
If the writing wasn’t very good, and you were honest, how did they receive your feedback?
Any suggestions for dealing with situations like this?
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