I am fortunate to be married to a great editor. To say my husband values efficient sentences is an understatement. His emails sound like they were written by an angry typewriter. He is certainly the model for this Baroness von Sketch Show skit.
When he reads my drafts, he targets the larger issue of what I’m aiming for, then launches in with edits, telling me to cut this, why do I have that, and why are there so many words??
He is not a professional editor, (which is fortunate or he’d likely not have much of a client list) and he’s comfortable with me, which means he ranges from brusque to awful.
But I always forgive him because he’s a good cook, I don’t have another husband lined up, and he’s always &#$@ right.
So where he almost never says he likes my writing, which occasionally makes me want to pop him in the nose, at the same time, having been around the professional editorial block a few times, I recognize his feedback, direct though it can be, actually does me a lot more good. I know enough to know I don’t want him, as my editor, to like my writing.
When Liking Your Writing Isn’t That … Likeable
When writers first complete a manuscript, it’s natural to want to share it with a loved one or close friend. After all, you’ve sweat through most of your wardrobe while writing the darn thing, it’s taken over your life in many ways, and what you think you want to hear more than anything is praise.
Yet, the double-edged sword reality of this is while their, “I like it!” may feel nice at first, not long after, their words can fade to feeling empty or unfulfilling, which often comes as a surprise. The low feeling also comes from the realization that judgment doesn’t travel; what further conversation can ensue once they’ve liked it? That they really like it?
On the flip side, by showing your work to a friend or family member who is not a writer, you’re opening yourself up to them not knowing how to speak to your work. If they don’t respond positively, or in a way that you like, their words can feel that much more cutting.
[This terrific article from twenty-times published Julianna Baggott issues some rules around showing your work to friends and family.]
Why Does It Feel Bad When Someone Likes Your Writing?
In this case, it’s about matching energies: You’ve spent immense effort and time creating an intricate literary environment, braiding together many strands of writing craft, doing research, and putting yourself on the line. A judgment, even a glowing one, in effect distills all of that complexity into a simple item, like a shortbread or boxy IKEA end table.
Because a novel or memoir isn’t a one-note thing but rather a complex experience, one designed to inspire change, challenge people’s thinking, bring about meaning, healing, or catharsis, and above all, invite conversation, it’s imperative you share it with someone who is able to embrace that complexity appropriately and meet your manuscript with identification and clarification commensurate with the complexity of the work.
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Not Judgement but Acknowledgement and Conversation
What you need more than praise is for someone to acknowledge the entirety of your project, converse about its development and construction, identify where the work wants to go, and suggest ways you can get it there.
Friends and family are great for many reasons, but unless they’re trained in talking about manuscripts, what you need is an editor.
An editor or peer reader does something called “Manuscript Evaluation” or an even deeper “Developmental Feedback,” which is the process of going “inside” a manuscript draft to not only see what it is but also what it wants to be and how it can achieve that goal.
Rather than judge your story, essay, memoir, novel, or journal article, good or bad, an editor honors what you’re aiming for in purpose, metaphor, theme, and tone and suggests how you can tighten, refine, and strengthen the work.
Their goal isn’t to give you their personal opinion but to help you make your manuscript become a satisfying reading experience.
If it will help the overall work to smooth out the plot, upend flat characters, or bring in greater detail, an editor will highlight why and how. If the work would benefit from more showing for immersing the reader in the narrative world or more telling to speed up a slow passage, additional backstory, a different point of view, or for a minor character to step into center stage, they’ll be able to say why plus detail how to make those changes.
Your editor should not like your writing because giving you their personal preference is not in service to your work.
In the end, whether they like your writing isn’t helpful to you or necessary. The way a surgeon doesn’t need to like their patients to perform surgery on them, an editor doesn’t need to like a manuscript to identify a work’s heartbeat and potential and support the writer with targeted strategies to help them make it better.
Everyone likes hearing nice things about their efforts, but the writer needs to know what their greater need is, which is to not seek praise but feedback and acknowledgement from someone who knows how to give it in the right vein. A professional editor will not only be kind, supportive, and nurturing but also exacting and respectful of all you’ve achieved and skilled enough to talk to you about the work as layered and nuanced as it is.
[In this article, writer Maggie Doonan provides a detailed explanation of what you can expect from a Manuscript Evaluation.]
The endgame of any editor is to help you fine tune your writing so you can succeed, move or help people with your work, and launch yourself into a literary career. What we editors like isn’t nearly as important as what we can do for you, which is honor the sweat, the hours, and all the creative effort you’ve spent and help you prepare your writing for publication. That is the greatest satisfaction for everyone.
Got a manuscript you’d like to get feedback on? We’re here for you. Our Manuscript Evaluation and Developmental Feedback are the writer’s first step on your journey toward hearing how we don’t like (but hold in high esteem!) your work. Let us support you — all the way to publication.