The Emotional Side of Editing

Hannah Carmack  enjoys volunteer work and spends most of her time working for the organization STEM Read, connecting reluctant readers and bookworms alike to the world of literature and science. She has a number of poetry publications, all of which regard living with ulcerative colitis. Although living with an auto-immune disease is difficult, she finds power in using her writing as a way to convey the world that people with disabilities live in to people who may not fully comprehend it. Her debut novel Seven-Sided Spy hit shelves this January with NineStar Press.

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After months of waiting for first-edits, a fully marked-up manuscript sat in my inbox. My editor had taken their pen, put it to paper, and came back with a slew of change requests and prose critiques, all of which were needed within a week.

I was insanely overwhelmed upon opening the document. Within two minutes of reading through edit marks, I headed to the nearest grocery store, picked up some gummy worms, a bag of sweet chili Doritos, and a six-pack of Not Your Father’s Cream Soda. On my way home, I stopped for McDonalds to top things off.

I hadn’t even looked at the full manuscript and I was already at distress-level 300. I turned to a few of my fellow writers and asked how they handle edits. I got a smorgasbord of advice, but what I heard the most was “It’s okay to be mad.”

Although well-intended this advice really didn’t help. So, I turned to Google, and there I also found a slew of articles on how to handle editorial changes, how to advocate against changes you don’t support, and how to handle the anger brought on by edits. What I couldn’t find were articles about what to do when those first edits make you feel devastated and unqualified.

I wasn’t mad, although everyone and google seemed to think that to be the first, rational reaction. More than anything I was crushed. There seems to be a lot of faking it till you make it in publishing and writing. Which, I mean, good. That’s honestly the only way things get done, but this pretending everything is okay seems to erase the imposter-syndrome-laden response some authors have when they receive that first- second- third- batch of edits.

I think what we need to hear most is not “It’s okay to be mad,” but rather “It’s okay to be mad.” Period. Having your work torn apart is hard, but necessary. Given I am with a smaller press, we dedicate a month to editing the manuscript, but in that month not only did the quality of the novel grow exponentially, but so did my quality as a writer.

Through editing you learn your own flaws and if you work hard enough you learn to correct them. Just be ready for when it hits and be open about it. If you get mad, that’s a-ok! Just ask Google, but if you feel like you’ve got a pit in your stomach and the book will never be good enough for print, that’s also a-ok! And for me at least, completely normal. For the most part, those feelings will be gone by the last proofread. Your editor is there to help you improve, not tear you down, so press on.