Saturday, December 11, 2010

Have You Hugged a Critic Today?

We already know that we need to be careful what we say online, because people are listening. And some interesting things can happen because of that listening. This notion isn’t new; it’s the basis for the borderline paranoia that frequently masquerades as “caution” in our writing circles.

But if we flip over that paranoia—if we actually start thinking in terms of “who might be looking at my blog, and why”—this notion, and the reality it represents, can bring about some pleasant surprises. I had one, some time ago, through my personal blog. Not through the blog posts themselves—although I certainly try my best to make those instructional—but via the comments.

Yep. The comments.

On most blogs, the comments section can be a dicey place. Crazies surf widely, post erratically, insult freely, and spam comboxes, to the point where you may have myriad fans of your blog who never look in your combox. It’s just not worth the hassle of weeding through the nonsense to get to thoughtful conversation.

On the other hand...

I don’t often receive mail at my day gig; my authors and I communicate largely by e-mail, in some instances by telephone or by fax. Even our proofreaders who prefer “hard copy” to “track changes” will send their hard-copy page corrections via fax. So, unless it’s a Christmas card or something else wonderful from an author, I rarely have things addressed to me at the day job. Thus, when I got a package one day, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I opened it and found a book, and a note, from an author whose work I had criticized at some length, months earlier, in the comments section of my personal blog.

I admit, I opened the note with some trepidation; I’ve received more than my share of damning-with-faint-praise under the guise of such letters, and on that particular day, I wasn’t in the mood to be grownup and mature should that prove to be the case. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I read a thank-you note—for my criticism. I had pointed out what I saw as glaring weaknesses in an author’s work…and she thanked me for it.

She looked over the first several chapters of the book in question, thought to herself, “Yep, I can do better than that,” and proceeded to revise—based largely on the comment-conversations I and a couple of others had had about her writing. She has the option of making changes relatively easily  in her particular publishing situation, so she took the opportunity to do so, and she wanted to give me credit for “inspiring [me] to continue to improve.”

That would have been impressive enough—but she didn’t stop there. She also thanked me, by name, in the acknowledgment section of the new version of the book.

Now, if you don’t already know this about me—or haven’t figured it out by now!—I am, as I often put it, “a sucker for lavish praise.” Everyone loves to be praised, of course, but I think I love it even more than average; so anytime I’m thanked on a page of a book, it’s an occasion to remember for me. I’ve had other authors do it, although not nearly enough times so it’s in any danger of “getting old” (as if being praised ever can). But I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve been thanked, in public and by name, for something I’ve said in what in essence can be a “throwaway” part of a blog.

That, I think, says something important—even encouraging—to all of us. It’s one thing to recognize intellectually that everything you say can be heard by someone, and that what you put online stays up pretty much forever. It’s another thing entirely to realize that someone whose name you “take in vain” might be reading one day…might examine what you say and how you say it…and might have that resonate enough that your words become a learning moment for all concerned.

That notion is heady stuff. In the end, it's a big part of why many of us who critique, edit, and mentor do what we do. So if you're at the receiving end of someone like me pointing out a weakness in your work, and after thinking about it you realize they have a keep in mind that getting thanked for such a thing may just make someone's day. Be it a critiquer, an editor…or even some fool just holding forth in her combox. :-)

It did mine.


1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. I haven't really thought about editing from this angle. When I do edit a manuscript for someone (whether a crit partner, a mentee, or as a paying job) my sole intention is to help the person present their best manuscript to God.

    It can be a vulnerable position, but most of the writers I work for realize it's better to hear shortcomings now than later.

    Thought-provoking post!