Taylor Swift’s advice about mean editors

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss an article written by Erik Schneiderhan in which he talks about dealing with mean editors….

I don’t think I’d know a Taylor Swift song if I fell over one. But when reader Susan Wilson sent me a link to an article in which a Swift song was the central image, I found myself agreeing with it.

Published in the Journal of Higher Education and headlined, “Why You Gotta Be So Mean?”, the article was written by Erik Schneiderhan, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

Schneiderhan speculates as to why academics are frequently so unkind to their colleagues when reviewing articles for journals. Here is part of what he said, in reflecting on a review through which he had suffered:

With each sentence, I felt myself shrinking in stature. My prose was “passable.” I bordered on being “uninformed.” The reviewer, in response to the question of “significance of content,” checked “low” (the worst one). I had also failed to meet “minimum standards of competency in history and philosophy,” which is not good if you are writing for an interdisciplinary journal in the social sciences.

I agree with Schneiderhan’s logic that the nastiness likely arises because these reviews (which, for academics, are done pre-publication) are anonymous. It’s Lord of the Flies time, with people able to vent their spleen at colleagues they don’t much like or maybe even compete against. As well, Schneiderhan notes that the journal editors likely have been too timid with their reviewers who are working without pay.

As for me, I’m not interested in hearing comments about my unpublished writing from anyone who isn’t an editor, or someone I trust and respect. Too many writers put too much stock in what others think. Understand is that, these days, being published is something akin to winning a lottery. Or, it’s something you do yourself. Don’t accept false positive or negative reviews from others unless you know their credentials.

Oh, and don’t be mean to others.

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