I’m editing my novel. Again.
I don’t feel like telling you how many agains I have done in the course of turning out the best story I can deliver. But suffice it to say that when I received some wonderful feedback that convinced me I needed to go another round, I started off with determination!
And ended up huddled under my bed covers with a glass of wine, a box of tissues, and a romance novel where people actually get happy endings.
What I hadn’t counted on was a phenomenon I should easily spot by now: editing grief.
You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, right? It’s the notion that when you experience a deep loss, you go through five phases of emotion: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Editing can awaken all of these emotions as well.
Denial. I don’t need to do no stinkin’ edit!
Perhaps you believe that your book is just fine as it is. After all, your best friend, your mother, and your hamster, to whom you read your manuscript aloud, all adored your story. Besides, your book is better than the drivel you read in that bestseller you bought and tossed aside.
Or perhaps you don’t want to believe what your critique partner or group is telling you, because they just don’t understand your characters like you do.
Anger. Dang it, I do have to edit this book!
Now that you’ve admitted there are problems with your story structure, your characterization, or your prose, you’re committed to doing the edit. But why didn’t you catch all these issues earlier? Given all that you’ve learned about writing, not to mention all the reading you’ve done, you should know better by now!
Or why didn’t the contest judges, critique partners, agent, editor, etc. tell you exactly what was wrong? It could have saved you a lot of trouble if someone had helped you to see the plot and character problems earlier on. And now, you have to find time you don’t have to fix mistakes you never should have made to begin with!
Bargaining. I can accomplish my goals by just making some tweaks.
You’re convinced that if you add a little depth here and there, slip in an extra scene or delete those two scenes that weren’t pulling their weight, you can make this story work. In fact, it’s not as bad as you originally thought, because—being the savvy author you are—you should be able to breeze through the book and find just the right places to fix the minor problems.
Soon enough, this novel will be in great shape, and you’ll have it back to your ______ [critique partner, agent, editor] within no time at all. You’ll probably beat the deadline you gave yourself, thus showing just how much of a pro you are.
Depression. Dear God, this is a total rewrite! [sob]
Once you began making changes in Chapter 1, you realized that also changed Chapters 3, 8, 14, 18, 23, and 30. And this realization has happened with every change you’ve made. You might as well throw the manuscript in the nearest fire pit and start over. I mean, wouldn't that be easier?
Or what would be easier is to be a toll booth operator. No one really demands much of you there, certainly not three hundred pages of brilliance. Why did you decide to write this book anyway? You should have gone with the other story idea. In fact, what if you just wasted the last six months on an unworkable novel?
Acceptance. I’ve got this.
You’ve rolled up your sleeves and now recognize:
- Yes, this is the story you want to tell.
- You know what needs doing.
- You have all the talent and perseverance needed to turn out a fabulous book.
- You will love the final result.
As you dig further into the edits, you feel renewed hope and excitement. You actually enjoy hanging out with your characters, making sure they appeal to readers, getting their story just right. And when this edit is over, you’ll get to put on your Wonder Woman cape. Because yeah, you’re a kick-butt writer.
What stage am I in now? I’m at acceptance. But I went through all the other stages, and if you’re in one of those, hang in there. Maybe there are shortcuts through the stages, but I haven't found them. I seem to go through grief every time I have to do more editing than I originally expected.
But I'm always—always, always, always—glad in the end.
Do you go through the editing stages of grief? If you're editing now, what stage are you in and how can we talk you through?
Julie Glover writes cozy mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.