Editing Etiquette

I’m not sure what everyone thinks about the etiquette that’s involved with editing, and while I’m not an expert, I do know that there is something that they did touch on, very briefly, in my classes, is that you need to have a good balance when it comes to editing and the marks and all that jazz. Why? Well you’re are supplying possible changes, not trying to overwrite it to make it your own. I’m finding this excessively hard now that I’m in the process of editing a full length manuscript. My friend tells me that they like all those adverbs and every book I’ve read, every workshop I’ve done (and my stickler of a bff/writing partner) tells me that they need to go. So as I do that and get frustrated I’m trying to understand the balance between telling my friend that they need to just sit down and rewrite it completely and editing it the best to my ability.

Some people are unnecessarily harsh, while others give no feed back at all (which I have to reiterate is no help at all), it’s the right balance that is hard to find. I have been unnecessarily harsh before on a piece that violated almost everything I grew up with. One of my classmates had decided to write a piece about Hercules, or Heracles, however you want to say it (one is the way you say in Greek, the other the Anglicised version) and they’d tried to modernise it (this was at the same time that I was going ahead with my other project) and while being angry I found that it was much easier to be harsher with things that I knew about. Like the way they were ruining the image of the gods and the missing links.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a profession Greek myth researcher, but after years of being forced to listen to almost every myth that is attached to Greek Mythology in my youth, I know pretty damn much. I love writing in pink pen, so the pages were full of pink pen marks telling them what they needed to change and what not. I handed it back to them and i assumed that they would be just like every other time when they had gotten critiqued and not get two shits to what I had written but they had said thanks and seemed surprise. It’s safe to say though, that after that they stopped coming to class and dropped out of the rest of the year (that was not to do with me, they had a disagreement with one of the lecturers).

So this is what I ask to you. What do you think is editing etiquette? Do you tell the person in layman’s terms what they need to edit, or do you sugarcoat it so you don’t hurt their feelings? I have no qualms about knowing that my work needs editing and where, but I find that if it’s done in a respectful manner, then I’m quite open to the changes that will happen as a result. What I’m not okay with, is someone telling me that they hate something or a part I’ve written with no explanation or a suggestion on how to fix it. That defeats the purpose of actually editing. That’s something to mull on.

Leave me a comment about what you think is editing etiquette and let’s see what others thing!

ps I enrolled into Rach’s Bright-Eyed & Blog-Hearts blogging course. I’m really excited! But my b-school selection is actually making my head hurt. So many choices and I can’t pick one. Dammit.

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  1. While in editing mode, my policy is to tactfully tell it how it is. At the end of the day, workshopping is about helping others to become the best writers they can be, and so strewing bullshit about serves no one.

    That said, there is a clear line between being honest and being rude, and I’m conscious not to cross it. I don’t sugar-coat, but I am mindful to offer praise when appropriate. A measured critique is like a layered sandwich, wherein the meats are compliments. However messy the execution, there will always be something redeemable about the work if the person has penned it with an open heart. So, yeah, I give praise, but don’t bother being disingenuous.

    Over-editing is another no-no; the editor must always respect the writer’s voice. It can be difficult to be on the receiving end of criticism — especially in moderated workshopping environments where the author is unable to defend or explain themself. One must always exercise empathy. The experience seems akin to an intervention — one of the most confronting experiences a person can face. Personally, I think the best policy is for all parties to check their egos at the door.

    Especially sensitive classmates have taken my feedback to heart in the past, which used to bother me. I’m not in the business of hurting anyone’s feelings, but a certain part of being a professional is learning to separate yourself from the work. Putting work up on a pedestal is a terrible idea, and tends to make writers overprotective. I take all workshopping home, and nothing irks me more than spending half an hour+ of my free time constructing a thorough and thoughtful critique only to have the oversensitive writer receive it by sticking their head in the sand. Some people I’ve studied with (not necessarily at Fairfield) seem steadfastly opposed to accepting criticism. Fine if you’re content keeping writing as a hobby, but an attitude like that won’t get you far in the professional realm.

    This year, I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing by offering honest, thorough critiques. People will either respect me for this approach, or hate me. Not to sound arrogant, but I don’t really care which. I’ve been doing this for awhile — even at a professional level — and am confident in my process. My Achilles’ heel is offering verbal criticism, as I seldom articulate myself clearly. Give me Track Changes or the page, though, and I’ll tell you what’s what.

    Conversely, I love receiving a thoughtful critique, even if they rip me a new one. I see such circumstances as opportunities to improve. Excuse the rant. Topic’s close to my heart 😉


    1. Ahhh someone who gets it! I love this. I don’t understand why there are writer’s out there who dislike giving feedback and really dislike being given it. It helps, very much so, but some people don’t seem to understand that at all.

      I’m also like that with verbal things. I have a serious case of foot in mouth syndrome. I can never quite articulate what I want to say just right, ha!


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