How to Take Criticism From Your Editor — and Learn From It
Peter Panda

I’m an editor. My job, basically, is to correct people (or, more accurately, their writing). People, generally speaking, don’t like being corrected. I don’t do my job to be an asshole. As a matter of fact, I like my job for exactly the opposite reason. I like to help people.

Editing is a behind-the-scenes activity that very few people actually know about (or care about, if I’m being honest). The point of editing is to make sure the writer communicates clearly in a way that comes across as knowledgeable and competent. And, as an editor, I have a duty, both to the writer and to the audience, to make sure the work is as good as it can be, both in terms of grammar and content.

I will never be the asshole who corrects someone’s grammar on a random Facebook post, even if said grammatical lapses leave me twitching for weeks. (I can’t say I have similar levels of restraint when I see factually inaccurate posts on the Internet, though.) But when I’m editing for work, I’m just doing my job. And my job is to help make sure you, the writer, succeed.

I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure your editor doesn’t want to hurt you or your work. They’re probably upset that you think they do, actually. If you’re struggling to connect with your editor, I have a few tips for you.

  1. Don’t assume that competent writers don’t need editors.

    Every writer needs an editor. Heck, even I, as an editor, need an editor when I write something. Assuming that a competent writer doesn’t need an editor just sets you up to feel attacked and puts you on the defensive when your editor does have any suggestions for you.

  2. Give your editor a realistic idea of what’s expected of them from the beginning.

    I’ve gone into assignments before without having enough details on what type of editing I’m supposed to be doing. Be realistic about it. I do my best to suss out background details on the story, but sometimes, I have to guess (or, if there’s time, ask for more clarification). Sometimes, the type of editing requested doesn’t match the type of editing required. And that’s normally when I piss someone off.

  3. Don’t look to your editor for validation.

    You’ve got to have a certain level of faith in your writing. Know that your editor isn’t there to validate you and give you a golden star. Your editor is there to make sure your readers give you the golden star (or, more precisely, the like and/or share).

  4. Ask for clarification.

    If your editor puts in a suggestion that you don’t agree with or you can’t see where it came from, ask. They probably have a reason for suggesting it. You might learn a handy bit of editing knowledge, or you might be able to explain your side and come to an agreement. If you’re not sure why there’s a difference in opinion, there’s really only one way to find out.

  5. Know that you don’t have to accept every edit and agree on every suggestion.

    Your writing is probably something that’s pretty personal. I get it. And your editor most likely gets it, too. I like to have writers review and accept or deny my edits and suggestions on their own. It’s my way of trying to make sure they know they retain ownership over their words. I don’t expect you to accept every edit or rework your text based on my every suggestion (although I must admit to feeling a certain level of satisfaction when you do).

  6. Don’t get mad at your editor.

    Just to reiterate, your editor’s job is to help make you look good. They’re not there to attack you. So why get mad at someone who’s trying to help you? Sometimes, it can be hard to face criticism, even if it is constructive. Take a step back. Write an angry e-mail that you’ll never send. Take a shower. Vent to a friend. Wait a while to respond. But don’t snap at your editor. That’s just mean.

Having a better working relationship with your editor will help you produce better content. You’ll be able to collaborate together more effectively, and as a result, you’ll end up with better ideas that are conveyed more clearly (without grammatical errors!).

Do you work with an editor? Are you struggling to establish a better working relationship? Is there something you wish your editor would do differently? Leave a note in the comments!


Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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