This essay is excerpted from QWF Writes.
By Ann Cavlovic
Someone with two decades of experience getting critiques of their writing shouldn’t curl into a ball after an editor’s comments, right?
Then why, after receiving a developmental edit on my first attempt at a novel, did I find myself in such a pit of despair? (Yes, that pit, that ball; I was every cliché imaginable.)
The simplest explanation involves basic math: a novel is about twenty times the length of a short story, so you have twenty times the problems to fix. On top of this, the stakes for me were especially high: I’d taken a year off work to complete the draft on a small grant, and circumstances left me a single mother, all of which necessitated a weekly budget of $330. Just my son’s weekly piano lessons cost $50.
After taking this big leap and working so hard, I wanted accolades. Instead, the editor posed neutral questions that my anxious mind could easily un-neutralize: ‘What governed your decision to include character X?’ became ‘Why did you even write this useless asshole?’ She didn’t trust the perceptions of the character whose purpose was to explore the nature of human perception, which sent me into an epistemological head explosion about my own perceptions. Sure, many of us ignore positive feedback and focus on the negative (and I hold a PhD in Catastrophizing). This cognitive distortion comes readily when the things working well are described in one page, and the things that aren’t take up fifteen.
It wasn’t so much like I felt this editor had seen me naked. It was as if she’d seen me naked upon return from a ten-day backwoods camping trip and offered logical and helpful observations like: ‘Have you considered taking a shower?’ and ‘But first perhaps another go with some toilet paper?’