Friday, August 26, 2016

You Think It’s Easy for an Editor to Critique Your Work? Think Again.

It may come as a surprise, but it is not always easy for editors to give critical feedback on manuscripts. While I believe the editorial mind is geared toward quickly noticing what's missing, wrong, or out of place, there's also a human on the other side of that mind who knows what it is like to receive criticism on creative work. We understand how delicate the creative process is, so not many of us are excited about delivering what some may feel is bad news. I mean, not all of us are sadists. And all the adults in the room know that constructive criticism delivered in the right way is a blessing, a life-saver, and a gift.

Speaking for myself, though, the space between my pinpointing what's wrong with a manuscript and delivering that news to the writer can be a bit torturous. Every editor is different, but I've recently discovered why it becomes a chore for me.

There are mental and emotional hurdles I have to overcome when it comes to getting in the groove of giving critical feedback on a manuscript. Being dead-center of this process as I write this blog post, I've identified two of the major ones.

Hurdle #1: Not having all the answers

I think that somehow I have to solve the issues that I find. But I don't, actually, have to have all the solutions. Though I can't help having some—and I offer them. My main role, however, is to point them out, state what I think will work better, and let the writer resolve them.

This sometimes creates a stop for me, being a solution-oriented type. I can get stuck on how to fix what issues I see. Generally speaking, it is sort of against my personal rule to point out issues without having ideas toward a solution. In this case, though, editor and writer are tag-teaming and using complementary strengths—writer as creator, editor as creative manager. Or something like that.

Hurdle #2: Not wanting to crush the creative spirit

Also, I care about how a writer feels about themselves and their abilities through the writing process. I also know that they don’t want to let me or the publisher down. And I know what it takes to create something. These are very delicate emotions and processes. I am not looking to destroy anyone, so I choose to be careful with how I deliver my feedback. I want the writers to keep wanting to write. Just because the first draft wasn’t awesome doesn’t mean they’ve failed. I want them to know that. So it may take me a bit to get up the courage to, in some ways, deliver bad news that I hope will be received as a help and as a blessing.

Here is how I jump the hurdles:
  1. Accept that I have a job to do: deliver a great book to the marketplace. My role as a gatekeeper is critical to what is made available to the public.
  2. Accept that the writer needs my feedback, is looking for my feedback, to finish their assignment.
  3. Make a list of what I think needs work. Write it out bluntly. This is the easy part.
  4. If I have a solution, add it to the item as a possible fix. If I don’t, on to the next issue.
  5. With a freelance writer, restate in writing the vision of the project I had upon pitching the concept. With an author, restate their vision for writing the book and add to it my belief for how their work can touch readers.
  6. Rewrite everything in as positive and encouraging way I can, as if I am talking to a delicate little flower, whose petals may fall off if I stop smiling or raise my voice one decibel. Reinforcing my belief in the writer that they have what it takes, I make sure my communication is still clear and honest. People are delicate and I don’t mean that we are weak and incapable. We have to be careful with each other.
  7. Deliver all to the writer humbly, yielding the next steps to them and their expertise as creators.
  8. Dust my shoulders off and on to the next one.

Because I write as well, my two sides—editor vs. writer—are sometimes at war while I am working on a piece. But when I'm an editor, I'm an editor. When I'm a writer, I'm a writer.

I am grateful for having opportunities to work on both sides. It’s an advantage, and I pray I use it wisely and with compassion. But also, keeping things one hundred, I have to put the sides in their places in order to effectively serve the assignment.

Boundaries and lanes and staying in them are important.

Monday, August 8, 2016

To Be or Not to Be Politically Correct—A Consideration of Words and Language

Not too long ago, I was editing a book in which I chose to use the words enslaved people instead of slaves. A person reading over the material asked, “Why not just say ‘slaves’?” I thought it was a good question, though I didn't imagine being asked about it. I know why I chose it. It was not a second thought to me. I also understood why the person asked, and it was completely innocent. But it got me thinking about how some people would actually take issue with the word choice—enslaved people—thinking, "Here we go with all this political correctness."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Books!—A Personal Way to Learn More About What’s Stirring Black America

"The Library" by Jacob Lawrence

What would it be like to be constantly disbelieved for your own experience? To never ever be validated, with or without proof? How does it feel to be dismissed, denied, and rejected? To have your tears and frustration met with responses like, “I don’t believe you. You are lying.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

Follow-up to Guest Post by Sheridan Davis: A Note about Colorism

In a previous post, I hosted guest blogger and indie author Sheridan Davis who shared her inspiration for writing her newest book, Pretty for a Dark-Skin GirlI realize some who may read my blog may not be all that familiar with the concepts and issues she uncovered, so I wanted to provide additional comments to the post to provide a bit more context.

A Brief Context for How Colorism Exists in Our World and History

Skin-color discrimination happens around the world, and not just to those whom society has classified as black.

Guest Blogger: Sheridan Davis, Author of Pretty for a Dark-Skin Girl

As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, I wanted to make space for a special guest whom I met last year at the "Connect and Expand" author retreat facilitated by Ellis and Ellis Consulting Group (EECG). I was one of the guest speakers and the funny (you should see her cut up on Facebook), smart, and fully engaged Sheridan S. Davis was one of the many amazing authors I had a chance to meet. Her book Pretty for a Dark-Skin Girl stood out to me and the theme of her book, which we'll get to, opens up a subject that carries significant implications regarding the history of the socialization of women of color around the world. When I learned of her book, the title immediately intrigued me. It has a polished and salable ring to it, and as Sheridan interacted with the group and me, I could see that her book project was more than an attempt at being a rich and famous author. Her book contained a passionate purpose that is her reason for waking every morning.

I invited Sheridan to write a guest post for my blog, because her book and her passion to encourage and heal people in areas concerning race dovetails closely with what I'd like to see myself do in this next season of life. That she is a PK and so am I is purely coincidental--I think!

As an editor, I have learned to spot the author who gets it—and Sheridan gets it. A very beautiful woman indeed, both inside and out, regardless of her skin color, Sheridan owns the message of Pretty for a Dark-Skin Girl with power, wholeness, and compassion. She self-published the book in early 2015 and since then has taken it so far as to have written and produced a play carrying the same name and theme, which is currently running at select venues in the Chicago area.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Graduate School Musings: Finding My Place in the Quest for Many Stories

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity....The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Danger of a Single Story

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Women's History Month Profile: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie--Writing to Power

A review of the political and social power structures challenged in Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian-born writer who is being called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young [international] authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.” (Wikipedia) She has received numerous awards and accolades for her work.

Author of four books

1. Purple Hibiscus: hailed as “one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years” (Baltimore Sun), with “prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes” (The Boston Globe), and awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book

2. Half a Yellow Sun: awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction

3. That Thing Around Your Neck: “a book of twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.” (

4. Americanah: A personal favorite because of my love for sociology. It was the “winner of the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, one of the New York Times’s Ten Best Books of the Year; winner of the Chicago Tribune 2013 Heartland Prize for Fiction; an NPR “Great Reads” Book, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Seattle Times Best Book, an Entertainment Weekly Top Fiction Book, a Newsday Top 10 Book, and a Goodreads Best of the Year pick.” (Ibid.)