The Five Stages of Editing Grief

You did it. You finally finished that book/article/short story. Your blood, sweat, and tears went into making it the very best it can be. You are so proud, a mother bird watching her little fledgling take flight as you hit the button to send the final product out! Maybe it takes several days, even several weeks, but then…it finally happens.

You get your edit letter back.

If you’ve ever published anything, you know the familiar dread that settles into the pit of your stomach when you get that e-mail back from an editor. It’s a deadly prognosis. You see the paragraphs and paragraphs of notes, every one of them intent on unraveling the masterpiece of craftsmanship you created. There are strikethroughs, comment bubbles plaguing the beautiful pages like pox marks, whole sections highlighted in burning fever scarlet. Your beautiful darling is sick!

Fear not! For just as a doctor is there to guide you through an illness, your editor is there to guide your work to optimum health! But just as anyone goes through stages of grief with any disappointment or diagnosis, you may also find yourself working through the five stages of editing grief:

***Remeber that editing grief is not always liner and that you may not experience the stages in order or you may skip stages altogether***

Stage 1: Denial

You refuse to open the edit letter.  How can there even be an edit letter? What you sent them was genius! PURE GENIUS I TELL YOU! Maybe you accidentally sent them a different draft by mistake?!

For a while, you pretend it isn’t there. Maybe if you procrastinate on reading it, it will magically disappear! Well, fine. You guess you have to open it eventually. You finally read through all the suggestions slowly and painstakingly, each word a barb straight to your sensitive writer heart. Even after you read it, you put the whole experience into a secure box in the back of your head until you can deal with it later.

Stage 2: Anger

Your editor is an idiot. That is the only logical conclusion. They have no idea what they are talking about and must not have been paying close enough attention. That, or they just don’t get your “vision”! They don’t understand the subtle nuances that you worked painstakingly into the story! Or you just have completely different views on what makes a story great. Maybe their style is just different than yours. That’s got to be it, simple creative differences. You are amazing and they are not! Sure, they have probably edited and worked through thousands upon thousands of words and gotten the position they are in because they have a talent and eye for what they are doing… but they are obviously wrong when it comes to your story. OBVIOUSLY!

Stage 3: Bargaining

No, please! Not that character! You LOVE that character! Maybe there is a way to save them? Work them into the plotline better?

This scene?! Really? It’s so poignant! How can they possibly expect you to change this scene?

You just have to explain what you meant to the editor. If you can just explain why you added that scene or why you added that character, then they have to change their minds. Yes, technically an author can’t sit next to a reader and explain things and yes, technically it should be clear enough that it doesn’t require an explanation… but still!!!

Stage 4: Depression

You are a horrible writer. You will never write anything good again. This book/article/short story is hopeless and will never be enough. The changes are just too daunting. There’s a looming deadline hanging over you like a guillotine and you will never make it. Your creativity is gone, perhaps you even start to struggle with writer’s block. You may want to isolate and not talk to anyone.

This is the stage that you usually bust out the chocolate or ice cream to drown your sorrows. You reach out to your writing community for support, other author friends or critique partners that can bolster you up in this trying time. You go out to dinner, get a massage, go for a run, do something fun–anything to keep you from sinking too far into that deep, dark hole!

Stage 5: Acceptance

You buckle down and finally start making the changes. As you do, you begin to realize something: your editor was totally right all along. They saw the flaws that you didn’t. They brought your attention to ideas that you never even thought about before. Sometimes you still don’t agree with the suggestions, but you discuss and figure out a solution that works for both of you. Ever so slowly, you begin to see that your precious piece of work is being polished into something even more beautiful. You had no idea it could even be this good!

Growth is always painful, and sometimes it takes those little pushes (or giant shoves) from editors to really challenge us to do our best. Have faith and trust that their heart is to HELP, not to drag you down and make you feel horrible. That’s the wonderful thing about having editors! Check out the acknowledgments section of any novel you love and I bet the author thanks their editor for making their book so amazing!

I, personally, tend to go from denial, to depression, to bargaining, to finally acceptance. It’s different for everyone!

So what about you? How you do handle the editing process?

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