How to deal with infuriating editors

Here’s the five-step plan for what to do when you get a piece of writing back with infuriating comments:

  1. Read comments and suggestions from editor.
  2. Get annoyed that editor is finding fault and making stupid suggestions on how to change perfectly good prose.
  3. Figure out what problem set the editor off.
  4. Rewrite to fix the problem.
  5. Shout “So there!” to the void.

The kicker

Note that the process is the same when dealing with intelligent and thoughtful editors.

Advanced writers can save time and angst by skipping step 2.

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  1. In the companies and government agencies where I’ve worked, the “editor” is often someone who
    – believes the many fallacious “rules” she learned from her third-grade teacher
    – hasn’t read a book on writing since reading Strunk and White in college.
    – has no clue about true best practices backed up by research into how people read
    – insists that the passive voice is “always” wrong, not just wrong in a particular context
    – hypercorrects by “correcting” CMS’s to CMS’ , him to himself, supersedes to supercedes, and forgoing to foregoing
    – thinks that human, non-BS writing is unprofessional.

    Josh, if that describes my “editor,” exactly what problem should I fix?

      1. I welcome edits that make my writing more clear, Josh. But that’s the problem: More commonly, the editor’s change would make my writing less clear. For example, the editor won’t get why a series may require two commas and a semicolon, not three commas. I’ll explain that without the semicolon, readers may be miscued–to no avail. (“No, they won’t.”)
        If possible, I’ll reword a passage in a way that sidesteps their objections. But often, that’s not possible.

  2. Thanks for this post. I live on both sides of this conversation. The best rule I ever learned as an editor is “First, do no harm.” The second is “All edits are suggestions.” Both are difficult lessons, but they do help reduce the time my writers spend in step 2.