Thursday, October 16, 2014

Authors and sensitivity to criticism

I've noticed that some, maybe many, authors suffer from Enissophobia, or fear of criticism. Every critical word about their writing, no matter how constructive or kindly given, feels to them as a knife in their side—a personal attack that cuts deeply—or as one author said, "like cutting off my thumb." 

What is it about us writers that makes us so vulnerable that we suffer extreme anxiety when we allow another person to read our written work? It is akin the fear a mother might feel in handing over her newborn infant to a stranger. An author's words were created and nurtured with fervor, extreme care, and attention to details and birthed with great emotion and that borders on both joy and pain. No wonder it hurts when someone points out a fault in this labor of love and devotion.  

Yet, an editor's job is to refine, shape, and polish another author's work. This involves cutting, correcting, and suggesting something different—without discouraging the authors and sending them into hiding. It's the author's job to consider every cut, correction, and suggestion; and to defend every word and construction, if he doesn't agree with the edits.  

As both an editor and an author, I see and empathize with both. As a writer I have felt the same trepidation when I put my work—myself—out there for another person to see and critique. I immediately begin to second guess myself, suddenly certain that my work is no good, and everyone will hate it. 

But the editor in me knows that the book must be tried in the fire of many editors and the dross burned away, not just once, but many times, by much critical appraisal. 

Because I know how that feels to an author, I attempt to be especially sensitive and open to the authors' viewpoints as they defend their "babies." 

This Enissophobia, or sensitivity to criticism, seemed to intensify for my dear sister, mentor, and talented author as she neared the end of her life. I'm sure I inadvertently hurt her feelings more than once with comments that I meant to be positive, but were heard as fault-finding. And that breaks my heart, for I wouldn't have purposely hurt her for the world.  

Now, as I edit and rewrite a book that we have co-authored, my part coming after her death, I can only correct her words by painstakingly considering her purpose and desires. My single desire for this book is that every word of it would meet her approval. 

Not only is that my wish for my sister, Joan's words, but for those of every author whose work I edit. The hard part is that Joan is no longer here to defend her work, so I must do it for her.