Dear Writers: Feedback is not Censorship

When you decide to become an author or a writer or whatever ‘free spirited creative thinker’ title you call yourself, you knowingly enter into a pack with the writing gods of old, accepting the fact that anything, everything, and all of the things you write and send out into the world will be analyzed, combed over with a microscope, shot with ultraviolet lights, and whatever else it is those CSI guys keep in the backs of their vans. Your work will be ripped apart, put in a blender, likely incinerated, and probably fed to wolves in the process.

(We call this wildebeest feedback, in laymen terms.)

Many authors welcome this passionate evisceration of their work with open arms. Much like a sadomasochistic relationship, it’s going to hurt you – but you’re going to like it. Feedback is a grueling, though essential, tool to the writer. What we don’t see in our work, others will, and where we fall short, or stand tall, others will find it, too. We need to be able to utilize all of these lovely little nuggets of information. Sometimes, something doesn’t work out quite the way we expect – it happens. Contrary to popular belief, creative types make mistakes all the time. 

So why is it so many authors seem to think we exist in a bubble, where our work cannot be touched, prodded, poked, and opened at the chest cavity to expose all the goop inside? Why, on the flip side, are there authors who go as far as to claim any sort of feedback or editing that points out vital flaws is ‘damming’ to the creative process, claiming that it’s ‘censorship?’

I don’t know. I’m not one of those authors. I actually appreciate when people tell me I’ve, for lack of my caring about propriety this morning, fucked up. 

To put it into context, an article was posted to one of the writing groups I belong to. This article, in fact. The gist of it highlights certain publishing houses hiring what they call ‘sensitivity writers,’and their utilization in the publishing process. The naming could have been done better, but we won’t talk about that. The main point of the article is highlighted at the beginning:

Before a book is published and released to the public, it’s passed through the hands (and eyes) of many people: an author’s friends and family, an agent and, of course, an editor.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families” or “transgender issues.”

“What? There’s people that read books specifically to make sure I’m actually portraying things right? To tell me if I’ve incorrectly handled an issue I have no personal experience with? To help me better portray different kinds of people in my books without relying on tropes or insensitive content?! Sign me up! Give me all the feedback!”

^ things no one in that particular writers’ group thread said.

Instead, there were cries of outrage over the censorship of the creative process, how authors are no longer able to write what they want, how they want, how freedom of creativity trumps delicate sensibilities. All from people who claim to be writers (you know, that group of people who made the pact and – you remember, you’ve read this far.)

One woman I engaged with even likened this phenomenon with book burning. Book burning. Being told perhaps you shouldn’t refer to your trans character in a book as ‘a tranny’ is the equivalent to book burning. 

I’m going to let that sink in before I move on.

This is just one, ridiculous, example I’ve seen from people claiming any sort of negative feedback or criticism is censorship. It’s one of the more inane ones, given that these books aren’t even being censored – they are being read, by readers (not altered by editors) to give feedback (not directly change the content of) the books they are given to read. That information is then relayed to publishing companies and the author of the book. This is somehow a problem…?

I don’t think these people understand how writing or reviews work. Boy are they going to be surprised. Let’s break it down: feedback is when people give their opinion and suggestions regarding your work with the intention of improvement. Censorship is when I go through your work with an XL Sharpie and live out my fantasy of being in the FBI on your manuscript.

And I get it. Facing the daunting wall of people telling you that you suck is hard. Being a writer is hard. It’s not pretty most of the time. That’s why you suck it up, understand it comes with the territory, and if you actually give a shit about your content or your writers, you might take something away from services like that. And it’s not about blindly accepting every single piece of feedback as law – that’s just asking for a manuscript that makes no sense. But it is understanding that a lot of feedback is being given for a reason.

I have read countless stories that attempt to write marginalized characters or portray certain situations, and the author could have benefited infinitely from a reader giving them feedback on the portrayal of those characters. It’s not about censoring the creative process, it’s about the collaborative effort between writers and readers to put out good content. Why would you, as an author, want to put out work that is poorly written, with terribly conceived stereotypes? Technically you can, because as a writer you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want, but why would you honestly want to portray certain groups of people badly? Just because you want to write that way? Like… is that your gimmick? Is that just your aesthetic? Are you wanting to make trolling your full time job as an author…?

I don’t get touting mediocrity as creative freedom in these cases where people snub actual, helpful critique, because that’s what snubbing any form of feedback or constructive criticism as an author is. Mediocrity is not interesting. Mediocrity is not innovative. Mediocrity is not creative. It’s mediocre. It’s what everyone else with a computer and access to Word is doing. Mediocre, unedited, unchecked garbage. As someone who gets paid to beta read and give constructive criticism to authors for a living, I can tell you that manuscripts benefit from these kinds of services. As a reader, I wish more manuscripts had gone through it before publishing.

If, by chance, you’ve made it through this behemoth relatively unscathed, I encourage you to read the article linked in full. I’ll even link it again right here. Happy reading.



3 thoughts on “Dear Writers: Feedback is not Censorship

  1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… You can never be sure that what was in your head made it onto the page. This is what makes an editor and critique invaluable to the writer. I reblogged this on my Horror group’s page for the Greater Rocky Mountain Horror Writers as we embark on our first group Critique, I think your advice is perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! It’s not always going to be fun hearing about your work from others but… It’s invaluable, in my opinion. And if you’re going to be a writer, one that’s looking to publish, especially, not accepting feedback, to me, just tells me you’re not actually serious about your work.


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