How to love (heavy) edits

You wrote something awesome. Then it comes back from reviewers with markup all over it. Inevitably, the sad trombone plays in your mind’s ear — you might feel angry, resentful, upset, or depressed.

Go ahead, own that reaction for a moment or two. But now you have to revise the draft. And it’s time to remember to be grateful for red ink.

How to love edits

It all centers on one word: “why.” If you focus, not on the content of the edits, but the reason for them, your attitude will shift. Here’s how to think about it.

  1. Remember that you are still the writer. The reviewer’s job is to identify problems. Your job is to fix them. It’s still your writing, you’re still in charge. With this attitude, you can better understand the edits as communicating problems that you can use your skill to fix, rather than as criticism of your talent, creativity, or abilities.
  2. Use reviewers’ comments to identify weak points. Your reviewers are sharing a perspective you don’t have — they can always see things that are invisible to you because of your own prejudices or blind spots. Be grateful that they have spotted problems before they got into print. Now use your writing skill to find solutions to those problems.
  3. Psych out what’s going on with line edits. There’s nothing more demoralizing than a markup that changes lots of the words you wrote. Now you need to reverse engineer the reviewer’s purpose. Do they have a problem with long sentences? Are they trying to fix your passive voice sentences? Have you used terms in a way that confuses? Are you ghostwriting for an author who doesn’t recognize their voice in your writing style? If you just mindlessly make all the requested edits, the result may no longer hang together. But if you can figure out where the reviewer’s text edits are coming from, you can learn how to improve, not just that piece of prose, but anything else you write for that client.
  4. Reflect, revise, review. Before you begin your rewrite, consider what you’ve learned. Can you combine all the reviewers’ insights into a single higher-level viewpoint that will inform your rewrite? With that perspective in mind, revise from start to finish, addressing all the issues based on that shared insight. But that’s not the end of your work. Let the finished piece sit for hours, or ideally, a full day. Now come back and make adjustments to ensure it still hangs together with the revisions you made.

Anyone can write a draft. It takes a master to maintain greatness — or reach higher levels of writing power — based on reviewers’ edits. When you realize that you can achieve that mastery, red ink is no longer a problem; it becomes a potent opportunity. You stop fearing reviews and learn to anticipate and embrace them. That’s an important milestone in every writer’s evolution.

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  1. Sooner or later, someone very rigorous will read your text. Might as well be someone who reads it before it gets published and widespread.