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How to Handle Edits Like a Pro
Anne Janzer -- Membership Expert Anne Janzer -- Membership Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: San Luis Obispo, CA
Tuesday, January 16, 2024

red pencil tied into knot to represent resistance to editing

Ever felt disgruntled or defensive after receiving editing feedback? You’re not alone.

We’ve all felt resistance to edits. 

Journalists often have to adapt to different editors’ preferences. J.T., a journalist and subscriber to this blog, asked this question:

Can you address writing for different editors? Each one wants something different, which can be very frustrating.”

Even collaborating with a single editor can feel personal; let’s explore why.

Common gripes

Whether editors are part of our jobs or we hire them ourselves, we often worry that editors might:

  • Delay publication
  • Cost money (if you’re hiring the editors)
  • Dilute our voice

We like to imagine that aside from a few inevitable typos, our work needs minimal changes. We dream of hearing, “This is perfect. Run it as is!” Yet, if that happens, we miss an opportunity for growth.

Discomfort with editing may begin in school, where teachers scrawl messages and grade our skills. 

In that context, any feedback lands as implied criticism. That’s not the editor’s goal.

The real purpose of an editor

The editor serves the reader, the publication, and the writer. 

Their priorities may vary. Some defend the publication’s voice at the expense of individual styles. Others try to develop writers. But all editors should serve the reader, even if you disagree with how they go about it. 

When we hire editors for our own work, we do so to support the readers and ourselves. If we listen with an open mind, we discover ways to improve our craft. 

Approach editing feedback as a learning opportunity. 

  • What does this change tell me about what the reader needs?
  • What does it tell me about my writing voice or style?
  • Does it serve what I’m trying to accomplish here?

Take care when rejecting a suggestion. If the editor didn’t “get” what you were trying to do, the reader may not, either.  

From resistance to resilience

If you resist editing, adopt the right mindset and brush up your communication skills.

Approach editing with a growth mindset. Be curious. Remember that you’re serving the reader. The comments aren’t about you, or your writing skills, but about the piece. Hunkering down defensively behind your words doesn’t advance that goal. 

Then, communicate what you need or expect from the edit.

If you hire editors: Be clear about what you want. Match the editing to the phase of the work:

  • Structural advice and fit to purpose—development editing
  • Wording flow—line editing
  • Grammar, phrasing, and accuracy—copyediting

I asked Hannah de Keijzer, author of the new book  How to Enjoy Being Edited, for her advice on working with editors. She writes:

Beyond hiring for the appropriate level of editing, you’ll enjoy the editing process more—and feel less defensive—if you’ve put in the time and effort to find an editor you click with. You might ask yourself:

  • Do the questions the editor asks about your work, either in conversation or in their sample edit, make it clear they’re honoring your voice and your goals?
  • Do you understand each other well over email and in early conversations? That’s a good sign that you’ll understand—and be relatively comfortable working through—their edits, too.
  • What style of feedback has been easiest for you to receive in the past? Find out if the editor can communicate some of their edits in a similar way.
  • Are you on the same page about the level of explanation you’d like to receive alongside the edits?”

If your editors hire you or control your work, clarify what type of editing they expect to do on the piece, and what they want to see. They may not have the time to explain each edit, but should be willing to describe their approach and philosophy.

Using edits to your advantage

When you get the changes, take a breath. You might read them quickly, then wait overnight to let your defensiveness dissipate before acting on them. 

  • If it’s not clear, ask why they made a change: Is it a preference? An accepted style for the publication or industry that you should learn?
  • If you don’t agree with a suggested correction, you can learn from the signal that something wasn’t working there. Find another option.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for your vision of the piece.

Sometimes, you’ve simply got to write for the editors. (I’m looking at you, journalists.) Even then, examine the changes to understand why they’re happening. And yes, editors might simply have personal preferences. Don’t we all?

Pro problems: Working with multiple editors

Communication issues can multiply with more than one editor. As in J.T.’s case, editors may not even agree with each other.

For advice on this sticky situation, I turned to my friend Chip Scanlan, an award-winning journalist who teaches and coaches journalists and writers, and author of Writers on Writing.

As a seasoned journalist, Chip understands the issue. “It’s awful to try to meet standards that shift like sand under your feet.”

And he emphasizes the importance of controlling the only thing you can—yourself. 

Of course, everyone has worked with editors who are jerks. But that’s on them. As writers, we can only control our own responses. Sometimes you have to shrug off bad editing, maybe resolve never to work with that editor again, ask for a new editor or even go someplace else to work. But making a good faith effort to collaborate with an editor, having an open mind about their responses and toward their ideas, can mean the difference between failure and happy success.”

Learning to love (or accept) editing feedback

red pencil shaped into a heart to represent loving editing

Editing makes your work better. And, adopting these three practices will make the process easier.

  1. Communicate clearly with editors—don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  2. Approach editorial suggestions with a growth mindset. What can you learn from them?
  3. Practice servant authorship: focus on the end goal of serving the reader rather than protecting your ego.

Want to go further?

Still not convinced about loving being edited? Here are a few things to read:

Read Chip’s book Writers on Writing

Read Hannah’s book How to Enjoy Being Edited

Read my short post Yes, You Need and Editor. Here’s Why.

Cuesta Park Consulting & Publishing publishes books and online courses for writers and marketing professionals. Books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats from a wide range of retailers. For more information, visit AnneJanzer.com.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Anne Janzer
Group: Cuesta Park Consulting
Dateline: San Luis Obispo, CA United States
Direct Phone: 4155176592
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