The Five Stages of Editing

One of the prizes that goes with second-place in the novel category is the publication of an excerpt of my work in the Noyo River Review. This week I had the mixed joy of editing my section for publication.

Editing your work, like any traumatic event—death of a loved one, a displacement, discovering that Lost Girl is in its last season—takes a powerful toll on the emotions, but it has definite stages and it can be managed. I’m here today to take you through those stages.

My piece was about 6,000 words long. They needed me to cut it to about 2,000 words, although they didn’t tell me that for a very long time. One editor had made line-by-line changes that she thought worked better.

For purposes of this post, because I am ranting about—I mean, addressing in a scholarly manner— a process, I am going to call the two editors with whom I worked Editor A and Editor B. In life, Editor A is a staff member of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, a published writer of a lively and witty memoir and a beloved writing teacher. Editor B, also closely involved with the conference, edits and publishes a well-known magazine that covers personal narrative.

(Editor A is the kind of smart, thorough line editor whose work more published writers could use, in my opinion, and Editor B has an almost intuitive ability to make diverse narratives flow together in a publication.)

I’m a professional. I didn’t think I was going to have any problem. When I got their e-mail, I opened the document and plunged in.

Stage One:  Disbelief.

“You want me to… what?”

“That can’t be right. You realize if I cut that paragraph the whole story falls apart, right? You did read the story, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”

“Wait. The whole page. You want me to cut the whole page?”

“Is this the right document?”

Stage Two: Anger.

“No, I won’t change that word to your word. If I had wanted to use your word, I would have! This is fantasy. These people talk differently than you. Get over yourself.”

“How dare you suggest I cut that beautifully drafted sentence that, in one single dependent clause, gives the reader three vital pieces of information about this world and its people! What kind of barbarians are you?”

“This is outrageous! Outrageous!”

Stage Three: Pain.

“It’s okay. I’ll just walk away for a bit. Well, maybe down to the bar. For an hour. Yeah.”

(Reaches shakily for cell phone.) “…Hi, honey. No, I… just needed to hear your voice. Crying? No… maybe a little.”

“It’s okay. It’s only a flesh wound. I’m only stripping out everything that gives the story any meaning. That’s all.”

Stage Four: Snarkiness.

“Of course I’ll follow your suggestion, Ms. I-Don’t-Even-Know-How-a-Crossbow-Works! You’re such an expert.”

“I bet you didn’t take this tone with the lady who wrote the American-south-in-the-1960s story!”

“Yes, I’m sure this is just the kind of experience Stephen King faced with every single book. Oh, wait. No, I don’t.”

Stage Five: Acceptance.

“Well, wait a minute. They don’t plan to print the entire piece. It’s just an excerpt.”

“Nobody needs to know that the wharf collapsed. They’re not going to get to the wharf, or the earthquake, or the big hole in the ground. It’ll be fine.”

“Two thousand to twenty-five hundred words? I wish I’d known that; I’d have ended at an earlier point.”


I came in at about 2100 words. While I wish I had known from the get-go that the world limit was 2500 (that would have saved some pain), I did finally make peace with the process.

I’m here to say that with support, understanding and awareness, you can survive the editing process. At least, that’s what I think now. We’ll see how I do when the ‘zine comes out.




This entry was posted in Thoughts about Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Five Stages of Editing

  1. Chad Hull says:

    None of that process sounds fun, but congrats on the publication!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *