The Five Stages of Grief Edits

The revisions cave is a dank, lightless place. Discarded commas lay all about. Plot holes open up like gaping chasms. Dialogue that never quite landed in the right way juts up from the floor. Stalactites of deleted scenes hang overhead, threatening to fall back down into the manuscript, because oh my God is this important? Will readers not understand what’s going on if I don’t include it? Is it even funny? Or remotely engaging? WHAT WILL BOOKLOVER097 THINK??

“What the hell is a Grim Reaper?”

That, if you couldn’t tell, was a little window into the last month of my life.

The reason this blog has turned into a tumbleweed-laden wasteland is because I’ve spent the past few weeks editing the manuscript of the second book in the Croak series, Scorch. And I’m really happy with how it turned out. But I’ve found that the only way to do a good job on revisions is to devote your entire life to them, morning, noon, and night, and wow I don’t think I’ve eaten a single vegetable in weeks.

I don’t mean to hate on revisions. They are ENTIRELY necessary. The problem, I think, is that they’re so daunting. Every single time I submit a draft, I get it in my head that it’s good to go – okay, you send it off to the printers, and I’ll don my sandwich board and go stand out in front of the bookstore and start hawking it. Yet every single time it comes back to me with feedback – from my agent or editor or sometimes, somehow, my milkman – and then it starts: the five stages of grief.

Now, I don’t mean to seriously compare the trials and tribulations of messing around with a Word document to losing a treasured loved one, but I have to admit: the Kübler-Ross model is remarkably applicable to the editing process. Consider:

1) Denial – “Well, she clearly don’t know what she’s talking about. What is she, a highly insightful, seasoned professional? Wait. Dammit.”

2) Anger – “I’d like to see HER sit in her pajamas all day and come up with this Sistene Chapel of a scene!”

3) Bargaining – “Okay, I get what you’re saying about the cute puppy not being integral to the story in any way and needing to be cut, BUT, what if I make him a werewolf?”

4) Depression – “Hey, a bottle of bleach! Hand me that wine glass.”

5) Acceptance – “Okay, FINE, I will make these changes. And they will make the book infinitely better, as they ALWAYS DO. And I will have FUN doing it, and I will fall in LOVE with the end result. SIGHGRUMBLEGRUMBLE.”

So yeah. Revisions:done.



  1. Excellent post. Question:

    Every single time I submit a draft, I get it in my head that it’s good to go …

    Do you find this feeling diminishes at all? Does the feeling ever change from “this is it – this is the winner!” to “oh hell, I just want to be done with this, please say it’s finished”? I’ve found I’m at that stage with Too Close to Miss, having written it and rewritten it and revised it and shopped it around for feedback and rewritten it, etc. I’m taking it as a good sign (I’m killing my darlings! I’m free of illusion! … right?) but another writer’s input would help.

    • I think the whole “Please say it’s done” feeling is simultaneous with the “This is awesome” feeling – you implicitly want other people to recognize that it’s awesome, and therefore have them say it’s donezo. But the thing is, that’s only going to happen once. They will only say that it’s all set and ready to go ONCE, and that’s when you get to the totally final draft. Everything before that is more changes, more changes. So while my mindset is always the same every time I submit a revision, I think the only thing that I’ve noticed a change in is my expectations – I still think these things and hope for approval, but I KNOW full well that’s not going to happen (at least not completely – I’m always thrilled when they recognize that certain parts that weren’t working now are landing perfectly), and that more changes will have to be made. I dread them, but I know they’re coming. And like I said, in every single case, they’ve made the book better.

      But it happens on the author’s side, too; the powers that be aren’t the only ones demanding more changes. There will always be things you yourself want to change, always. Like, I’m reading over the final – FINAL, FINAL – draft of Croak, the one that’s going to be printed, and there are still things that I’m biting my knuckles over and feeling the need to edit, even though it’s way too late. Things that only I will care about, and that the reader will never notice. Which is why it’s so important for an editor to eventually say, this is it, this is what we’re going with, and if you want to change it, go suck an egg. Which makes sense; this is something that you’ve been working on and obsessing over for, most likely, years, and these are the few precious thousands of words that have made it through all those cuts. They’ve survived for a reason.

  2. Excellent post, Gina!

    Everytime I think of revising things and how the drafts never seem to end and how, even when you think you’ve made it as good as you can possibly ever make it, there are still flaws, I am reminded of a statement by no less a man than Leonardo DaVinci:

    “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

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