Editing, Revising, Feedback..ing?

The really enjoyable part of writing is writing. And reading. And letting other people read what you wrote. The less fun part is the seemingly endless job of editing and revising and getting feedback and editing and revising some more, then realizing that you changed this one thing so you have to change that thing too, then there’s this other thing that someone else noticed that you should also change or edit or clarify and then you die.

Editing and revising are just as important to good writing as writing itself is, but it often feels pretty overwhelming. Often, with earlier drafts especially, a writer doesn’t need any outside input. For myself, I usually do the first two or three revisions myself before even showing my work to other people. Then the feedback comes. Feedback usually feels like getting attacked. It feels like everyone hates you. It feels like you suck at your job and nobody appreciates the time and effort and imagination you put into creating something you love. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One thing writers need to remember when getting feedback, it’s not about you. It’s about the story. It’s about making the story the best possible story it can be. If feedback comes in the form of a personal attack, then pardon my language, but fuck that person! Seriously. (But not literally.) The good news is, feedback is hardly ever like that. At least, not until actual publication. The feedback I’m referring to is usually from people who know you. Who love you. Who respect you. Who like your work. And usually, they are right. ‘That sentence is confusing.’ ‘You didn’t think that all the way through.’ YOU CAN DO BETTER! That’s really the essence of this. You can do better. You just need help. Take that help, and make your work better. You do that, and it will shine!

Just a few things a writer needs to consider when getting feedback:

Feedback is really strange. For every seven readers you have, you get ten different opinions (sadly, I did not come up with that myself). This can inspire a number of thoughts. “Who is right? Is this person just a bad reader? Am I a bad writer? Who do I trust? Who can I trust? How do I know?” This is a very tricky relationship to navigate.

On the one hand, the customer is always right. In this case the customer is the reader. Another way to phrase this concept is burden of proof. It is the author’s job to prove to the reader that his/her writing is worthwhile. The reader bears no responsibility to like what the author writes. So authors, listen to your readers!

Of course, on the other hand, the author has the authority. If the author decides this thing does or doesn’t belong in his/her story, end of discussion. The author has absolute power over his/her work. And it’s important to remember, the author bears no specific obligation to readers either. If a reader doesn’t like something, it is not necessarily the author’s job to change it. And here’s the tricky part, sometimes readers are actually bad readers. No, it’s not their job to like a thing, but that doesn’t mean the thing is bad. Maybe they’re just not the right audience.

So who’s right? In the end, everyone. The most important thing for both readers and authors to remember is a work of art is subjective by nature. Everyone gets an opinion, and no person’s opinion is really more special or important or right than any other’s.

Finally, for those authors out there who are still scared of letting your work out into the world. If you are scared that people won’t like it. If you are scared of feedback. If you are unsure of your talents. Welcome to being an author. That feeling doesn’t go away. (But you’re in good company.)


16 responses to “Editing, Revising, Feedback..ing?

  1. A very well-written article on a subject that is morose and deadening. I think every writer would agree with you on this, editing your own work is the most tiresome job in the world.

  2. Reblogged this on readful things blog and commented:
    Words of wisdom for writers

  3. Read Ionia’s blog and decided to follow for more good advice. Thanks

  4. Strange (or not all that strange, I guess), but most great writers are fairly good at content editing/revision, but lousy at copy editing. Ask any publisher. But I would advise caution in soliciting “feedback” for your works in progress UNTIL you have completed at least the first draft to the bitter end. Too much input early on in the writing process(I’m speaking of fiction here) springs leaks in your imagination, is distracting and dilutes what is truly fresh and original in what you are writing. Great books are not written by editorial committees, but solitary writers on fire about something.

    • Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely spot on. I’d also add once a work is complete don’t ever forget it’s your piece. Readers are entitled to their opinions, but authors are just as entitled to ignore those opinions.

  5. And should! I have a personal index for gauging the effectiveness of a work: the Love-Hate Index. If a statistically valid sampling of readers in sufficient numbers registers on one side or the other, and you’ve got, say, 60 pct Love, 40 pct hate or even a 10 pct Love and 90 Hate response, you can be sure you and the book you wrote were onto something and that you struck a chord (nerve) that needed a whack. The mass market usually doesn’t “get,” let alone feel obligated to read, the really original important books of their own time. It’s almost a law of nature for Literature: If everybody loves it, you will be yesterday’s news overnight 🙂 No one remembers the books on the bestseller lists even from just 20 years ago: they were may flies, motes in the eye, far distant summers’ lightning bugs, and lost forever, because they lacked lasting significance Why on earth, then, does it make sense for a writer of conviction to listen to “input” (hate that word and what it implies, as well as “feedback”) or any advice from others about his/her work in progress?

  6. I disliked the revision stage, before giving it to an editor, the most. One thing that surprised me, in spite of constant revisions myself and the work of an editor, when I received the first copy from the publisher, it had a few obvious errors! No one is perfect!

  7. You’ve captured the tricky part well: “If a reader doesn’t like something, it is not necessarily the author’s job to change it. And here’s the tricky part, sometimes readers are actually bad readers. No, it’s not their job to like a thing, but that doesn’t mean the thing is bad. Maybe they’re just not the right audience.” That is one of the biggest challenges for a writer, to know what feedback to keep and act upon. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    • I’m very glad to have helped. This is by far the most difficult part of the revision process for me. Part of what makes it hard is my own personal pride which makes me want to reject every suggestion that doesn’t just praise me. I think so many authors/artists/people just suffer from uncertainty. I think, “Maybe this isn’t nearly as good as I thought it was.” which is silly because I’m perfectly capable of knowing good writing when I see it. Still, it’s hard to feel like a “real” author when you haven’t been published, and later it’s hard to feel like a “real” author and not some impostor who snuck through cracks in the system.

  8. I might be crazy, but I actually enjoy editing more than I do writing. When I’m writing a first draft, I always fear that I won’t succeed in telling the story, that my writing ability isn’t sufficient to portray the nuances, that I won’t be able to make the scenes work the way I envisioned them, or even that I simply won’t finish the draft. Once I get to editing, I feel much more comfortable because I actually have material to work with and I can only make it better.

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