Where is the line between feedback, criticism and control when writing?

Have you ever handed in a piece of work that you worked really hard on and thought was spectacular, perhaps your best work yet, only to have someone “critique” it to the point that it almost feels like they are bashing it?

Let’s face it, all writers have had similar experiences, and it makes the hair on your neck stand up and pay attention. If you are like me, you will reassess the situation and begin questioning what went wrong. You may realize that you misunderstood the directions or didn’t meet all the criteria. This is normal. It is painful, but you must pick up the pieces, learn from the mistake and move on.

Writers need thick skin because getting critiqued is part of the job, and you cannot take it personally; otherwise, you will lose your confidence and stifle your creativity.

It can be disheartening when you fulfilled the obligation, are satisfied with your work and feel the criticism is unnecessary because the person who provided the instruction wasn’t straightforward. All you can do is explain to the person why you misunderstood so they will offer more clarity the next time, shake off the disappointment and hope for a better response. But what if it happens over and over again?

This is where you begin to question the line between feedback, criticism and control.

Everyone has different tastes, and what one person likes, the other may not. This is especially true when it comes to writing. Every content writer has a different style, tone and word usage, as does each brand and every publication. The trick is to learn to write in a variety of different ways. When you have mastered that, you are well on your way to being an expert in the field.

I consider myself an expert because I have been published in over 100 online publications in various niches and have been honing my craft since 2005. And I know when I am being short-changed.

The fact of the matter is you can re-hash and rewrite any story to make it sound different but still have the same meaning without committing plagiarism. This is an essential strategy that SEO agencies use to save money, as outlined in a recent article published on Seeromega. It does not mean the original piece was not good or contained terrible grammar.

Writers have a particular ego that makes them feel that they are the ones who can write the story the best. What happens when that ego turns into control and feedback is only used as a dagger? How will you know?

Here are signs that things will not bode well for a gig.

  1. The editor says they only made a few edits, and your writing is solid, but when you get your piece back, it has been changed and no longer has the same meaning. Ouch, control much?
  2. Much of your verbiage is changed, making you feel like the piece no longer has your voice. Um, Ok. But you said the work is excellent?
  3. You followed their outline only to have your editor tell you that you must follow the publication guidelines. Say what now?
  4. The editor seems to pick and choose whether or not emails are copied to the client. I firmly believe that if you stand behind what you are saying and are being professional, there is no reason to pick and choose when to be transparent. This is an ugly game of office politics that I refuse to play. I will answer back with the CC to ensure that everyone on the team is evident on the instructions and, yes, honestly to CMA.
  5. When several other people on the team love your work, the same person always finds something to critique, which seems personal. Trust your gut. It usually is.

The good news is it may not be a personal attack on you. It may be that the person is not confident in their work and is attempting to discredit yours to gain control of their career. And there you have it, Houston, one of the biggest challenges a writer faces is a bad editor. It’s not ideal, because you will have to decide how to deal with this. After all, it is abusive and controlling behaviour. It not only hurts you, but it also affects the bottom line of the business when unnecessary work is created. Articles are expensive, so is the time it takes to rewrite them and then craft a three-hour email to explain the extreme changes to the work. Sometimes an article is good enough. It does not have to be perfect. Striving for perfection creates a backlog of editing and is not always best for the client.

Clients often blame the writers when the fact of the matter is it is not the writer causing the issue; it is the editor who either has an ego or lacks the experience to do the job correctly. Content management is complex and can be a buzz kill if you don’t get it right; you need to be more than just a writer or editor. You need to have good management skills and understand the needs of your writers, brands and clients. You need to find skillful ways to save them money and manage budgets effectively.

Should you grin and bear it? Do you move on and find another gig, and can you afford to? These are the questions I have been asking myself for a long time. It is a precarious position to be in. Chances are, if you mention how you feel, you may not be asked to write again; countermeasures often backfire, and finding new clients is challenging and exhausting.

The world is moving towards a new sustainable model for remote, freelance and hybrid workers. It has a lot to do with employee recognition programs and the ESG framework, which emphasizes social governance for workers. It means that workers are demanding better treatment, but it has only made strides in big business. Working for small companies has not improved much in the past decade.

The only advice I can offer is to try your best to bring it up delicately. If you feel like you are not getting anywhere, you have two choices, accept the payment and feel bad knowing that your client is being shortchanged or quit and find a new gig with a large sustainable company. In the real world, sometimes reality bites.

If you have any questions, please ask below!