This week I had my first experience with editorial notes on a piece of my writing that will be published. I found fascinating the emotional processes I had to dispatch so that I could focus on the suggested changes and decide how to implement them. The emotional arcs are particularly fascinating to me as I’ve had turns being a critiquer and an editor. I’ve been the one to dish out editorial advice and I know how hard it can be to criticize constructively. I appear to be very fortunate in my editor in this regard.
The revision notes for my essay arrived in my mailbox during the middle of a week filled with child meltdowns. Remembering that a fellow writer’s group member always makes sure to thank us for complaining about his work, I fired off an immediate Thank You. Then I put the notes aside until I could make space for them. Well, almost. I glanced through first. And discovered that I am far from immune to criticism. I was afflicted by odd flashes of irritation. I was not able to identify why until I had space in my schedule and forced myself to give a more thorough reading to the notes.
I was irritated because I was tired and the notes pointed out very clearly places where I could work much harder to improve the writing. I was also momentarily irritated when the same issue was pointed out in multiple places. “I get it already!” the back of my brain insisted while the front of my brain knew that pointing out all the examples is part of an editor’s job. Also there is no way for an editor alone with a page of text to know which points will be rapidly clear to an author and which will need multi-iteration to sink in. That kind of rapport can be built over time, but this is the first set of notes. Harder to resolve emotionally for me were the few places where editorial suggestions ran counter to what I felt was right for the piece. This originally manifested as irritation, but once I saw the disconnect, I instantly shifted into problem solving.
The larger emotional curve I had to weather in relation to the editorial notes was not about the notes at all. The subject matter of this essay is very close to my heart. In order to properly revise, I have to dig out all that old emotion and pin it to the page again. I worried that the zeitgeist which led me to write the piece would be gone. I worried that I could not make it any better than I already had. I knew that the revision process would wear me out.
Once that whole mess of emotions was acknowledged, a last emotion emerged and filled me up. Gratitude. Multiple editors have looked at my essay. They know it is flawed and they want it anyway. They not only want my essay, but they are giving me the gift of their time and energy to tell me how I can make the essay even better. I can not express how honored I feel that they care for my words.
Once I cleared all of that out of my head. The actual revision went very well. I’m going to let it settle for a couple of days, look it over again, and then it will be back to the editor for publication or more notes. Even if there are more notes, I don’t think I’ll have to deal with the emotions again. Which is good.