I believe the age-old advice that writing is rewriting.
And if publication is the goal, then you must rewrite.
Handing over work to a reader for critique, especially to a book editor, brings about a certain level of anxiety. I say anxiety, because no matter how experienced you are with managing criticism, it can be quite daunting to take in comments, be open to feedback, and filter through and ultimately apply edits to a new draft.
To keep the process as objective as possible, here are seven strategies to help you process notes from your editor.
1. Speed read
Print out a copy of the entire manuscript.
Take off your thinking cap and quickly read through its entirety, including the editor’s notes.
No emotion attached, just read the text as a document with words, and additional editorial markings about those words.
2. Read as a reader
Now, put on your thinking cap and read the manuscript at your normal pace (which, in my case, happens to be slow, deliberate and with special attention to every word).
Allow yourself to think, and feel emotional reactions to the critique, making mental notes of whether or not you agree with the editor’s suggestions.
No input. No output.
Of course, the amount of time to take a breather from the manuscript depends on your deadline for manuscript rewrites, but try to allow at least one day of rest from this particular project.
4. Revisit the red marks
While most, if not all, modern-day professional editorial input is done via the computer, the old-school version of editor’s notes would include hard copies of your manuscript with red pencil or pen marks on the page.
And that old-school image can work quite well. Visualizing those red markings can help alert you to “danger zones,” or problem spots in your manuscript.
As I’m working on any project (before, during and after an editor’s input), I always work with hard copies, and mark up my own trouble spots with a red pen.
That said, during the next read, pay even greater attention to these editor’s notes. I usually place checks with my handy red pen and/or use a yellow highlighter next to comments that I think merit changes in the manuscript.
5. Decide what comments live or die
Live or die?
Sounds brutal, right? Arrogant? Maybe.
However, while you’re seeking advice from an editor’s eye, you still must take charge, and decide what you do, and do not want to change in your manuscript.
Or, if you’re working on a for-hire project, what you’re willing to fight for with the editor, to keep in or out of the manuscript.
If more than a few readers/editors highlight the same so-called “trouble spots” in my manuscript, of course I defer to that collective judgment — or at least take that into serious account during a rewrite in my decisions about what lives or dies in the manuscript.
Read your new checked-with-red pen, and highlighted-in-yellow editor’s notes, and double check which ones still merit changes in the manuscript. Then write down (yes, by hand, no typing) all the notes/comments that you feel should “live” on in the subsequent rewrite, and that definitely merit changes for the manuscript.
Pencil or pen to paper helps me ingest my thoughts and emotional connection to the words.
6. Read the surviving comments
Read your handwritten notes and the editor’s critiques you’ve pardoned as if they are now a part of the manuscript.
In essence, at this stage, I usually visualize the impact that the critiques, if employed, would have as a positive impact on the manuscript’s rewrite.
7. Rest (again)
Yes, the process again requires more rest from the project.
Now that you’ve completed the above strategies, step away from the manuscript for at least a day (again, this varies depending on deadlines).
Rest is required, because next, the actual rewrite must take place. All the editor’s surviving notes, and those you’ve fought to keep in or out of your manuscript, will have to be incorporated into the new draft.
If you are committed to making your work the best it can be, the above process will lead to another, and another, and another do-over of these strategies as you receive editorial feedback, until the final draft of your manuscript lives proudly on the page.
Writers, tell us! How do you manage editor’s notes?