Let’s talk about readers–those generous folks who agree to read drafts of our work and give feedback. Here’s what Stephen Koch has to say in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop:

We have said that you should write your first draft behind closed doors. But when you have moved beyond the first-draft phase, you would be very foolish indeed not to turn to other people for their opinions and advice. But how you got about this can be a very delicate busines, and you must do it in a carefully considered way.

I take editorial advice very seriously. I don’t expect praise (although some is nice), but I also don’t expect to be chopped off at the knees and when other writers don’t know how to deliver advice properly (with empathy, with an understanding of process and that each of us have distinct one), it makes me question the veracity of their advice.

I like what Koch says in regards to the distinction between criticism and editorial advice (shocking how many people do not know the difference between the two!):

Criticism is an intellectual enterprise–and a branch of literature–that owes you and your project nothing. It is a form of discourse, a means of assessing and understanding literary and artistic work, and a way of thinking about what has been written. It is absolutely free to do all these things without the slightest reference to your welfare. Nothing obliges it to say anything good or useful about you or your work. It has taken no vow to “first do not harm.” Nothing–apart from intellectual honesty and common decency–prevents it from being, with a perfectly clear conscience, relentlessly and wholeheartedly malevolent.

Editorial advice, on the other hand, is a service. It owes you its entire existence. It is there only to help improve your work, and it has no more right to ignore your interests than a doctor has the right to ignore a patient’s interests.

This distinction should be in your mind in every workshop you join and in every editorial exchange you have.

All of the readers I favor understand this distinction and treat their fellow writers with respect. I am extremely fortunate.

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