Try as we might to avoid it, editing can sometimes be distressing. After putting their hearts into their craft, writers can feel slighted and even assaulted by the comments, questions, corrections, and suggestions that editors strew through their manuscripts. Although it is never an editor’s intention to cause anguish, the distress that writers might feel at having their words so closely scrutinised is real.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, here are some points to keep in mind.
Artful writing requires time, but skilful editing does too. While some people relish a last-minute rush, many of us respond less well to such pressure. Distress can arise when you do not allow yourself enough time to consider and implement your editor’s suggestions. This is especially so if significant or structural changes are proposed.
You may, on the first reading, disagree—even vehemently—with what your editor has done and said. But if you let the ideas settle a little and return to them at a different time, in a different frame of mind, you might find they have some merit. Notice your reactions, but do not act on them immediately. Nor is it advisable to fire off an instant and upset message to your editor, whose focus is on achieving the best outcome for your manuscript.
Wait a bit. Take a breath. Have a think.
If you still feel overwhelmed or aggrieved after some time has passed, compose yourself and get in touch with your editor. A calm response is likely to produce a better result for you and your writing.
From the first contact between writer and editor, clear and honest communication is vital on both sides. In addition to describing your project and your passion for it, you need to tell your editor your concerns and aspirations regarding your manuscript. At the same time, your editor should articulate her approach and explain the suggestions and corrections she makes. This exchange must continue throughout the process to enable the writer and editor to understand one another. Each will then have a sense of how revisions are evolving and where adjustments need to be made. Sometimes changes to the text are necessary for reasons of clarity or grammar, but without explanation from the editor, such corrections can appear capricious.
If you feel your editor has misunderstood an aspect of your story or has indicated alterations that you feel compromise your writing, it is important to discuss this. After allowing yourself some time and inhaling those few deep breaths, share your concerns with your editor. None of us gets into this with intention of causing harm to anyone, and confusion or conflict can often be resolved through conversation.
As vital as time and communication are when dealing with distress that may arise from editing, the key to it all is respect. You need to respect your editor as someone who loves good writing and has specialised knowledge of language and how it works. This is not to say that editors always have the right answers, never make mistakes, and do not let personal preferences influence their work. We’re human too. But if you have asked an editor to help you with your writing, trust in her expertise and show respect for her ideas before you react against them.
At the same time, give yourself respect as a writer. You know your story, your style, your topic, and your purpose better than anyone else. Although you may not be able to spot the flaws in your own words, you know their truth, and it is this that enables you to see which of your editor’s suggestions will enhance your writing and which may hinder it.
Be willing to listen and remain open to possibilities that you might not have imagined. The gift of working with an editor is that you engage in a relationship with an expert who is both professional and partisan, objective and interested.
In the end, we’re always on your side.
Writing is a joyful, difficult, beautiful, challenging, invigorating endeavour, and so is editing. The process of having your writing edited can sometimes be confronting, but if writers and editors alike embrace the grace of time, communication, and respect, it need not be the cause of any distress.
Have you ever found editing to be distressing? What strategies did you use to manage that situation? What advice would you give to editors or writers to help make editing more meaningful and enjoyable?