Monday, June 27, 2011
Editors Are Not Out to Get You!
In addition to my work for Writers in the Sky, I am also a teaching assistant for an online university. My job is primarily to grade English papers based on grammar, content, and whether the student has followed the assignment parameters set by the professor. Another part of my job is to answer emails from students and offer guidance whenever I can. Usually these are pleasant and—I hope—helpful exchanges.
So I was shocked when I opened an especially long email last week saw a barrage of angry words, all in capital letters. Internet yelling, directed at me. Somehow I had wronged these person, and grievously. They could not understand my comments on their paper, and felt I was somehow out to get them.
My first reaction, I admit, was respond with a lecture about Netiquette and ask how they expected to get anywhere in life if this is how they spoke to people. But I took a step back and a deep breath, and realized what I was dealing with here was the “I” in Writer.
I suddenly remembered what it was like when as an English major in college I had to distribute copies of my short story for my classmates to read. They were to take it home, read it, and return the next class to deliver their commentary. Aloud. In front of everyone. The fact that everyone had to do it didn’t make it any easier. At the time, I thought this exercise was cruel, humiliating, and without merit. I was wrong, however, and it made me a better writer. It also took me down a peg and taught me I didn't know everything.
My online student, I realized, had probably poured his/her heart and soul into the paper and now felt personally attacked.
Learning to check your ego at the door, I explained, is one of the most critical things you can do to improve your writing career. You don't have to agree with the critic, but listening to (and thinking about) the criticism opens you up to new perspectives and proves that you can learn from anyone, any time. And that is useful for any writer.
Dana Micheli is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and journalist. She has written and edited works of fiction and nonfiction, including novels (ghostwritten), news articles, resumes, business plans, and restaurant reviews. She also researched and wrote the legal and housing sections of New York: The Complete Resident’s Guide (Explorer Publishing). She is also the business writer for WITS.