The Experience of Being Edited

By | March 5, 2016

This week I’m going to switch tracks back to talking about making Forthright Open Roleplay. I’ve not been talking about that much lately because, after finishing the Ashcan Draft, I sent it off to John Adamus to be edited. He got it back to us two weeks ago, and I’ve been reading and assimilating his commentary, as well as asking specific questions that should all help make the rulebook better.

And I’m telling you this because you might not realize: being edited is hard.

If you’ve put your heart and soul and tremendous effort into something, and then you hand if off and you discover exactly how much of it is kind of crap, it can be emotionally devastating. It can make you depressed, leave you feeling very small and incompetent, and make you want to give up with a “why bother?” And to also think that you paid for the privilege of being savaged can be galling.

That’s pride talking. Swallow it. Buck up, go through the text, and really assimilate what your editor is telling you. Learn the lessons your editor is teaching. Because when you choose an editor, you are choosing someone whose opinion you trust. Someone you think is going to tell you the hard truths because you need to learn them, someone you think is going to help you make your work better and stronger and more valuable to other people.

And yeah, it’ll be frustrating. I recommend not reading the edits in front of your editor to keep the relationship professional, if you’re anything like me and occasionally shouting “that’s not the point you pedantic son of a–” as you go through them.

But stay focused. Remember that your editor is trying to help you make the work stronger. It’s a bond of trust and mutual respect between a writer and an editor; you both have to know that you’re trying to make the best possible thing. Work together to make that thing!

The Ashcan Draft of Forthright Open Roleplay was 68,000 words. John sent back 599 comments with it. Occasionally they were positive, mostly they were negative. Overall the tone of the text was too dry and technical – written like a software programming guide for stiff-necked suits. Considering I write technical guides and project proposals for executives and managers in my day job. . .that flaw does not surprise me.

We picked John to be our editor because we’d met him at Metatopia and his incisive wit and clarity of purpose inspired us. The Ashcan Draft was already cleaner than the Beta 2 Draft thanks to what we learned from him in just a couple of short hours. He also comes from a different gaming culture than we here at Room 209 Gaming do. While we’re very steeped in traditional games and the traditional gaming culture surrounding Raleigh-Durham, he was much more used to the Indie game scene. We wanted that alternate perspective. And the fact that he’s worked on so many games that went on to win or be nominated for ENnies told us that no matter what, this guy knows what he’s doing and we need to listen.

Reading through John’s comments hit me hard the first day. I felt really miserable. But after a good night’s sleep and refocusing my mind, I could get past my own initial emotional reaction and really start absorbing what he was saying. I discussed John’s edits with Sarah and Ray. Ray, being a copy editor for newspapers himself for nearly a decade, was able to interpret some of the edits I didn’t understand into clarity. All told, every single one of John’s edits and comments is going to lead to changes in the Public Beta Draft. And every one of those comments is going to make the Public Beta better.

Today’s post is a kind of unusual, Very Special Episode of this design blog because I think talking about the reaction to being edited, and reminding other designers out there not to be discouraged when the feedback you get is not all sunshine and roses, is important. I hope this can help somebody else out there not feel low or embarrassed, or help them get past that feeling, to create what they dream of. It can’t be the end of the world if you hold the world in your hands 🙂

Thanks for reading!