The writer-editor partnership can be a space of inspiring collaboration. But if you want to get the most out of your editor’s feedback, there’s one phrase that won’t help you.
Here’s what not to say to your editor.
What Not to Say to Your Editor
This is actually something I don’t hear often from my one-on-one clients, which I think speaks to the caliber of writers who come to me.
And to be clear, when I say caliber, I don’t mean that these writers have reached a certain level of skill. I work with writers at a wide range of skill levels. This isn’t really about skill. It’s more about attitude—about the approach writers take to their writing and editing process, and to their collaboration with an editor.
And I’m so grateful that the vast majority of my clients have come to me with a wonderful openness that makes our collaboration very rewarding and very fun.
That said, I’ve occasionally encountered writers who don’t bring this kind of openness. And it’s from those writers that I sometimes hear the comment I’m going to warn you against.
Now, this comment isn’t mean or wrong or bad. In fact, it’s a very natural thing to say. There are a lot of contexts in my life where I want to say this!
But what this comment will do is block you from getting the most out of your collaboration with your editor. It won’t hurt anyone’s feelings or break anything. But it will reduce the amount you can learn and gain from your editor.
And no one wants that—not you, not your editor, and ultimately, not your readers!
One Comment That Blocks Collaboration
So what is this comment? What’s this big problem that can block your learning and your editing?
Well, let me invite you into a typical editing call with me.
The best part of my editing process happens over calls with my writers. That’s not how every editor works, but it’s how I work. I read a writer’s pages or manuscript, I prepare my thoughts and feedback, and then we get on a call and talk it through.
So I’ll get on a call with a writer. I’ll share my feedback, a suggestion for how they can improve their manuscript. And they’ll respond.
And here’s where this pesky comment comes in, the one that can stop us in our tracks. Sometimes, the writer will say:
“I did that already.”
Or they’ll say:
“That’s what I already did.”
Essentially, what they’re saying is this:
“The problem you’re pointing out isn’t actually a problem. The suggestion you have for my story is something that’s already there in what you just read. I don’t need to change anything based on your feedback because that’s what the story already does.”
3 Reasons We Reject Feedback
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever received feedback where you thought, “Nope, this is already happening in my story; I can disregard this suggestion”?
I understand the urge to say this. I really do. I’m an editor, not a writer, but like I said, there are definitely other contexts of my life where I’ve felt this deeply—where I’ve wanted to say to someone, or have actually said, “Nope, I don’t need that feedback.” It’s a very natural human response.
I think this happens for a few reasons.
1. It’s hard to hear critique
First, it’s just hard to get feedback.
We would all love to be told that what we have created is perfect just as it is—that we’ve done such an amazing job that there’s nothing to criticize or change. It’s flawless. You’re flawless. An absolute masterpiece, a genius talent.
Feedback involves admitting that we have imperfections. And not only that, feedback means asking someone else to point those imperfections out to us. That’s just a tough experience, especially if you’re new to it.
2. It’s hard to trust that feedback is true
Second, it’s hard to trust that the feedback is good and accurate and true.
And that makes sense! A lot of writers have had experiences of getting bad feedback, feedback that didn’t match their vision for their story, or feedback from people who, to put it bluntly, didn’t really know what they were talking about.
So it’s natural to be on your guard, especially if you’ve had an experience like that.
3. It’s easy to feel defensive
And the result of this—that mix of feedback being hard to receive and hard to trust—is that writers can feel defensive about their writing.
Your writing is your creation, something you’ve worked incredibly hard to craft and that means a lot to you. It’s also very personal, even if it’s not a story about your own life. Writers pour so much of themselves into their writing.
So it makes sense that you’d want to defend your writing and the time and work you’ve invested in it!
I Get It (But It’s Still Not Helpful)
I say all that because I want you to know that I get it.
I get how important your writing is to you and how much you’ve already put into it before it makes its way to my desk. I get that having someone point out flaws in your creation can feel threatening, like a misunderstanding of your work, or even like an attack.
All that said, I have never found that responding to feedback by saying “I’ve done that already” ultimately benefits you or your writing.
3 Things to Do When You Want to Defend Your Writing
So with all this in mind, recognizing how natural and reasonable that knee-jerk response may feel, but also how it doesn’t actually help you, what should you do instead?
What’s a better response here, one that both reflects the work that you’ve already done and helps you get the most out of your collaboration with your editor?
Well, rather than saying, “I’ve done that already,” I have three things I recommend you do instead.
1. Remember that your editor is on your side
The first thing I want you to do is to remember that I am on your side.
Your editor is for you, not against you. Your editor wants the best for you and your story. I’m not trying to pick out all the flaws I can find in your story so I can give you the longest possible to-do list or write the cleverest one-star review on Amazon.
I’m here to collaborate with you and help you in every way I can to make the best book you can create.
One of the wonderful things about working one-on-one with an independent editor like me—which is to say, of hiring an editor to give you feedback before you self-publish or submit to agents and traditional publishers—is that you get to hand-select a story nerd to collaborate with you in your book.
You get to seek out the book professional who will most help you. You get to find a collaborator who can meet your precise needs and share the exact story insight that will most help you.
And if you find that an editor isn’t the right fit for you or your book, you get to choose another!
Because you have all the control here, the ability to hand-pick the right person for your project, I hope that once you do pick that person, you trust them.
Trust that they have your best interests at heart. Trust that they want to see you succeed. Trust that they want to help you create the book that you want to create. Trust that their feedback is good.
If you find you can’t trust an editor, that editor is not a good partner in your project.
If you find you can’t trust any editor, then you might have some hangups around inviting someone into your creative process. I encourage you to find someone trustworthy, and then challenge yourself to share your writing.
So this is the first thing I want you to do if you find yourself wanting to respond to feedback with “I’ve already done that”: remember that your editor is on your side.
2. Take heart that your editor is catching your vision
The second thing I want you to do is take heart! If I suggest you do something in your manuscript, and you want to say, “I’ve already done that,” that means that I’m picking up what you’re putting down.
When I come to a manuscript, my very first priority is to understand the writer’s vision for what they want their story to be. I’m reading the pages, yes. But more than that, I’m looking for clues about what this story is really about.
What’s important to this writer about this story?
What absolutely must be in here?
What must be clear to the reader in order for the writer to feel satisfied that this is a success?
Those are the kinds of questions I’m asking as I read. They help me both see what is on the page and what the writer wants to be on the page—their vision for their story.
Then, in my feedback, I do my best to capture the writer’s vision and help the writer make it even more clear.
I’m looking very, very hard for the writer’s idea. The reader won’t be looking that hard, and we don’t want them to. We want the reader to get it right away.
So I read a story, I look very, very hard for what the writer really wants that story to be, and then I share feedback to help them make that more clear for the reader.
And that means that if I give you feedback, and you want to say, “I’ve already done that,” that’s a wonderful thing! That’s great news.
It means that when I was scouring your manuscript for your idea, I found it. I found what you were trying to create. The seeds of your idea are there already.
When I give you my suggestions, what I’m saying is, “This is what I’ve found so far in your manuscript. This is what I think you want to communicate to your readers. I had to work harder to find it than your readers will work. So let’s make it more clear and powerful so readers will get it, too.”
I am able to capture your vision when I read your manuscript because the essence of your vision is already on the page. And that’s fantastic.
Our task now, and the goal of my feedback, is to make that vision even more clear so your readers understand it, too.
So that’s the second thing I want you to do: take heart! Be encouraged that if I’m telling you to do something in your manuscript that you’ve already done, that means that I’m picking up on your vision. It’s already on the page, just not yet clear enough for your readers to reliably understand too.
So in your next draft, your goal will be to take what exists and make it even more clear for your readers.
3. Respond with curiosity, not defense
Which brings me to the third thing I want you to do. The first two things were mindset shifts. This one is what I recommend you say instead of saying “I’ve already done that.”
What does it look like to trust and welcome your editor’s collaboration and be encouraged that your editor is picking up on what you’re trying to create?
It means that rather than responding to feedback with, “I’ve already done that,” you say this:
“How can I make that even more clear?”
Or even this:
“These lines here are how I tried to do what you’re recommending. What about this isn’t working yet?”
I love when writers ask these questions for many reasons.
First, questions like these honor the writer.
- They honor the work the writer has already done to craft their best story.
- They honor the doubts the writer might have that the feedback is accurate, or their belief that they’ve already accomplished this in the story.
- They support the writer’s learning process—that there’s always more to learn as they write and edit and work with a book professional.
Second, questions like these honor the editor.
- They honor the editor’s intent to capture the writer’s vision and help them make that even more clear and powerful.
- They presuppose that the editor does have something to contribute that will benefit the story, even if the writer believes that they’ve already accomplished this feedback in what’s already written.
- They invite the editor to expand on or explain their feedback rather than putting the editor into a position where they need to defend their feedback.
And remember, that feeling of defense—on the writer’s side or the editor’s side—is what we’re trying to avoid! The partnership between a writer and their editor isn’t meant to be adversarial, but collaborative.
What to Expect When You Lead With Curiosity
Here’s what happens when you ask “How can I make this more clear?” or “What about what’s on the page right now isn’t working yet?”:
Ninety-five percent of the time, I’ll show you how what you’ve written already planted the seeds of your vision that I was able to find as I read your pages.
I’m able to give you this feedback that’s in line with your ideas because the beginnings of your ideas are already on the page. We’ll find where those seeds are, and we’ll explore ways you can make those ideas even more clear.
And then five percent of the time, when you say, “Here’s where I thought I was doing that. What’s not working about this?” I’ll respond with, “Oh, you’re right! I missed that, and it does work, no changes needed!”
It’s always possible that when we look at your pages together, I’ll see that you have made that thing clear, and I’ll adjust my feedback accordingly.
That also means that if you ever feel confused or defensive about the feedback you receive from your editor, don’t hesitate to ask for your editor to explain it more.
Most of the time, you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of how to do what you’re aiming to do even more effectively. And every now and then, you and your editor might discover that you had it right in the first place and you don’t need to change a thing!
Find an Editor You Trust and Lead With Curiosity
Ultimately, here’s what I hope you take away from this:
I encourage you to welcome your editor into your writing process as a creative partner. Assume that your editor has your best interests and those of your story at heart unless proven otherwise.
(And if you can’t trust your editor, you might not yet have found the right editor for you.)
Then, come to the editing process with open-mindedness and curiosity rather than defensiveness. We’re working together towards a shared goal.
And I have found over and over that a writer’s skill is a lot less important in our editing relationship than their attitude. If you come in curious about what I have to share with you, open-minded to my suggestions and ideas, and willing to learn and explore with me, we’ll have a wonderful foundation for an incredibly rewarding editing relationship.
And ultimately, your story and your readers will benefit from it.
Curiosity Gets Easier With Practice
Maybe the most encouraging thought I can leave you with is this: everything I’ve said here gets easier with practice.
I consistently find that the more writers collaborate with me and receive feedback, the more comfortable they become, and the easier it becomes to receive feedback from that posture of curiosity rather than defensiveness.
Your writing feels a little less precious and in need of defense, you have more trust established from having experienced the editing process before, and it feels more natural and comfortable to collaborate and ask questions rather than try to prove that what you’ve created so far doesn’t need changes.
So if this mindset shift feels difficult or out of reach right now, don’t worry. It will get easier and feel more and more natural with practice.
I hope this has helped you to reframe some of the tough parts of getting feedback. I hope it makes the prospect of working with an editor a little less intimidating and a little more exciting.
And after all this, I feel like I really can’t leave you without pointing you towards some way to find the right editor for you. So I’ll briefly mention here that I am preparing a masterclass on how to know when to hire an editor and figure out what editor to hire.
I don’t have a date for that masterclass yet, so this is really more of a teaser, but I do know that class is on its way, so keep an eye out for it.
And if you’re wondering whether I’m the right editor for you, click here to explore the services I offer and click here to see the types of stories I work with. If I sound like a good fit for you, feel free to send me an email and let’s chat!