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How to manage your stress during a developmental edit

by Sue Brown-Moore

You’ve taken the leap and hired that developmental editor you’ve been hearing so much about. You’re excited. And you’re nervous. And you’re petrified. What comes next? How do other authors handle all these feelings?

A developmental edit is a tricky thing. You have to trust the editor to read your work and somehow intuit who you are as a writer, what story you’re trying to tell, and what pieces even you don’t know you need to add or change. 

If that sounds like a lot of responsibility for the editor, it is. And knowing there’s a nervous first-time author on the other end of the project really ups the stakes. My #1 editing goal is always to consider the story and its needs first, but my top personal goal is to be sure my authors are also cared for emotionally. For most writers, stories come from the heart, and a developmental edit can feel like I’m killing your darling (sometimes literally). 

I’ve had authors tell me they took muscle relaxers or got drunk before opening my edits. While I’m a little mystified (and oddly flattered) that I apparently come across so fiercely (and I can only speak for myself here, not other editors, but…), it’s really not that scary. These are my top six pieces of advice for authors committing to a developmental edit for the first time:

  • Be open to major changes. You didn’t pay your editor to shower you in unicorn dust. You paid them to give you the hard advice that will keep your story on brand and at a high-quality level. 
  • Know what 2-3 aspects of the story are the MOST important to you and record your reasons why, then consider sharing this list with your editor. These are the things you may want to push back on. Any other changes should be open to discussion.
  • Understand that the edits you get back are not required changes. Your story is your own—unless you are working with a publisher, which is a whole different experience and topic—and you can choose what changes you feel are best. That said, you hired the editor for a reason. Try to keep that reason in mind as you look at what they’re recommending.
  • Check your work—spelling, grammar, scene flow, and logic. The cleaner the story you give the editor, the better and more nuanced recommendations you will get back. If you’ve left in sentence fragments and spelling errors, the editor’s brain will have to work harder to sort through the text, and they’re likely to focus on stylistic (voice) elements you may not actually (think you) need help with.
  • Plan your timelines assuming you will need to do a full rewrite. If you take nothing else away from this list, carve this last one in stone on your office desk. Planning release timelines is one of the most challenging tasks in self-publishing, because there are so many unknowns and so many moving parts. But the heart of all your hard work is the story, so getting it right is crucial. Don’t give into the temptation to assume that your dev edit will come back roses. You never know what life is going to throw at you, and you’re going to want that time to do revisions, even if they’re light. 
  • Be prepared to grieve. Yes, I’m serious. Many people go through at least a few of the stages of grief when they work through my (or, really, any skilled and honest dev editor’s) feedback and edits. Know yourself. Give yourself time to deal with this emotional upheaval in your life. And if the edit goes smoothly? Great job! You just earned yourself some free time. =)

Were these tips helpful? Consider joining my Romantic Pro Tips group on Patreon. You’ll get a tips like these every second week of the month, and a slew of other seriously fantastic perks. 

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