Guest Post: My First Red Pen by Megan Manzano



I’ve written a similar piece a year or so ago about my first experiences with an editor too, if you want to check it out! Mine was… a little more of a shit-show.

My First Red Pen

by Megan Manzano

I think every writer upon getting critique for the first time is nervous. Between the work put into the piece, self-doubt nibbling at the back of their mind, and their story being in the hands of someone else, they may ask, “how can I let someone else read my work?” My answer is take a breath and realize you have to. Otherwise, you’ll never get better as a writer and you’ll miss out on a lot of mistakes.

I didn’t start seriously writing until eighteen. It had been a hobby up until that point, something I did for fun or as a stress reliever. I wrote with a handful of people on an online community. They read my work, but never critiqued it. It was a blast, to be a part of an atmosphere where creativity was placed on a pedestal. I never planned to expand most of that work, so I was okay with it not being scanned for missing commas, run on sentences, bad grammar, or plot holes.

When I wrote my first short story, it was an entirely different situation. I had to decide whether to hide this piece forever on my computer or send it to some writer family members and hope it wasn’t complete garbage. I’ve had work critiqued before. It would be impossible not to while going through school, but my stories, they were much more personal than academic essays.

I can say that my first story wasn’t ready to be burned and never seen again. My brother congratulated me for having the confidence to ask for critique for it was something he hadn’t been able to do until later in his career. My sister in law told me I was doing the right thing. Despite these words of encouragement, I was still mildly horrified to see a bunch of red marks where things weren’t exactly the best they could be. I remember closing out the tab and taking a few minutes to gather myself.

My story wasn’t perfect. I knew that. If stories were perfect on the first shot, books wouldn’t be an exciting challenge and there would be no need for amazing editors in the world. I believe there is a certain disconnect one has when they write a story. When someone says, “I don’t understand why this is happening,” you as the author go, “well, it’s happening because of this.” To the author, it makes complete sense for they know their world, characters, and intentions. If a reader cannot pick up on either one of these, that is where the editing comes in. Tighten up prose. Add details. Polish the dialogue. It is up to the writer to bring their world to life to the best of their abilities.

I trusted my brother and sister-in-law to give me critique without shredding my story to bits. There is a lot of trust between us and to this day, we swap what we are working on because we know our stories and creative efforts will be appreciated. Another bit of fear that comes with critique is wondering if an editor will treat the story as it should be treated: a work in progress. Criticism should be constructive, with the intents of helping the writer and not harming the story. Straight out saying the work sucks isn’t going to solve anything. If you as a reader feel like your story isn’t being handled well, don’t be afraid to seek out a new partner or even a close friend to ask if an editor’s responses are justified. A writer deserves to grow with each editing experience, not be hindered by it.

Returning to my story, I did what I could to make it better. Saying it was easy would be a lie. I took in each critique with the mentality to remember the advice next time around. I cut sentences with the mantra in my mind that it was all being done for the benefit of the story. And I think, the bottom line is that: never forget you are trying to make your story what it needs to be. First drafts are meant to be imperfect. They are there for you to learn. They are the building blocks of what will one day be your final draft. Your first editing experience will be difficult, but it will be worth it.



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