Coffee and Conversation: My Inner Editor Steps Out


Grab a cuppa and a chair, and chat a while…

Sometimes, resistance and revelations come from unexpected sources…

It can be anything that shakes us up enough to make us question our assumptions,dig in our heels to keep things feeling safe and comfortable, that makes us vulnerable enough to see and experience things in a new way, or that makes it impossible to experience things in the same old way. Sometimes, it’s the huge changes: births and deaths, romances and breakups, life transitions….but, other times, it’s something far more mundane.

For me, most recently, it was editing a friend’s novel. I’m in the early stages of preparing my own works for publication, and I know I will be doing a lot of editing in the not too distant future, so I expected I would gain valuable experiences along the way.

I didn’t expect to trip headlong over my own inner editor duking it out with my sense of empathy. I expected the warm fuzzy feeling of helping a friend make an already exciting book better, and to glean learning from the experience.

Instead, from early on, I found myself questioning myself every time I pressed ‘highlight’ and ‘add note’.At first, I thought I was just doubting myself. Who am I, after all, to judge the work of someone else, someone who actually published her book? But I had been clear that I am an amateur; I offered my help as a friend, not a professional editor. So there was something more…

I became aware that, with every correction, I felt I was somehow “grading her paper”; that I was, in some sense, calling her wrong.

I was caught in a holdover from my own school days, where the red pen could cut down to my soul. Back then, that red pen was the judge of my value – as a student, as a daughter, and as a human being. It could mean the difference between privilege and punishment, praise and ridicule.

Much more fun than a red pen! Photo by Lynn Kelley, Author, courtesy of WANA Commons.

This subconscious baggage had me feeling I was criticizing rather than offering a fresh eye when it was needed. Once or twice, it drove me to take a day or two off. I could see that it might cripple my own editing efforts, too.

Being aware of this thought, this unwanted connection in my mind, is helping me to find ways to lessen it, and it’s also got me thinking….

How often are we thwarted by thoughts and patterns learned earlier in life; by obsolete ideas that we hang onto without realizing it?

Is this why some of us can’t seem to make the time we need to do the things we most want to do? Is it why some of us have talents and passions we’ve never shared? Is this why some of us never take the plunge that might make a dream come true?

Someday that red pen will just be part of the scenery. Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski, courtesy WANA Commons.

Are we being hobbled by our early lives, and still living as though schoolroom rules, or the edicts of our parents, must be true, today?

I don’t know yet how to excise these thoughts. There is benefit, I think, in taking the time to hear and question them, and see what I learn can learn from them. When they crop up, I ask myself if they are really telling me the truth of the matter. Are they worth giving my energy or attention to? Do they serve my goals?

It’s possible that these limiting and outgrown thoughts will take me somewhere I need to go. Until then, though, questioning them, asking for their credentials, seems like a good way to make sure I give my honest – and not my frightened – best to everything I strive toward…

I’m very interested in what patterns others struggle with, and how they deal with them. To join the conversation, please leave your thoughts below!


  1. I concur… The best way to deal with those feelings to to know that you are simply offering a suggestion that might work better. When it comes to offering an option, not a requirement, the pressure comes off.

    With yourself… (as with myself), I think if we see the need to be gently firm with ourselves, to allow freedom to explore the possibility that what we wrote no longer applies or could be improved…

    If we allow ourselves to accept the gift of being perfectly imperfect….

    • Ooh, I love that last line!

      Although, these days, I am finding less need to be firm with myself, and more times when all I need is to be fully present to what is waiting….sima garo does provide, after all! =)

  2. You describe a feeling ere that I am too intimately familiar with–even when I end up being told that my critiquing/what-have-you was spot on and helped a ton.

    I don’t think it ever goes away either. My recent online editing class suggests that as our teacher noted she’d had similar feelings about some stories she had to review for her job as an editor. Whenever we’re dealing with someone else’s work, there’s a risk that we’re stepping out of our place….

    At least that’s my $.05 on the matter.

    • Eden,

      Not sure if I’m glad to hear it isn’t just me. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, for certain.

      I am finding, though, that needing to detach from that emotional response in order to finish the edit has made it easier to detach from placing too much emphasis on the things I want to correct (and those you’ve suggested), in my own work.

      I got through the process by constantly reminding myself that what I was offering was an idea of where things might be improved. Looking at my own pieces that way has made the process simpler, less emotionally fraught, and actually fun! =D

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