Five Stages of Editing Grief by Elizabeth MS Flynn

You know about the five stages of editing grief, don’t you? If you don’t know them by that name, I know you must have experienced them somewhere along the way. After the writing’s done, after your fussing’s done, the editing must begin, whether done by yourself or by another without the emotional connection to the work—and sometimes it can be painful. Go through those five stages—denial; anger; bargaining; depression; and acceptance—and come out on the other side with a polished manuscript. Come find out how to make your work the very best it can be, with minimal resentment of your editor!

Break down your editing grief into the five stages, and accept them for what they are. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Stage 1: Denial

Situation: You’ve finished your magnum opus. You’ve sweated over it, you’ve cried over it, and in a burst of triumph, you’ve finished! It hurts to have finished so great a work, and in your heart you have to wonder if you’ll ever write anything quite so magnificent again. After you wipe away your tears and taken a good long drink (of coffee, soda, alcohol, even icy cold water), you take a deep breath and consign it to…your editor. It could be your content editor, your copy editor, it doesn’t matter. You’re handing over your baby to someone whose sole purpose in life at this point is to NOT BE YOU. Your editor is an editor (and with any luck a professional with many years of experience) and knows his/her job is to look at your magnum opus with a critical eye (not criticizing, critical). And so with a (digital) red pen in hand and a sharp eye, the task begins. Sometimes the task takes a smattering of time. Sometimes it takes more than that. But the job gets done.

A while later, you get your baby back. And here the stages begin to, you know, kick in. Forthwith:

“No, you’re wrong!” you shriek after you glance at the red-splotched, torn-into-pieces manuscript (yes, I know, these days it’s usually digital, but for the sake of the imagery, let’s just say you got back the paper form) and shove it back. “You’re jealous of the genius of my sweet, wonderful baby! THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH MY BABY!”

Okay, your editor will tell you that it’s not personal. He/she has nothing against you OR your baby. After edging away from you after your outburst (editors are sensitive to such things), he/she will take a deep breath and approach you again, the mangled, bloodied pages of your manuscript proffered at the very edge of his/her fingertips (just in case you go off your rocker again). This time you take the manuscript, and with your jaw set and lips pursed, you start to read it.

Stage 2: Anger

Situation: As you leaf through the tattered remains of your magnum opus, you find yourself getting very ticked off. “There is NO reason for these changes to be made!” you fume, often to an empty room (because you’ve scared off anyone else who might have been there). “How dare [they]!” (The “he/she” was getting tiresome in reference, so from now I’ll just use “they” and “them.” Grammatical? No, but hey.) The more you leaf through without reading, the angrier you get and the more your blood pressure rises. Your hands tremble and a frightening haze of red passes in front of your eyes. You’re hyperventilating, and that’s not good. At least you don’t have a weapon in your hands, because you sensibly put down that butcher knife before you grabbed the manuscript.

You need a break, so you take a deep breath and take a slug of something (soda, milkshake, alcohol, mocha latte half caff with double foam and a shot of vanilla) to calm down. And only then do you start to read, really read, the comments that your beleaguered editor has made.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Situation: After you’ve begun to read the comments, you notice that there isn’t a splotch of red on every page, but on many. After you’ve grudgingly agreed that some of the corrections and edits that your editor has made on your manuscript may make some sense to someone (else) for some reason, you begin to dicker with the editor, peppering them with a slew of questions and trying to cadge some possibility that these edits and corrections are somehow unnecessary. After all, your baby is wonderful the way it is. At first your goal is to browbeat the editor into throwing in their towel of edits (which is smeared with blood-red inks) and say that they were wrong, it was perfect, and they were indeed jealous. After some hours of interrogation, however, the editor doesn’t break (much), except to say that some of the edits could be taken under advisement. At least that’s what you think they said, since they’ve passed out from the strain and they were hoarsely muttering right before.

Stage 4: Depression

Situation: You and your editor have come to an impasse of sorts. Your editor is in the hospital, recovering from your persistent interrogation, and while some of their edits have been, you are satisfied to see, marked “stet” (Latin for a phrase used in publishing, “Let it stand,” meaning that the original should be kept), there are many, many others that have not. Some of the changes cannot be marked stet because spelling and grammar are not your strong suits, although you don’t understand why the language can’t be changed instantly throughout society specifically for your purpose. Some of the edits cannot be changed because the editor corrected some oversights that you didn’t catch when you read through your work (see: eye color changing from chapter to chapter, and not in a symbolic way). So edits must be made, even though there is pain and anger in your heart as you deal with…

Stage 5: Acceptance

Situation: Your manuscript is not the same manuscript you triumphantly finished not so long ago, but it has been edited and edited some more and many of the edits have been accepted. It has gone through the gantlet of editing and polished and emerged on the other side of the process, with some changes inevitable but the story itself still intact. The process of editing is done.

Herewith are the stages of editing grief. Understand them, accept them. We all go through them, and know that for your work to be seen and read by one and all, you must do so.

Now stop trying to bite me! Geez, your work had to be edited!

Jacquie Rogers and I present this process as a workshop, with Jacquie presenting a work to be edited and me as the editor bravely stepping forth to edit. Together, we explain the editing process. Whenever we do, I tell ya, I’m afraid that I’m going to end up at the working end of a pen!


Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at and reached at [email protected] If you’re curious about her books, check out In any case, she can be reached at [email protected]