How college writing workshops prepared me to work with an editor

I’ve been sending my short stories and essays to literary magazines since 2009, but I didn’t really start to accumulate publications until recently (something I will attribute to the amount of work I’ve put into improving my craft).

So far, all my stories have been accepted as-is. Except for one. One I’m really, really fond of.

When the editor of the literary journal that accepted my story asked if I would be open to some minor edits, I was scared. Did my story have some major flaw that I had failed to see through six rounds of revisions? I dreaded this editor’s judgement so much I didn’t open the document with her edits for a few days after she sent it to me.

Having one of my stories workshopped always gives me the same vague feeling of dread and nervousness. But after more than a dozen university workshops in both fiction and nonfiction over the past ten years, I’ve learned to take my ego out of the process and listen to what my peers have to say about my story. Sometimes their suggestions go against what I want for a piece, but even unhelpful suggestions lead me to a deeper understanding of the rift between my initial vision and what’s actually on the page.

I reminded myself that this editor could have rejected my piece outright, but instead she chose to spend her valuable time working to make it better. I put on my big girl pants and read over her suggestions. They blew me away. Her insights proved how thoroughly and deeply this woman had read and understood my story.

Knowing there was a complete stranger who liked my work enough to want to make it better made me feel like a real writer. Up to that point, the people championing me and my work were my family, friends, and professors. But this—this was someone who didn’t know me from Eve.

It’s always a little scary to receive feedback on something you’ve worked on for months or years. I don’t think any amount of practice or training can erase that feeling entirely (at least not for me). But practice has taught me how to handle those emotions, and to approach suggestions with an open mind.

Had I raised my hackles and insisted my story was finished, or had I taken the suggestions as a personal affront, I would have missed out on a great opportunity to grow as a writer and make my story even better.


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