Discover more from Betsy Dornbusch
editing vs critting
I’ve been asked about this a few times, and a few times recently, so I thought I’d touch on the subject of editing vs critiquing. I’ve had extensive experience with both.
For a decade, I had the pleasure and privilege of editing short stories for the magazine Electric Spec with friends and writers I respect. In that time I read thousands of stories, and parts of stories, though of course only a comparative few made it through to publication. A lot of truly good stories were held for consideration, so as editors we spent a lot of time separating the good from the great and analyzing the difference. Be it voice, imagery, singing dialogue, or pure originality (this less than the other qualities) we “fought” for our stories to make it through to acceptance. That meant articulating why we thought they were so great. I learned a great deal about what my own interests are, what piques my attention, and what makes a story work. That all sounds subjective, doesn’t it? It is! And all lessons to apply to crafting short stories of my own.
This is similar to buying books, by the way. Individual picks must run the gauntlet of the editorial board (including sales influence). Having sat on both sides of this table made me not only a better writer, but a better professional. (Like keeping my crying to the confines of my office.) (Also sending stories right back out without letting them languish in pools of my tears.)
Around the same time I left the magazine, I also left critique group. It had been a valuable learning experience, and I’d argue quite a bit more than editing. Each piece, twice a month, required a deep dive. Good critiquing is thinking macro and micro at the same time, plus commenting so that the writers not only understands but feels helped and encouraged along the way.
In editing I often didn’t read past the first page if it was going to be a no; those get quick to find. And we usually didn’t have to spend hours editing a story once we chose it, they already were excellent and only needed a quick polish with the cooperation of the author. So while some of the skills between editing and critiquing cross over, by and large I’d choose critiquing to really sharpen your craft. And by critiquing, I mean doing the critique. I gained far more from giving critique than receiving it.
All that experience aside, the need to critique and be critiqued doesn’t really go away. I call myself a “somewhat accomplished” short story writer despite ten years in the editing and critiquing trenches, despite selling quite a few myself. I feel like a less accomplished novel writer, despite selling five of them. So the biggest takeaway? A decade of critiquing and editing was a good start, but a decade later I still need help with my short stories—and books, for that matter—and I always will.
Thanks for reading Betsy Dornbusch! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.