Doing Right by Your Writers

By LaRocque, Paula | The Quill, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Doing Right by Your Writers


LaRocque, Paula, The Quill


Sensitivity and teamwork keep writer-editor relationship constructive.

Editors who work directly with writers often seek ways of making their editing sessions with writers more productive, constructive and amiable. They know their one-on-one sessions are critical and can either preserve or destroy a healthy working relationship with the writer. So they must constantly balance the nurturing that builds trust with a candor that could destroy it.

It's all too true that some writers say they want criticism until they get it. But the best writers make the editor's job easier: They seek constructive criticism, appreciate it, and know how to use it to their benefit.

Below are some tips for creating a climate for healthy writer/editor negotiations.

Begin with a sincere and specific review of what the writers do well - not as a sop, but to help them recognize and build on their strengths. Use examples: Some writers do not know what they do well and have to be shown.

Ask writers if they are satisfied with their story or approach before advancing your own opinion. The answers can be revealing. They often already know that a story is flawed; sometimes they even know why. Constructive teamwork is easier and more productive if you create an environment in which writers are their own critics. When they, rather than you, set forth flaws, you can become partners in the effort to improve.

Launch into the critical portion of the session quickly and courageously, with candor and directness. Maintain eye contact and speak gently and in good will. Remember that some writers are notoriously sensitive, but don't pull punches; even sensitive writers hope for a fair but no-nonsense assessment of their work. Don't insult, on the other hand, and don't confuse bluntness or rudeness with candor. Constantly gauge the writer's reaction to your words to avoid plunging heedlessly past a rough moment. Acknowledge and discuss such moments so they don't sour the whole session.

Treat writers as equals - don't operate from a position of authority. You might advance the notion, for example, that you speak as an intelligent reader rather than as an expert or critic. The orientation of intelligent reader gives you carte blanche: You cannot be wrong about your responses. And writers will welcome an intelligent reader's honest response to their work.

Be concrete. Keep focused on the writer's work. Don't generalize or wander. Support your words with mark-ups of the writers' works, and give them a copy of the marked work so they can consider it later at leisure and in a relaxed setting.

Feel free to use humor if that's your style, but don't say anything that can be construed as making fun. …

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