Thursday, June 21, 2012

The 5 Stages of Editing Grief

I recently had to go through the line edits my publisher sent me for my short story, Birthright, which will be appearing in the Make Believe anthology in December. I'd spent a lot of time getting the story right, a lot of time on the subtle nuances, the word rhythms, and the little things that could possibly make a good story into a great one. Then the line edits arrived. I found red scrawled through my precious document. My baby was bleeding with changes.

Stage 1: Denial
I've had short stories published before, I've had edits done on my work before, but I've never had to deal with so many adjustments. Self-righteous pride welled up inside me. My story didn't need all these changes—or so I told myself.

Stage 2: Anger
Even though I've heard authors talk about editors in a bad way, I've always sworn to never give an editor a hard time and to never assume they didn't know what they were on about. Well, in this stage of my editing grief, I'd forgotten that personal rule. I raged and pouted and stomped my footsies.

Stage 3: Depression
Of course, once I got over my self-absorbed anger, I turned to self-absorbed depression. I believed I was a terrible writer and my story would never be any good. I even toyed with thoughts of giving up.

Stage 4: Acceptance
Of course eventually I realised I was being a goose. I knew the story had some kind of potential otherwise J. Taylor Publishing would never have included it for the anthology.

Stage 5: Getting on with it
This is the stage where the real work can finally get done. It's not about accepting every single change an editor wants. As a writer, I am the author of my work. It's in both the author's and the editor's best interest to maintain the author's voice while producing the best work possible. It becomes a team effort based on trust. With a little give and take by both parties, the process becomes hugely rewarding.

What's your reaction when someone suggests changes to your work? To the writers: what's been your experience with professional editors?
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68 comments:

  1. Yes, those dreaded edits. I find editing short fiction harder than a novel, I don't know why. It always feels wrong, but when you finish it's worth it.

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  2. I've had short story edits which were all fairly minor and I was happy to go along with everything the editor suggested because it all made sense. I've recently been trhough the editing process with my agent and that has been brilliant although I keep hitting mayself on the back of the head saying 'Why didn't I see that one myself'!

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  3. It depends on the suggestion, for me. Usually for syntax and all that fun related stuff it just rolls right off me and I get to work, but when it comes to the meat of what makes a story and story I tend to get more defensive and have to contemplate things longer. I'd say I probably make changes on those things about half the time.

    I've worked with professional editors before. The one that sticks out in my mind was somebody who gave me the best advice ever ("rewrite it!") and some of the worst. (Mostly, completely changing my characters. And story. And everything. What?) Like most people say it's give and take. Some advice is going to be great and some's going to be crap. The key for us is to recognize which is which in the heart of our stories.

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    1. Well said. When it comes down to it it's about the story.

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  4. I've worked with critique partners and my publisher's editor. So far I've not hit the stages, probably because I go into knowing I'm not great and need all the help I can get. So making the changes are usually easy. I do hit them when my wife suggests changes though. Maybe because it's more personal with her.

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  5. About nine times out of ten, I accept the suggestion and try to incorporate it. I'm very easy to work with.

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  6. Whenever I receive a professional critique - I let someone else read it for me first! LOL!! I'm such a wimp!! Then I think I go straight to acceptance! LOL! take care
    x

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  7. Sometimes I'm totally insulted when the what needs to be fixed. I think, too, it has a lot with how the messenger delivers the message, too. I edit for others and I know you have to tell them the good news about thier piece first then the bad.

    Shelly
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

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  8. I think I'd stay in the 'denial' part for longer than necessary :)

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  9. Does one really have to go through stage 3? I'm sure though that the jubilant feeling will last longer once the story has been approved :D

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    1. lol, no. It's better if you don't! But everyone is different.

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  10. editors give me creeps, they really do! But then again wannabe writers also give me creeps... :)

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    1. boogley boogley!!
      (This is me giving you the creeps--giggle).

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  11. I'm there today. I sent the first 10 pages of my WIP to an editor yesterday--she sent back suggestions and of course,it depressed me. I might need to add huge factors to my work or it will be boring--she was so right but it makes me go through the thoughts of what a horrid writer I am.

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    1. That is natural and I'm not sure that feeling ever goes away completely. But I hope you don't give up because this is the normal process.

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  12. I don't have any experience with professional editors yet, but I imagine it can be quite galling to have serious changes suggested that might not at first make sense. But they are working for your best interest. I would probably have to take a few days to think about the suggestions before implementing them. I would have to go with my gut at the end of the day. (Lol, two cliches in one sentence - that one would get a red line through it for sure!)

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    1. bah! I say go with the cliches in the comments. Go wild! Get them out of your system for your prose ;)
      And yes, taking a few days to 'process' is a good thing.

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  13. Oh yes, I can relate to your stages!
    Though once I nearly pulled my story from an anthology because the editor wanted me to change the main character from some kind of everyday sweet to an outspoken person... That was going too far in my mind...another editor took over and my character stayed some kind of everyday sweet.

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    1. yep, some editors aren't going to be a good match for our stories because they have a different vision for our work.

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  14. Haven't had to deal with a professional editor, only critique partners, but I can relate. I've also had feedback from agents on my fulls that has left me feeling some of those things. In the end, I suppose it really is all about making the work the best that it can be...er, once we get past the denial and anger and throwing things stage. :)

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    1. yep, I agree, but ultimately it's the author who has the final say about their work. Hopefully the author has the wisdom to know when the advice they are given is good.

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  15. This post conveys the process perfectly.

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  16. Yep, those stages sound a little too accurate for my situation. I am pleased to report I have finally gotten to the "Get on with it" stage.

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  17. This is so true. I've planned a similar topic for my July 4th post. I haven't done these kinds of edits, but I've had to alter my WIP after receiving critiques. It's definitely an emotional process.

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  18. "My baby was bleeding with changes." No editor could delete that line!

    I'm glad you're in a better place with the edits. I hope you and your editor find a way to be happy with the finished product.

    And then I will buy it.

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  19. I wish I had something helpful to comment because I read this post with great interest, Lyn. All I can say is that I know you will navigate this experience as you have done every other stage of your growth as a writer -- with grace after grief.

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  20. Oh, excellent! I haven't had this kind of experience yet, but certain beta readers have given me some challenges!

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  21. I'm in the middle of content edits and they are going great. I love my editor. She is very encouraging and tells me repeatedly how much she loves my novel, which takes some of the sting out of what comes after the "But I think we should change..." part of her sentence. :)

    I was very nervous when I started editing and I still get a little protective of my writing, and go through the "I suck" stage, but overall I couldn't ask for a better experience.

    Someone told me to look at edits as polishing. Our work is the diamond and the edits are the polishing that makes the diamond sparkle.

    Michelle
    Concilium, available July 27
    PODs, available June 4, 2013
    www.michelle-pickett.com

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    1. That's fantastic you have such a great relationship with your editor.

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  22. I take a few hours or days to think about the changes requested. It just seems easier after some thought - not so big and scary.

    Great post!

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  23. Thank you for sharing this great post! I did go through those stages in the past when I was working with a mentor. Good luck with your edits!

    "My baby was bleeding with changes." Loved this line, by the way!

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  24. I think I'll be an absolute mess for a day or two - and then I'll be able to suck it up and see past the red. At least that's my hope!

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  25. Nice use of Kubler-Ross! I had an essay that I was very protective and when an editor went to town on it, I threw a hissy fit and threatened to pull it from the journal. I eventually calmed down after realizing that his changes didn't all have to be made and we met in the middle. I'm kind of ashamed of that story:)

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  26. I've worked with several editors so far. The one who did Backworlds is my favorite. I just felt we were partners and produced a great product together. I think the editor/writer relationship is very personal -- what does the writer want ... what is the editor offering. Then knowing ultimately, changes are my decision.

    I have an anthology coming out sometime this year, too, but the edits for that were rather painless. The edits I demand from myself are usually more severe.

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    1. That feeling of partnership does make a huge difference.

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  27. Heh. Sounds completely normal to me. ^_^
    Though I tend to go through stage 1 & 2 at the same time. On the other hand, I think I tend to skip stage 3 and go straight to stage 4.
    Of course, that's all with critiques not something a professional editor has looked over (though I'm hoping that'll be soon). Maybe stage 3 will strike then.

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    1. I found my reactions to comments from critique partners very different to those from an editor who is paid by the publisher of my work.

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  28. Great post. I envy you being even at stage 1. Congratulations again.

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  29. Great post! I had a mentor, assessor and editor to go over my first novel. I went through all those stages too.

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  30. At first, I was very taken aback but in time, I realized that the editors only wanted what was best. And I relented. Hope your edits go well.

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  31. love the analogy! i'm so green i'd be nodding and smiling just to be there. i would eat up all the editing improvements.

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  32. I've been through all those stages with critique partners. Knowing what to accept and what to ignore is all the more important because you can never please a group of critique partners! Whatever changes you make, someone else will want the opposite :)

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  33. These are excellent...:) I think I jump straight to depression and then eventually emerge into acceptance and move on:)

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  34. I like this breakdown. I'm usually pretty good about it but once in a while it hits me like a ton of bricks - all stages. Like you, I shake it off and move forward. Good post, thanks!

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  35. I'm learning to see editing as a blessing, instead of a curse, and now look forward to working out the kinks in my mss!

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  36. Editing is painful but necessary. Love your post. I wouldn't edit a thing. :)

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  37. This is why I pay my editor to do a read through after the draft but before the editing stage. To catch those major holes and areas that just don't flow with the rest of the story.

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  38. well as i have rarely sought publication---i don't think i would be very good at this---i don't even like people to criticize my work---i know awful but true----it's like even if you have a best seller, there will always be people that hate it---i think most writers, have some audience somewhere--even if they will not be making a living at it--i do so admire your hard work and diligence to go after your dream :)

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  39. Am going through a bit of this myself right now, and you've described the stages honestly. :-) Hard to keep one's pride in check at times!

    Pearl

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  40. I just went through my first ever round of edits & yes, I experienced every one of those phases. I didn't always agree but I went ahead & tried it & found she was right. But there were two instances where I refused to make the change & that was fine with my publisher. I liked that part best! =-)

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  41. Thanks for another great post, Lynda. I loved your description of your dilemma (stomping the footsies was my favorite!). It seems that remaining confident, but open to advice is a difficult balancing act that you are pulling off quite well.

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  42. Lynda, what you went through echoes all our thoughts. We all go through the same things, denial to grief and then acceptance, and ultimately we realize that our work need to be edited, and then we get down to it.

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  43. "I raged and pouted and stomped my footsies." <-- I love this line.

    Hm. I react pretty well to critiques from fellow writers and from professors. However, I've not been in the particular experience of working with an editor. I suspect that is different.

    I've *been* an editor - on a student-run paper, and I will say there was a lot of resistance to my suggestions. People did not like them. And really? Most of them were just copy edits for style rather than content, so I never understood what the resistance was all about. It was a point of pride when the last issue we put out had no style errors. I was so proud, lol.

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  44. I can identify with this. There are negative and ambivalent thoughts in my head while editing, but positivity wins out. Thanks for putting this list together.

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  45. My reaction to editing comments are more or less neutral. I tend to put them in the help box so i don't take offense and then apply the suggestions and see if i like them. I know I can always change it back if they don't work. Great post.

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  46. Such a hilarious and true post, Lynda. :)

    The getting on with it bit is by far the most important for me. Had a story (somewhat recently) get the dreaded, "It works ... but only if you completely change it." editorial feedback. Wasn't a fun week in my house as I already felt like I'd drawn blood to get what I had on the page.

    Amazingly, there seems to always be more blood. :) I re-wrote it and am so glad I did. Wasn't easy to face by any means, but I did it. And the story was well-served by my effort.

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    1. Yeah, it's funny how that happens. The story is pretty much always better for the changes.

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  47. Wise reality check. Good for you.

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  48. It is depressing. But I get my girlfriend to edit things for me because I can't get mad at her no matter what. :P

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    1. lol, that sounds like a good plan, if slightly hazzardous ;)

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  49. I've learned through years of writing, (and rewriting), that I am not the genius I once thought I was. I let their suggestions compost awhile, then usually make the changes.

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  50. You're right about these five stages! I love it when I get to the final stage, though:)
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  51. You nailed the stages right on the head! Great post. I want to rebel at changes at first, but I've gotten better at accepting them over the years.

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  52. I think the great thing about writing regularly is that you get to see the signs and recognise the process. So the love / hate / cold objectivity pattern doesn't use up more energy than it needs to.

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