Constructive Criticism: How to Get the Best From Your Writer When the Work Needs Revision
Critiquing someone else’s work is fraught with peril. Artistic types — from portrait painters right down to bloggers for hire — are notoriously touchy about their work. Their creations are expressions of themselves, after all, and it’s sometimes hard to hear that those expressions might be flawed.
Even the word “criticize” has two distinct connotations: one potentially helpful, the other cringeworthy. Criticize can mean, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to look at a piece of work and “make judgments about” it. That can be truly helpful for someone looking to improve their writing. But, criticize can also mean to “express disapproval” or find faults. Ouch! That can hurt.
So, what should you do if the material you commissioned is not quite up to snuff? Ask for a revision, of course, but follow the guidelines below. They will help you walk that fine line between offering a useful critique and just being plain critical.
- Know what you want – Sometimes we have an idea about what we want, but it’s still a bit nebulous. Maybe we think, “I’ll know it when I see it.” This approach can work. Writers have been known to pull some pretty amazing ideas out of thin air. But, if your piece has already reached the this-needs-a-revision stage, it’s time to be crystal clear about what you want. Before you reach out to your writer, know exactly what direction your article needs to take.
- Be clear – Vague instructions may be part of the reason the piece you commissioned did not fit your needs. Once you have clearly defined your own goals for the piece, be sure that you state them just as clearly to your writer.
- Be open to changing your mind – You’ve hired a professional writer for a reason. Let that writer do what she does best. You know your own needs, of course, but your writer may have some ideas and insights that you have overlooked. Be open to hearing why she may have made changes to your original concept.
- Tamp down your emotions – If you were expecting a polished piece the first time through, it can be frustrating to feel your instructions were ignored or that your time has been wasted. But, this is business; try to remain businesslike. You are much more likely to get positive results from your writer if you can frame your rewrite request in a calm and unemotional way.
- Encourage questions – Your writer may be worried about wasting your time with unnecessary questions. But, as you know, the back and forth of the revision process is time consuming as well. When making your revision request, be sure to preface it with an invitation to ask questions if anything is unclear. Answering a quick question or two will certainly be less time consuming than making another revision request down the line.
Kate C is an artistic type who tries not to be too temperamental. She lives in the desert but dreams of the mountains. She shares her home with her husband of 27 years and a fat, sassy Boston terrier named Tess.