Afraid of Being Edited?
Seven Ideas for Successfully Working with Editors
Whether you’re confused by an editor’s feedback, your editor is a creep, or you won’t even get an editor because your ego isn’t strong enough to withstand criticism, these seven ideas help you use an editor successfully.
1) Years ago, an editor gave me advice that helped me a lot: After editorial input, do no rewrites for a week.
Writing is so personal that editorial suggestions can be taken wrong. Example: When editing was done on paper, a good editor working on even an excellent manuscript might make so many red marks that a single page would look like it was bleeding. That abundance of corrections can make you feel like your manuscript sucks. A week of ignoring both the feedback and manuscript can mend that feeling. Otherwise, your rewrites might ruin good material.
2) What also helps me, when edits are expressed orally (as opposed to in writing), is to just listen, not respond. There are two reasons:
A) An author’s writing can be like their blood spilled on paper. Opening to feedback makes you vulnerable. It’s easy, initially, to view an edit as an invalidation or other attack. Holding silence stops any initial defensive reaction I might have. Defensiveness will blind me to valuable input.
B) Holding silence, instead of trying to figure out a response, lets me thoroughly assimilate feedback, one piece of it after another, so that I really grasp the editor’s input. If they’re going through all the effort of editing, I want to listen closely, both to learn and to be respectful of their time.
3) I used to love it when editors created those “bloodied” pages. Thorough feedback rocks! But be careful. Some people’s feedback is destructive. If they, for example, do not give feedback in a supportive tone, do not listen. Their negative tone has a message—e.g., utter invalidation—that may be stronger than their words. It can have a larger destructive impact than any positive impact their words might offer.
4) Here are other common types of villainous editors:
A) Self-important people might try to make you feel less capable as a writer, in order to ensure that you’re impressed with them. Sometimes you can recognize their self-importance by the prose style of their written feedback or in their tone of voice when they speak.
B) Editors who give angry feedback are surprisingly common. It’s no fun to be picked on under the guise of editing. Just refuse such dubious help.
C) Avoid anyone with a bone to pick, because they will likely do it at your expense, refuting the actual merit of your work, in very believable ways. Unfortunately, writers themselves often are like that when editing.
5) Trust your gut instinct—if it tells you to run away, run fast. Don’t let someone’s erudite pretense make you doubt your instinct, intellect, and creativity.
6) When you’ve worked hard to express yourself, you deserve an editor who’ll work just as hard to give you a useful critique, and do so in a manner that helps keep your self-respect intact. You have the right to feel good about your efforts. An editor should know “how to handle the talent” aka how to respect a person’s deep emotions.
Mark Chimsky, a developmental editor who worked with me at HarperCollins, embodies the combination of hard working editor and loving person. Mark analyzed my manuscript word by word, so his feedback was unusually thorough, with innumerable, detailed suggestions for revisions. His thoroughness was a gift to me and, despite such a mountain of criticism, I felt supported throughout our process, and he made his admiration for my writing clear, in ways that could not be feigned. (We had the old-fashioned bond between author and editor that is based in shared literary values and high ideals. These relationships are rare in publishing now, but used to be part of the literary life. I consider Mark a friend.)
7) You also deserve an editor who will not try to make over your piece in his image, but will recognize the essence of your own message and help you make it shine.
I’ve been on both sides of the equation, being both a writer and a developmental editor, also known as a “literary” editor. (I’m not available as a copyeditor. Copyediting is not my strength.) My own writing schedule does not allow me to edit many projects, but I choose a few now and then. Email me if you want info about my editing: outlawbunny at outlawbunny.com
When I posted this material on Facebook, Peter Silverman noticed the material’s underlying principles. He insightfully dubbed the seven points “Good advice on accepting and giving any form of feedback, on written material or life’s many relationships.” Often, when I write about a specific part of life, I hope readers will see its relevance to other issues. Yay, Peter!
PS: THANK YOU Francesca for a great blog post!
I REALLY like the “listen, no response” tactic, and when I teach I insist that writers use it. I also like to write everything down in the moment because — and I stress this — it gives me something to do while listening. I may or may not agree with the notes, but I try to write them all down. And moving my pen across the page helps me feel active rather than passive while doing so. Another reason for listening, it’s invaluable to learn how others are receiving the work, whether your intention is actually hitting its mark. Because then and only then you can guide your reader/audience with the right clues, like stones along the path, so that they receive your intention.
Brooke, thank you for your supportive words and for adding excellent suggestions. I find it interesting that we both suggest the “listen, don’t respond” tactic; great minds think alike! You know that I absolutely adore your writing, so I consider compliments from you high praise indeed. Love, FDG