It's traumatic, I know. You put time, energy, and pieces of your soul into your words. And then you're forced to (whisper it with me) edit.
You print your darlings (you'll never know true love until you hold your manuscript for the first time) and then you use your blue pen to tear them to pieces. Or your red pen, if your heart is made of ice.
I've discovered a shocking lack of literature addressing the grieving process following the mutilation of a manuscript (the "killing of darlings," if you please). To that end, I present the five stages of writer's grief.
"The edits are making the writing stronger. I'm excited. I"m not dying inside."
Writers tend to approach the first revision with a level of excitement typically found only in terrier puppies. After weeks or months of steadily growing your word count, the switch to editing is a welcome change. You are still in love with your words and have yet to uncover the unnerving amount of changes that need to be made.
Once you realize the torture you must inflict upon your manuscript, there is at least one bout of rage. Tears and hysteria are not uncommon, and manuscripts are often flung across the room (though not far, those things are heavy). Neighbors are advised to take vacations during this stage.
"Please, just let the next page be better. I'll never write another adverb again, I swear."
Bargaining with the muse is extremely common, especially after discovering that specific word that appears twice per page. This stage often includes guilt. If you had only written more slowly, you would have a cleaner draft and you would not be in this editing hell. Your precious words would still be intact. If you had taken that typing class in high school, you wouldn't have twelve million typos littering your manuscript. You blame yourself, and you would do anything to go back to the way things were before editing—back to writing.
"There's no point in going on."
Near the halfway mark, you may begin to feel hopeless. With every strike through your words, there is a piece taken from you, and an emptiness grows in you gut. You feel like you can't continue, and the work will forever linger between first and second drafts. Alcohol/chocolate consumption often spikes during this stage.
"It's real. My darlings are gone."
This stage is simply the realization that your words are gone. You have killed them. You may never feel good about it, but you have accepted your new draft as reality. It is your book, now. Many feel that in accepting this new draft, they are betraying their original words. Acceptance likely only comes after you have finished your first round of revisions, though some writers do not reach this stage until after the second or third revision, editing their manuscripts fully during the depression stage.
Which explains the plethora of sad books on the market.
When it's time to revise their next projects, most writers only remember the denial stage. The anger and depression are surpassed by the euphoria of completion, and eventually the writer comes to love the new words as "darlings."
Did I miss a stage? Let me know in the comments!
Author & Editor