Commandment #2: Find Your Coping Mechanism

As I mentioned last week, one of the benefits of being part of a good writing group is that it teaches you to cope with the disappointment or even heartache of having your work critiqued.

Photo credit: Simon Collison
via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
In the moment, you might want to cry, scream, yell, rant about being misunderstood, fight against the criticism, or maybe even give up on writing altogether. And in today's world where every moment is shared through some form of social media, it can be all too tempting to put all of those feelings online, forgetting that doing so makes your private moment very, very public. You don't want to be seen as the egomaniac who is impossible to work with because they believe every word they write is sacred. And you definitely don't want to give up on your dream just because you haven't yet figured out how to pick yourself back up and keep working.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what coping mechanism will work for you, as it's different for everybody. Some writers read their critiques (whether from critique partners, agents, or editors) and then go curl up in a ball, unable to face the criticism of their painstakingly written work—for a couple of days. Then they get up, reread the notes with a little bit less emotion involved so the suggestions don't feel quite so life-or-death, possibly ask some (or many) follow-up questions, and get to work on revisions.

Other writers like to dive in right away, because they want to get a handle on things and not feel like the problems that were pointed out are beyond their control. I had one writer reply within hours to a rather long editorial letter with a step-by-step response on how he planned to address each note. Later I found out that this had been his method of dealing with feeling overwhelmed and a bit despondent over the quality of his draft. But we discussed his proposed revisions and agreed on a direction, and then he was able to do the important part: getting back to work and improving his story, transforming it into the novel it is today.

For some people, like the aforementioned writer, knowing exactly what they're going to do to fix the problem is how they cope. For others, it takes commiserating (privately!) with a close friend or fellow writer, or eating a pint of ice cream while binge-watching a comedy show, or maybe putting the notes away in a drawer and pretending they don't exist for a little while, before they're ready to accept and thoughtfully consider the critique.

Whatever your coping mechanism, the important things to remember are:
  1. Keep it private and off the internet,
  2. Be respectful to the person who put in the time and effort to help you with your manuscript, even if you don't agree with 100% of their notes (which is okay!), and
  3. At some point you have to sit down, take it all in, and get back to work.

What's your go-to coping mechanism? Share in the comments!

Commandment #1: Find a Good Critique Group

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A good critique group is a crucial part of an aspiring author's (and even an established author's) success for two reasons:
  1. It teaches you how to deal with criticism—good, bad, and ugly.
  2. It provides both help in polishing your work and a support group as you enter the complex world of publishing.

Notice I didn't say, "Find a group of people who tell you your writing is amazing." A critique group exists to do just that—critique.  A good group will consist of people who are willing and able to point out the problems you're having, so that you can work on fixing them. While your group can consist of writers of all levels, you do want to make sure you're not all beginners. Also, don't be afraid of being the least-experienced writer in your group, as you'll almost certainly learn a lot about both writing and how publishing works. And if the first group you join doesn't seem like the right fit, don't be shy about trying a different one!
    If every writer you know is just starting out, consider taking some courses or workshops led by experienced authors or editors. Many of these are now conveniently available online.

Now let's look back at reason #1: learning to deal with criticism. Everyone in the publishing world knows that having your writing criticized can be difficult and sometimes even painful. It's also an inevitable part of the process. What experienced writers know is that it's a million times better to have a critique partner or an editor point out the problems in your manuscript, big and small, than it is to have those problems brought up in negative reviews after the book is out.

But taking criticism is a skill. You have to know how to cope with the sting (Commandment #2), how to sort through criticism and decide which suggestions to apply, and how to then go through and revise your manuscript accordingly. When going through submissions, the main reason I care whether someone has a creative writing degree or any relevant coursework is that that's a sign the writer has learned how to deal with critiques. Because sitting at a table with 10+ other writers while they tear apart your work is tough. Recognizing which of the comments you received are complete bogus and which, no matter how much they hurt, will help your writing improve is tougher. And being able to tear into the precious baby that is your manuscript in order to make it even stronger is one of your most important skills as a writer.

A writer who has learned to take criticism is one who has at least some idea of how much hard work it takes to get from a first draft to a polished book; one who will embrace working with an editor, rather than fighting every suggestion and refusing to make changes; one who knows editorial notes are a necessary growing pain on the way to making their manuscript the best story it can be; and one who can handle all of the rejections and negative reviews that every author has to face. And having a good critique group is the first step in learning and honing these skills.


Do you have tips on finding a good critique group? Share in the comments!

10 Commandments for Writers

Hello, everyone! To kick off our blog, Jennifer and I have put together a list of "commandments" for writers—i.e., our 10 biggest tips. Because all these tips are equally important, we've organized them chronologically: from just starting out as a writer through the publication of your work. We'll discuss them all in depth, one at a time. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!

Touchstone Editing's 10 Commandments for Writers are:
  1. Find a Good Critique Group
  2. Find Your Coping Mechanism
  3. Read Often and Widely
  4. Be Professional
  5. Remember the Importance of Revision
  6. Never Sign Anything You Don't Understand
  7. Respect Your Editor
  8. Not All Critiques Are Created Equal
  9. Don't Be Afraid to Put Your Work Out There
  10. Know When to Stand Up for Yourself & Your Work

Check out the links above to read our explanation for each commandment. Have tips for fellow writers we didn't include? Leave them in the comments!

Welcome to the Touchstone Editing Blog!


Welcome to the brand-new Touchstone Editing blog! Here, Jennifer and Anya will share tips for writers, their thoughts on current events in the industry, any special offers, and whatever else comes to mind.

We hope our posts will prove helpful to all those writers pursuing publication, whether they follow the traditional, independent, or hybrid path. Our goal is to help demystify topics related to working with an editor and the publishing industry, from overarching explanations to minutiae that might be helpful for writers to learn.

So of course, we welcome your questions! If there's anything you would like the Touchstone editors to address, please post your questions in the comments. You can also send them to questions@touchstone-editing.com. (Please be sure to note if you would like your question to be addressed anonymously.)