The Seven Stages Of Editing Grief

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Editing is a process.  Sometimes writers go through editing grief.  If this happens to you, please don’t feel bad, it’s very common.  It’s next to impossible to edit your own work.

editingI’m an editor and I still need one myself. My backyard looks lovely from my kitchen window but I’m sure my neighbor can see the weeds growing near the porch – that I can’t see!  We all have blind spots and use comfort words.

My goal is to fix any editing issue while preserving your unique voice in your manuscript.  If at any time you feel uncomfortable with an editing change, please let me know so we can work it out.

Here are the stages.  They’re funny but they do happen!

1. Denial –  “That editor doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  My manuscript was fine ’til she got hold of it.”

2. Pain & Guilt –  “I can’t believe this is such a mess.  If only I used that word there, I wouldn’t be stung by that stupid red pen.”

3. Anger –  “What the *%$ does that chick think she’s doing?  Does she even know how to write?”

4. Depression –  “Why did my publisher ever send me a contract?  I should have been an architect.”

5. Acquiescence –  “Well, maybe I should look at this and see what she has to say.  I mean, she’s supposed to fix things, right?  How bad can it be?”

6. Reconstruction –  “Hey, this is fairly decent, in fact some of these changes make the story stand out a little better than before.”

7.  Hope –  “Wow, this is pretty cool.  I wonder what else I can fix to make it more compelling?!”

It really is a process.  Sometimes when you get done with the first edit, you find so many other things, it’s like layers.  Other times you edit something out and discover you liked it better the first way later on.  This is all normal, don’t worry.  You don’t have to be a grammar pro to write well.

And every writer needs an editor!

6 Comments
  1. Paula Boer says

    I agree with all that Karen says.

    If you do edit your own work, let it rest for a few weeks or months first. It’s surprising what will pop out at you.

    I would also add, you don’t have to accept all changes made by an editor – if you can justify your reasons for wanting something a particular way, discuss it with them. Often you end up with what may appear a compromise which is actually better than both versions.

  2. Hank Quense says

    I agree with Karen and Paula. Getting a manuscript edited can be a bit traumatic, but it’s a necessary part of writing. I generally accept everything my editors tell me, but not always. Sometimes I overrule the editor, but I don’t do it lightly.

  3. scieditor says

    It’s good to remember this, as an editor. I know that even I feel this when my own work is edited. I my just send my authors a link to this post when I return their edited files.
    Editors go through similar stages when we receive a raw manuscript. Jim Taylor laid them out like this:
    1. paralysis
    2. contempt
    3. superiority
    4. acceptance

    They don’t necessarily come in that order.

  4. Kristin Fouquet says

    Hi Karen, thanks for posting this article. I too have made the comparison to gardens and writing. Planting is the writing part and editing is the weeding. The planting might be more fun, but seeing the garden’s beauty after weeding is like watching your writing improve. It can be a beautiful process.

    I met my first editor at another writing community. We discussed the heavy editing (sometimes 80% of a story) by editor Gordon Lish to Raymond Carver’s writing. My initial feeling was betrayal. How much of those stories were more Carver or Lish? Yet, after reading the unedited versions, I felt it was clear the editing had improved them.

    Being married to one’s words is the kiss of death for any writer. However, knowing when to stop editing is also important. My first editor was also a poet. He said you can finish a poem, but you never really finish a story- you just surrender to it because you could edit forever.

  5. Caryl McAdoo says

    Karen, thanks for your insight. It’s so true that every manuscript needs fresh eyes! And usually the more the merrier because after 3 professional editors go over a manuscript, a young reader who’s never edited finds there’s a silly little ‘the’ or ‘to’ missing. I guess our brains just read them in. I’ve been editing professionally since 2001, and ALWAYS ask more than one of my writing colleagues to go over my work.

  6. Eva Blaskovic says

    Every writer *does* need an editor, preferably more than one of professional caliber, even if he/she is an editor.

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