Here’s a universal fact: Most writers tend to be resistant toward editing, whether it’s out of fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, or a protective stance toward their work. Let’s say you’ve spent months, possibly a year or more, writing your manuscript. Perhaps you’ve spent four hours every Thursday morning crafting your book, putting everything you have into it, sacrificing free time and time with your friends and family. You think your book is pretty darn good, and you’re sure your editor will think so, too.
Then you get the manuscript back from your editor.
As you look through the pages, you see your manuscript seemingly butchered in red ink or electronic marks. You then read her detailed e-mail, including some shocking feedback: “Chapters one, two, three, five, six, and seven are very strong...but chapter four seems a bit off topic. You might consider cutting it.” Suddenly, your beloved writing pen becomes a shield, your nostrils flare, and you find yourself breathing fire. Your mind reeling, you think, But, but, but...I spent weeks on that chapter!
This might happen. The editing process is going to feel frustrating at times. As a writer, you are going to be as naturally protective of your work as a parent would be of her child. Having a good attitude toward editing can be difficult, especially when authors are tied to the traditional notion of editing as just fixing errors. If you can view editing as an integral part of the writing process—an extension of it—then you’re well on your way toward adopting a more collaborative approach to editing. Douse the fire breathing: Your editor really does have your best interest at heart. Keep an open mind, and be willing to change your work.
My favorite quote on keeping an open mind to editing comes from Stephen King’s On Writing: “...kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” If you need to, write this quote on a piece of paper and tape it to your desk or somewhere in your writing space where you’ll see it regularly. And always be ready to kill your darlings.
Here are a few tips for adopting a good editing attitude:
Remember that manuscripts are organic. When you started your manuscript, it was just a blank piece of paper. Just because you added words to it, that doesn’t mean it’s done; it’s an ever-growing, ever-evolving document that can always become something better.
Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. It’s okay to let go of something that’s not working, whether it’s a few words or an entire section. Maybe that deleted section or chapter can be repurposed into a blog post or an article...but it just doesn’t belong in your book. Learn how to let it go. In the article “Let us now praise editors,” Gary Kamiya puts it this way: “You have to let go of your attachment to the specific words you’ve written and open yourself to what you were aiming for. You need enough confidence in yourself to accept constructive criticism, some of which can feel like your internal organs are being more or less gently moved around.”
Don’t take edits and feedback personally. James C. Wilson, Ph.D., professor of English and journalism and the author of six books, says, “My advice to authors: Be adults. Editing will improve your product. So grow up.” Your editor isn’t hired to be your friend; his job is to make your manuscript better. A heavily marked-up manuscript doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer. An editor’s job is to take into account a lot more than your writing skill, and he is also considering other factors, such as the intended audience and purpose of the manuscript.
Allot time for the critical phase of editing and rewriting. I once had an author request extensive editing just weeks before the book was supposed to go to design. While his book eventually turned out fine, thanks to several 12-hour days on my part and a lot of work on his part, we both agreed his book could have been stronger with more editing time. Don’t make the mistake of doing rush editing at the end; give yourself enough time to properly revise.
(Excerpted from the book The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great by Stacy Ennis. Copyright © 2013 by Stacy Ennis. Reprinted with permission of Night Owls Press.)
Stacy Ennis is a book and magazine editor, writer, book coach, and speaker, as well as the author of The Editor’s Eye: A Practical Guide to Transforming Your Book from Good to Great. Her greatest joy is helping people achieve their book-writing dreams, and she has had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of authors in varied genres, editing several chart-toppers.
Stacy was the founding managing editor of a lifestyle magazine. Later, she became the executive editor of Healthy Living Made Simple, a Sam’s Club magazine reaching over 8 million readers. She now works with a wide range of clients, from celebrities and corporate clients to independent authors and small book presses.
For more tips on editing, check out:
Three Types of Editing that Save Books and Lives