Kubler-Ross Model of Grief Associated With Editing And Rewriting


When you write a book, you will receive criticism and edits and then you will have to perform surgery upon it, and sometimes this surgery is light — like, a stitch here, a biopsy there — and sometimes it’s the kind of surgery chirurgeons did during the Civil War where they’re just like FUCK IT, CLEM, YOUR WHOLE HEAD HAS TO COME OFF, HAND ME THE BONE SAW. In rare cases the surgery is murdersurgery where you just start indiscriminately killing darlings left and right with an ice pick and leave a gore-slick tile floor in your wake.

But it’s a thing you do because you have to do it. Real writers edit. Real writers rewrite. And it gets easy once you commit — you move piece here, you nudge a piece there, and then it feels more comfortable. But until that point arrives, until you are actually willing to move through the edits, I find that I go through five stages.

And so, I give you, the Kubler-Ross Model of Grief Associated With Editing And Rewriting.

Denial

Edits? What edits?

*ignores email*

*pushes any and all print-outs under the refrigerator*

The book is fine. It’s fine. I never got edits. It’s perfect. Bulletproof even.

*hums a tune loudly, too loudly*

*stares*

*twitches*

Anger

THESE EDITS ARE BULLSHIT.

I CALL SHENANIGANS. THEY’RE JUST WRONG IS WHAT THEY ARE. YOU CAN’T JUST… YOU CAN’T JUST CHANGE STUFF. THESE ARE MY CHOICES. THESE ARE MY CONTROLS! Y-YOU DON’T KNOW. YOU’RE DUMB, EDITOR PERSON. SUPER-DUPER-DUMB. LIKE A… A ‘HOOFED ANIMAL KICKED YOU IN THE HEAD’ DUMB. YOU CAN’T JUST EDIT ME. I’LL EDIT YOUR FACE. I’LL CRITIQUE YOUR DUMB DUMB FACE WITH YOUR BUTTHOLE EYES AND YOUR NASTY DOODOO MOUTH. I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS. I LOVE MY WORDS. EVERYTHING IS FINE. YOU’RE NOT FINE. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. THE REASON I’M THE AUTHOR AND YOU’RE THE EDITOR IS BECAUSE YOU’RE WEAK. THOSE WHO CAN’T WRITE, EDIT, AM I RIGHT? YOU’RE PROBABLY A MONSTER. A HUMAN MONSTER WHO LIKES TO PULL THE WINGS OFF PIGEONS WITH PLIERS AND OHHHH SURE I’M JUST YOUR LATEST PIGEON. I HATE YOU SO BAD. ALSO YOUR SHOES ARE TOTES UGLY.

FUCK IT, FUCK THIS SHIT, FUCK ALL OF EVERYTHING FOREVER.

YOU’RE NOT MY DAD.

*kicks over lamp*

*hugs manuscript tight, lip quivering*

Bargaining

Okay, ha ha ha, sorry about that thing about calling you a monster. I am. That was uncalled for. It was uncouth. I get that now. And the lamp, too. That was a nice lamp. And your shoes are lovely!

So — *clears throat* — let’s talk about these edits. Like, did you really mean them all? Sure, sure, no, no, I know you did, or you think you did. But let’s drill down. Nitty-gritty time. Get our hands dirty. I’m willing to concede, ha ha ha, that the book isn’t perfect. I know that. Of course it’s not! But maaaaaybe it’s not all that bad, right? Like, okay, perhaps we don’t need to get rid of that character entirely. Oh, sure, sure, he can get pulled from chapter three and still remain in the rest of the book, right? And maybe some of these metaphors are a bit loosey-goosey but I think with minimal tweaking — what’s that? No, yeah, sure, I know the ending doesn’t work, but what you’re suggesting is a bit drastic. I don’t want to rewrite the whole ending. Maybe fixing one paragraph will do it. Just one little paragraph. You know how it’s like, “Oh, that shirt doesn’t look good on you,” but then all you have to do is unbutton the top button or like, pop the collar and it’s like, bam. New shirt. New look. Hot look. You go from looking dumpy and sad to just… just snazzy with one little change.

I think we can do that here. Yeah, no, I’ll do your edits, totally. Totally. Just to a lesser degree than you expected. I mean, they say “kill your darlings,” but that sounds so dramatic. Nobody wants to kill anything. We don’t want to murder parts of the book. The book is precious. It’s nice. It didn’t hurt anyone. Let’s not kill our darlings so much as massage them gently into shape.

That’ll fix it. That’ll fix everything.

Probably.

Right?

*chin up*

*blink blink*

Right?!

Depression

everything is a lightless black void

i am terrible at this

all the edits are true

the edits were probably being nice and you were just pulling your punches and the book is terrible and i am terrible and all hope is a screaming dolphin caught in a tuna net

i am a sham. i am an imposter. i am a dung beetle juggling a shit ball uphill.

jesus god what am i doing with my life

i think maybe i’m just going to leave these edits here for a while and i’m gonna walk away from this heinous bus crash of a book i wrote but first i’m gonna quietly place it in this lead-lined trunk and then bury the trunk in the backyard and then build a prison for wayward youths on top of it

i am gonna go now and be a janitor or an accountant or at the very least i am going to sit on the toilet and contemplate my choices all of which have clearly been very poor okay thank you bye

*eats a cookie*

*fails to chew, crumbs tumble from lips onto shirt*

Acceptance

*wakes up after three-day slumber*

*blankets in a tangle, sun through the curtains*

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

*does it*

yay


60 responses to “Kubler-Ross Model of Grief Associated With Editing And Rewriting”

  1. Releasing a book is like having a child. You hope is can survive out in the world and that it won’t fuck up and make you look bad LOL

  2. yes, this, exactly! but what’s the name for the stage after you’ve resubbed and you roll around, burritoed in blankets, in a rollercoaster of accomplishment (i did edits!), worry (were they any good?), and apathy (who fucking cares, at least it’s out of my inbox) until hearing back from eds?

  3. Amazing. I do skew way too close to this. Anger is generally represented by me stomping around my flat and making monster noises. After the initial dinosaur-themed huffing I realise they were probably right, sulk and get on with it. Editors are great and annoyingly often right.

  4. I’ve carried out a lot of chapter by chapter edits, done at the behest of online critiquers. I’ve also done edits on novellas. But my full novel? That’s a rubicon I haven’t crossed yet. First I’ve got to finish the thing and then … tell me – will I drown?

  5. This is also surprisingly accurate for revising papers for academic journals. I tend to wallow in the Depression and Anger stages, alternately, for quite a while.

  6. This is so helpful. Editing is my biggest block. It’s great to see that a successful author struggles with these things, too.

  7. So true, plus there’s the part when you start reading the edits and then it gets harder and harder to keep reading so you have to stop, but then you start imagining what ELSE the editor found, so you peek at the next one. Rinse and repeat. 🙂

  8. My way of handling the anger stage is I open the ms in Word and start reading through it, replying out loud. After the first few pages, the anger hits and I start declining everything with a “Fuck you!” and a “bullshit!” and “Oh hell no!” (you get the idea). That usually lasts about a third of the book. Then I close the document without saving and go have a drink before getting on with the rest.

    Also, while I accept MOST edits, I’m grateful that I have editors who discuss things with me and don’t expect me to blanket accept everything they tell me to do. Commas? Oh hell yes. I automatically accept corrections to commas, and probably would blindfolded, if I could know that’s what I was accepting. I like to call myself the Queen of the Misused Comma. But there are times where I have had to point out changes that they wanted to make alter the story in a *BAD* way and would end up *confusing* the reader. (Or where they are arguing with something I’m VERY familiar with because I experienced it and they tell me “it doesn’t work that way.” I’m like… um… yeah, it does.)

    So, really, I’m not entirely sure I go much beyond bargaining… Okay, I do get to acceptance… mostly.

  9. “I’LL EDIT YOUR FACE. ”

    For a very long time my Facebook picture was legitimately a cat sitting on a book and it said “If you don’t like my edits I’ll edit your face”. I am highly amused.

    Also, I needed this. I go through this every darn time. Although my edits tend to be more like total world collapses 😛

  10. Absolute perfection, Mr Wendig.
    I’m convinced the best way to deal with the depression stage is to read bad reviews of books you like. Note that you can’t please everyone, sometimes people DON’T get you, and some criticism is spot-on.

  11. Terrific. I’ve used that model in my Counseling work and I found your interpretation to be realistic and fun. Thanks.
    AS to when my book gets back from the Editor, we’ll see.

  12. This captures my last month to perfection, but you forgot to shove “using research for next book as avoidance tactic” in there, and also “day that could have been used to edit lost to porn”. 😀

  13. Of course, now I will imagine editing as a surgery scene from a Civil War drama. “OH GOD! STOP CUTTING!” “Shut up! Call yourself a soldier. It’s just a leg, you got another one! Now bite down on this before we go on. The next bit will really hurt.”

  14. You can read my mind! I just emerged from the depression stage and am now in front of the computer ready to rewrite my bus crash of a novel. Total decapitation is needed and I have my saw in hand.

  15. Loved this and found it very timely as I’ve just finished a long period of editing. At the end I was staring at every bit of punctuation. “Should this be a comma, a semi-colon or the large intestine?”

    Accurate, great fun and spookily reassuring. An essential read for all writers – and editors.

  16. Am I the saddest author on the planet? I actually love the whole feedback and editing process once the first draft slog is finished. My editor calls me up and we have a long conversation, during which I scribble notes like mad, and then she turns me loose to perform surgery – quite often to graft on bionic limbs rather than remove bits of intestine and the occasional kidney.

  17. Just got done editing my book and now published.

    I went from Denial, to Acceptance, to Depression, back to Acceptance. It was a rather humbling experience.

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