Now that another chapter’s out the door, I can confess: I’m afraid to look at feedback on my written work. When I get a chapter back from my editor or comments on a proposal for a conference, my adrenaline surges as I stare at the item in the inbox.
I’m afraid to click on it. Utterly, wildly terrified.
Isn’t that sad? A bit embarrassing, too. I’ve only rarely been savaged as a writer and never by an editor. My submissions have been rejected a few times, but not too often. I’ve even received a healthy share of compliments on my writing, historical research and argumentation. After all, I’ve been doing this for more than twenty years.
In fact, I realize that I love to write. I love to write my popular culture and history pieces. I love to write professional history for more sober venues. I love the thrill of trying out a new interpretation or putting together some sources in a novel argument. It’s fun, it’s rewarding and even a little bit exhilarating. When a piece is in pretty good shape, I’m even quite happy to send it off to a journal editor or in response to a call for papers. There’s a real thrill that accompanies that moment when I click “SEND” on the email submission.
So you’d think I could handle clicking on the link to an email with feedback about my writing without breaking a sweat, right? Wrong! I steel myself to do that, reading through the response as fast as I can. Do they hate it? Do they want to forget they ever read it (or knew me?)? Do they just have a few problems they want to fix?
Sometimes that notice that they’re requesting revisions can be even worse for assuaging that horrible roiling in your stomach. Then you have to open up the attachments, be they readers’ reports or editorial mark-up, and see what’s really required. Which often isn’t all that daunting – change this, cut that, expand this – had I considered revising the argument here to use X, Y or Z to illustrate the point more directly?
I read the comments through to the end and, invariably, I perk up. I think, “I can do this! I can take this criticism and use it to improve my piece.” I might also grumble a bit as I think that asking to cut that one super-cool example or comparison from my magnum opus is so unfair. Occasionally, I will push back and fight to retain an element that’s been challenged. But if my editor is someone I trust to know the field, the professional expectations and the audience, I usually just sigh, give into their criticism and pile up the outtakes for future blog fodder.
But the long minutes that pass while I try to stare down the unopened email from the editor, sitting there in all of its bold-font urgency, wondering what’s in the feedback? Those are still some of the most difficult moments in my professional life.
How does it feel for you?