We published part one of this series a few weeks ago—you can read it here. The subject of this series is the gargoyle of pride that perches on our person in the arts. Confidence in our abilities as writers/editors/publishers is essential, but confidence can quickly morph into ugly pride that robs us of joy, success, and relationships. As artists, we must tame the beast of pride and make him work for us instead of the other way around. Below are tips three through five on how to tame the beast.
3. Show respect
So you think your editor is stupid, that the writer you’re working with is too attached to his work, or that your publisher only wants to make themselves look good. Yes, it’s possible you’re correct. But never assume you’re correct. Instead, assume that the person you’re working with is in the business for a reason—they have skills, they have experience, and they have a soul. Assume the best of intentions in others, and react in kind by showing them the respect you want to receive.
Maybe the writer you’re working with really is too attached to his work, so much so that he can’t look at it objectively anymore—what do you lose by respecting him anyway? Nothing. What do you as a writer lose by respecting the editor who’s spending hours on your piece? Nothing. Healthy, functioning relationships in this business must be built on a foundation of mutual respect. It costs you nothing to show it.
4. Sleep on it
I mean that literally—sleep before you respond to something you perceive as negative. I’ve found sleep to be the best thing to check my sanity; it’s cleansing, almost as if it softens the edges of our perceptions and makes things clearer. And for those of us who work off of sleep deprivation to begin with, catching up a bit can do wonders for our overall brain functioning. Unless your response to someone needs to be sent out immediately due to a deadline, make yourself rest and reset your brain before responding.
If you do need to respond quickly, take an hour before responding and do something totally different—take a walk, a brief nap, listen to music. You need to get some distance from the situation so that when you come back to the computer, you’re thinking at least a little more objectively and less emotionally.
This tip goes for receiving extremely positive feedback or news, as well. Your piece isn’t only going to be published in Big Name Lit Mag, but it’s going to be their featured piece! Woo hoo! *Party horns and heel kicks* But wait! Don’t hammer out a paragraph of gobbeldy gook dripping with excitement, surprise, and unprofessionalism. Again, take a step back. Do your heel kicks on the front lawn, not on the page. Of course be grateful for such an honor, but make sure you stop hyperventilating before you respond to the good news. You’ll come off far more professional, and hopefully more coherent.
5. Have tact
Imagine that you’re a writer and you really don’t like one of the edits made to your piece that was accepted for publication by a lit mag. I mean, you really don’t like this change. Here’s one way you can say so: “Your change is stupid and thoughtless. I have no idea how you can think this is necessary. I will not agree to it.” Congratulations, you just alienated the editor who is trying to strengthen your piece and has put hours into doing so. Most likely, she’ll drop your piece and will warn others against working with you. Nobody wants to work with ego and disrespect like that. You now have a black mark on your record.
However, you could have expressed yourself like this: “I feel that this change doesn’t serve to strengthen the piece and may instead take away from the subtext I tried to embed in paragraph three. Would you please help me understand your reasons for the change?” Congratulations, the editor is still working with you. You didn’t accuse her change or her of being stupid, but clearly expressed your opinion and your reasons for it. Instead of refusing to make the change, you ask her to convince you it needs to be made. This is called tact, people. Using tact actually makes your argument stronger, displays your thoughtfulness and professionalism, and doesn’t make you sound like a child having a tantrum in the toy aisle. Does having tact take more time and control than blurting out of your hurt and frustration? Absolutely. Is it worth the effort to get your piece published and not ruin your reputation? Of course it is.
I have three more tips for you in part three to come, so stay tuned. Is that gargoyle feeling any lighter yet?
By Madeleine Mozley