During my first few years of freelance writing, several magazine editors sent my manuscripts back to me, requesting rewrites.
They liked my story ideas but wanted the articles rewritten, more detailed, or presented from a different angle.
Our egos can be stung
These early perceived criticisms of my work stung like a bee. Fortunately, I soon realized this was just my ego reacting. Ego is a powerful thing and I quickly understood that if I wanted to see my articles published in their magazines I would have to put my ego aside. I had to give the editors their rewrites just the way they wanted them.
So, I buckled down to try to understand what the editors were telling me about my writing and what I needed to do to improve it. I made the rewrites my first priority and turned them around within 24 hours.
It’s not personal
After a few rewrites, I came to understand that the editor’s comments and feedback were not personal. They were simply aimed at improving the readability of my articles, so the editors could go ahead and publish them. Editors are deeply and personally invested in their magazines, regarding them almost as their children. Not to mention that their jobs depend on producing quality stories month after month. So they want the most polished stories they can get.
I also grudgingly realized that, after the rewrites, my stories read so much better. Bonus! I was learning how to improve my writing from these rewrites. I was growing as a freelance writer.
Acceptance of editorial criticism leads to good things!
Once I accepted all this, I forged excellent relationships with my editors. They, in turn, were relieved that I was open to rewriting my stories, when needed. This attitude adjustment on my part placed me in their regular stables of writers. I suddenly found these editors accepting more of my pitches. In one case, an editor accepted an article from me after he had previously rejected it, just because I had his confidence after doing a rewrite. A few editors even sent me new assignments, without me pitching them.
I was gaining momentum. Because I was comfortable with rewrites, I was magically getting more work from more editors.
Don’t fight it
While I was figuring all this out, I was meeting other freelance travel writers at conferences and workshops. These friends advised me that the worst thing I could do was fight or disagree with editors over editorial changes. They told me, “This will get you removed from their stable of regular writers very quickly“. Editors prefer to work with low maintenance writers, not prima donnas.
Why do writers feel the sting of criticism so badly? We tend to see our writing as an immensely personal extension of our mind. We see our work as a reflection of the very essence of who and what we are, so receiving and accepting feedback on our writing is very hard for us to digest. We’re being confronted by our own lack of perfection.
How can we deal with the ego sting?
Savvy veteran freelance writers learn to develop a thick hide and to accept constructive feedback and criticism, instead of reacting and taking it personally.
When an editor gives you feedback on your writing, requests a rewrite, or edits your articles, it’s not personal. Give the editor whatever he or she wants, immediately. It’s their magazine! They know what their readers like and dislike far better than you do.
Great advice, Roy! I have found in the decades that I’ve been an editor that those who are classically trained in writing – in any genre – are well aware of the value of editorial feedback….this is an attitude that I find lacking in many bloggers who believe that their storytelling skills need no polishing, not realizing that an editor’s primary job is to ensure that they actually *do* shine. Bravo for sharing your experience and perspective!