It’s very easy for writers to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or unsure after receiving editorial feedback. After putting so much of ourselves into our work, any form of critique can be difficult to process, even when we respect our editor’s opinion. In those first few days after receiving an edit letter, I often find myself wondering, “What do I do now?”
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the steps I usually go through after receiving an edit letter. Not everyone works the same way, of course, but these tips help me to process the feedback and eventually tackle the revision. So, here are the steps:
- Read it once
First, I just like to read through everything once. I’m not going in-depth here; I’m pretty much just skimming the letter to get a general sense of its scope and to make sure there aren’t any major points that I disagree with. I do not share my reactions with my editor at this point.
- Let it sit
Once I have a general idea of what the letter contains, I set it aside. At this point, I might be feeling defensive of my work or reluctant to agree to some of my editor’s suggestions. By taking a step back and letting it sit, I give myself the time I need to think things through. Depending on the scope of the edits in question, the amount of time I need can vary. But once I stop feeling defensive and start feeling excited by the possibilities this revision offers, I know I’m ready for the next step.
- Read it again
When I return to the letter, I read it much more thoroughly than the first time around. I try to make absolutely sure that I understand what my editor is saying—and if there’s anything I find confusing, I make a note to come back to it later. I also make a note of any additional questions or concerns I might have. I also start brainstorming possible solutions to the points my editor raised.
- Talk it out
At this point, I usually like to get on the phone with my editor to talk through the revisions. This is where I bring up the questions I had and the things I may have found confusing. Talking verbally might not work for everyone, but I find it helpful to have my editor right there to respond to my questions and talk out possible solutions with me. And because my editor is brilliant, she often offers me even more insightful comments during this conversation that will help me move forward. I take notes during this call to refer back to later.
- Break it down
Once again, I return to the letter. But this time, I break it down into sections that make the most sense for my revision. For example, I might decide to group my editor’s notes into a few major sections: worldbuilding, character development, plot, pacing, etc. I create a new document and shuffle the notes around so that they’re all grouped according to which category they best fit in. I also add my notes from the earlier phone call to this document. What I end up with is essentially a revision checklist, with everything I need to tackle divided into sections.
- Go in-depth
The only problem with my checklist at this point is that it isn’t specific enough. For example, let’s say my editor wrote something like, “We need to know more about Character A’s backstory, especially her upbringing and her time spent at X.” That tells me what needs to happen, but it doesn’t tell me how. So I need to write out the specifics of exactly what I’m going to do to solve this issue. On my checklist, I might add something like this under that comment: “a) add to dialogue in chapter 10 where A talks about her parents; b) add scene in chapter 7 or 9 showing her time at X.” I don’t have to be perfectly specific here—saying chapter 7 or 9, for example, and figuring it out later—but I go as in-depth as possible so that I’ll have clear directions in the middle of my revision.
- Reread the manuscript
Depending on how tight my deadline is, I might not have time to do this. But when possible, I like to reread my manuscript from start to finish at this point to refresh my memory. I keep my checklist and editorial letter handy so that I can refer back to specifics as I read and keep the potential revisions in mind. This can help me sharpen my plan and nail down the specifics—I might decide chapter 7 is definitely the right place for that one scene over chapter 9, etc. I’m not actively changing anything at this point, but I’m taking more notes and re-familiarizing myself with the manuscript.
Now, finally, the process of revision actually begins. I go through my checklist one section at a time and tackle everything on the list. Sometimes things don’t quite work out the way I’d planned them to—maybe I decide I don’t need a particular scene after all, or I combine one I’d planned with another—but that’s okay. The checklist is more of a guide than a rule, to steer me in the right direction and remind me of everything I need to address.
- Reread again
If I have time before my deadline, I like to reread the manuscript top to bottom again, this time with all the changes in place. I often find new mistakes that some of my revisions introduced into the manuscript and weed them out. I might also change my mind once I see something in context and revise it a second time. But usually this is just for my own peace of mind, so I can be sure that I’m happy with the changes I’ve made before I send them to my editor.
And that’s it! Keep in mind that every writer works differently, and it’s perfectly fine if your process doesn’t resemble mine. But if you’re struggling with your edits or don’t know where to begin, I hope these steps will be helpful to you in tackling that revision. Good luck!
How do you revise? Do you struggle with editorial feedback? How do you handle it? Let me know in the comments!
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