Monday, October 7, 2013

Critiquing with respect and vision…

A few years ago a best seller on the subject of handling difficult people came to my attention. This was aimed at those in the workplace. I thought, what work place? I work for myself.

Oh, deluded me.

Now and then writers run up against that immovable force called “editor,” with whom we have issues. This happened to me. Having no choice but to persuade her or replace her, I chose to persuade her of that which I was certain was correct. My reputation was on the line, and her job might have been. I had to get along, but I didn’t have to go along. So I started out explaining, validating, correcting and informing her when she didn’t know something a content editor should look up before asking ignorant questions.


Defensive never beats persuasive, but show verses tell does. We had our moments, but things began to come together when she found my saint, Pancras, my formal name for Skillet, a major player in my upcoming book. The editor and I are now on the same page: she finds the saints, and I tell her about the capital R in Realtor.

This episode alerted me to the entire critique process. Like many of you, I belong to a critique group, one that has diverse genres. Now, as I listen to each comment, not unlike those of my content editor, I reverse the process. Realizing that each writer’s life experience is different, it’s best to start with a clean slate and listen carefully.

Start by trusting that the writer is in control of the work. Ask what is the writer trying to accomplish? We don’t all write alike or use the same verbs and adjectives. English is a rich language with many choices. The former musician, poet or comic will chose words that have rhythm, lilting nuances and double meanings. The hardboiled ex-cop with use short concise verbs and few adjectives, yet will add scientific detail that we as readers may skip on a written page.

Writers need editors and critique partners; they do not need reinvention.

There are enough writers to please all readers. But first trust the writer to be true to himself, her brand, his background and the inner voice of the work. Then you can pounce on the obvious errors in a helpful manner and make the work better. The writer will know you listened well.

Julie Eberhart Painter is the Champagne Books author of Mortal Coil, Tangled Web, and the 2011 Book of the Year, Kill Fee with the sequel, Medium Rare. Daughters of the Sea is available in ebook from MuseItUp Publishing. Visit Julie’s Web site at


Big Mike said...

You forceful? Never, can't believe it (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Never underestimate an old woman's determination.

Gabriella Austen said...

I agree that working with a writing critique group gives writers excellent editorial experience, and with experience comes a glimmer of understanding. Nice post.

Liz Fountain said...

I think one of the writers on this blog already said it, and I know it's not original with me, but in response to your post, Julie, it seems worth repeating: writing is an art form that requires collaboration. And it strikes me that most of the time, the best collaboration begins with listening. Thanks for that reminder.


Diana Green said...

I appreciated your post today. I could empathize with your experience. I think it is an interesting balance to strike during the editing process. You said it well, that a writer does not need to be reinvented. While it is tremendously helpful to have someone else read through, looking for obvious problems, the author needs to stay true to their own voice and style.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses.