When Edits Hurt

By Justine Manzano

As a writer that has been edited and an editor that has worked with writers, I’d like to paint you a picture.

You’re a writer, and you just received a massive developmental and line critique from the editor you hired. You open it up and gaze into the glaring image of comments and track changes that have made your once monochrome document into a rainbow of color. Your heart gives a little squeeze. Tears poke at your eyes. You haven’t even read what the editor has to say yet, but you see that rainbow and it evokes memories of literally every test you ever got back from a teacher to find it marked in red. Then you start reading the comments and suggestions. Some make you nod. But some cut to the bone. You want to hurl explanations at the editor. Couldn’t they understand? Why weren’t they getting what you were doing with your words! You’re caught somewhere between anger, sadness, and a sort of numb defensiveness, and you don’t know which direction best serves you as a writer.

And that’s okay. Getting edits should hurt.

I’ll say that again—this process should hurt you.

If you’ve lived with anything for around a year, you’ll feel reluctant to see it go. And every edit is going to change your vision, even if it’s only somewhat. However, any editor worth their salt has only one desire when they work on your manuscript—and that is to improve upon what you’ve done, to polish it up to the very best it can possibly be. It’s like a teacher taking hold of your child and helping them reach their greatest potential.

One of the key things an editor can provide you with is an outside view. No matter what tricks you try to come up with, you will never be able to get that benefit from self-editing. You can’t read your own book without knowing what you meant to convey with your words. This outside point of view can tell you if you’re actually conveying what you intend to, or if you just think you are, and that is so important as you try to find a way to send this word-baby you’ve birthed out into the world.

Because it is often hard to face the idea that you haven’t created a perfect iteration of your thoughts, I suggest, as both an editor and a reader, you take some time to cry. Take some time to fall apart at the very suggestion that your work is not already perfect, that, perhaps, your ideas were not perfectly transferred to the page. Mourn.

But then? Don’t write them and tell them that you hate them and everything they stand for. the work.

Because you know that not everyone is perfect. Because you know the value of a good edit. Because you know the editor is only working to make your work as shiny as it can be. Revisions are difficult, it’s true, but they don’t call them growing pains for nothing. Your story won’t improve unless you are willing to not only accept that your work is not as polished as you once thought it was, but to dig in and work to make it better.