Over six months ago, I spent an afternoon writing a piece for an online publication. At the time, I was really proud of it. After submitting, I did not hear anything back and, obviously, assumed it wasn’t ever going to go anywhere. A few months after that, I submitted the same piece, with a few small edits, to another publication. Thankfully, it didn’t get chosen for publishing there, because this week – six months after submitting the article – an editor contacted me with an apology and her edits.
Let me preface what I’m going to say next with this: I am an editor. Several of my clients rely on me to edit their writers’ articles for content, clarity and your typical grammar and spelling shortcomings. Before I signed on for these jobs, I was a magazine editor for three years and the managing editor of that same magazine (RIP) for almost four years. I know how hard it is to edit. I know what good edits sound like, and I appreciate all editors who work very hard to help writers turn complete messes into masterpieces.
The edits I received were so thorough and honest that they kind of hurt my feelings.
They were not mean edits; rather, they were, as they should be, suggestions for how to rewrite the article to better serve the publication. Which is great, and I wouldn’t expect anything more from editors who edit thoroughly enough that it takes months to get through selected submissions. But here’s the thing. Sometimes even professional writers get too confident. Even me. Which is why those edits, as good as they were, felt like an undeserved kick in the stomach. At first, I guess.
I really did think, as I scrolled through, “Does this editor not understand that I write for a living? Did I really fall short in this many spots?”
Looking closer, obviously I realized she was right (editors, for the record, usually are). The article needed a lot of work. It was wordy and sloppy and confusing. I felt bad for submitting something that, reading it months later, seemed such low-quality.
Then I remembered that, six months ago, I hadn’t even started freelancing yet. I was not writing articles consistently. I was still in the very early stages of refining my craft at that point (it takes time, sometimes years). I’ve grown as a writer since then. It’s OK that something I wrote six months ago wasn’t that great. I can, and will, rewrite it. It isn’t the end of the world.
I tell you all this because, no matter how many years you spend writing, feedback is sometimes still hard to swallow. Editors exist for a reason: we cannot always see the deep flaws in our own work, especially when there is no one around to point them out. You do get used to it, it does get a little easier, but every once in awhile, you will write something you are very proud of. And it only makes sense that your immediate reaction, when someone comes at that piece with everything that needs fixing, is to get a little defensive.
It happens to all of us. But the difference between an aspiring writer and a successful one is that successful writers are willing to look past those sometimes harsh edits and focus on the task at hand. They don’t take them personally. They might feel a little taken aback at first, but they get over it. They say, “Okay, let’s make this better.” You can be confident and also admit your work has imperfections. You have to be able to accept the reminders that writers never stop improving. Editors know their publications and your target audience better than you do. You need to be able to work with and trust them. It’s hard. It isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But you can guarantee that the version of your piece that gets published will be much, much better than your original draft.
Writing itself may be a solo activity, but the publishing process is not. The more you face these kinds of tough obstacles, the more successful you will be. I can’t promise that the piece I’m rewriting will ever make it onto the internet. But if it does, it will be because I let go and listened to the editor. I could have walked away and said, “Nope, you’re wrong.” But what would that have accomplished? Absolutely nothing.
Trust the editor. Don’t beat yourself up. You have much to learn; we all do.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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