Friday, February 17, 2012

The Other Side of the Table - Andrea Merrell

The first time I volunteered to read at my local writers group, I prayed for courage and kept reminding myself to breathe as I awaited my turn. When it came, it was either dive in or pack up pad and pen . . . and hightail it out of there.

When I finished reading, the silence was deafening. After waiting for what seemed like hours, the leader began her critique, followed by several comments from other group members. The rest of the meeting was a blur. I couldn’t wait to see what these strangers had written on my papers.

My husband asked how it went. My reply: “I feel like I just got chewed up and spit out by a group of very nice people.” During the critique, all I heard (or thought I heard) were negative, critical comments. Now, as I pulled my papers out of the folder, there were little smiley faces and positive, encouraging comments from everyone. From that moment, I learned the power and importance of a good critique.

A few months later I attended my first writers conference. Sitting across the table from various agents and editors seemed like a job interview and I felt unprepared, underdressed, and under-qualified. The feedback was both positive and negative—some kind and some not so kind. If I had focused on the negative, I would have left the conference, shut down my computer, and looked for another pastime. Fortunately, the positive outweighed the negative and caused me to go home and make my writing better by applying what I learned.

A couple of years later I found myself on the other side of the table at the same writers conference, this time representing Christian Devotions Ministries as their Associate Editor.

What a difference . . . sitting on the opposite side, knowing I had the “power” to say yes or no—to encourage dreams or be a dream-smasher. As I looked into the hopeful eyes of those presenting their stories and devotions for my approval/critique, I thought back to how I felt sitting in their chair and knew I had to make my words kind, constructive, and encouraging. My job was to speak life into their hearts and their words.

If you’re a newbie, work hard at learning the basics and honing your craft. Keep a humble attitude, always be teachable, and develop that proverbial “rhino skin.”

If you’re an established writer, editor, agent, or publisher, treat people with the respect and consideration you want extended to you. Sow generously into the lives of people and help them achieve their dreams.

And . . . always remember what it felt like on the other side of the table.

Andrea Merrell is the Associate Editor for Christian Devotions, writer  and a free-lance editor living in Travelers Rest, SC