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The 5 Stages of Grief...for Writers!

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Letting go of that first draft can hurt. After all, it’s your book baby! And realizing your baby isn’t perfect can sometimes break your heart!

In my experience, first-time authors often go through a process similar to the 5 stages of grief as they come to the painful, but necessary, realization that editing is essential, and that sometimes - you must kill your darlings.

I give you…The 5 Stages of Grief - for Writers.

Stage 1: Denial

You’ve written your first children’s book, and you’re PUMPED!

  • It’s sweet and endearing. (It’s based on your daughter, after all.)

  • It’s got a touch of humor.

  • It rhymes! Everybody loves rhyme!

All you need now are some killer illustrations, and you’ll be on your way to the New York Times Bestseller’s list!

Hold on there, Dr. Seuss. Have you had your story edited?

*cue crickets*

Edited? You ran spell-check AND Grammarly. And you always got good grades in language arts class. Do you REALLY need to pay an editor?


Stage 2: Anger

People just won’t shut up. They insist you need to have your story edited.


You guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.

You reluctantly hire an editor and send your story off, eager to hear how much they loved it.

Instead, your story is sent back covered with no less than two dozen comments and suggestions.

  • “The conflict isn’t introduced until page 10. Try to move it up to page 1 or 2 to catch the reader’s attention.”

  • “This is a picture book, so your illustrations will show the details. Cut these lengthy descriptions!”

  • “Actually…cut the whole thing in half! It’s way too long!”

  • “What is the message you want the reader to take away? This is a fun story, but it doesn’t have a theme.”

  • “The main character only struggles one time before she solves the problem. Throw more challenges at her! The reader should celebrate when she finally succeeds!”

What. The. Heck.

You curse.

You snap a pencil in two, making you feel like the Literary Hulk.

You imagine throwing rotten tomatoes at that editor through the screen.

And then you walk away from your computer in a huff and spend the next week telling your spouse, friends, and anyone else who will listen what a waste of money editing is.

Stage 3: Bargaining

It’s been a week, and you’ve calmed down a bit.

When you sit back down to look at your story again, you’re surprised to find that you can kinda, almost, sorta see what the editor was talking about.


But if you try to fix everything they pointed out you would basically be...totally rewriting the story. It would take a really, really long time! Days! Weeks even! The worst part is…you’re not even sure if you can do it.

Instead, you make a few small changes. Just the easy ones. Adding a sentence or two here. Deleting a little description there. And you send it back to the editor. Surely it’s good enough.


In their response, they compliment you on how much the story has improved but call you out on ignoring those bigger issues. To top it off, they also remind you that after you fix those issues, you’ll still have to have it line-edited and proofread! And maybe hire a poetry coach to help with the “inconsistent meter.”

You revert back to the “anger” stage for just a moment.

Psh. How dare they judge your meter?

Why can’t they just say, “Great job!” and leave you alone!?

You resist the urge to throw your laptop across the room and walk away. Again.

Stage 4: Depression

Every time you think about working on your story, you get overwhelmed. Maybe you shouldn’t be writing a children’s book.

Maybe you aren’t good enough.

You drown your sorrows in ice cream and scroll through social media aimlessly.

You notice a post. “It’s taken me six months to get this story ready for the world, but I made it! I can’t wait to find the right illustrator!”

Six months? You’ve only been at this a couple of weeks…

Another post. “So thankful for my amazing editor! The difference between my rough draft and where I am now is night and day! I couldn’t have done it without them.”

You think guiltily about the minor changes you grudgingly made to your rough draft.

You go to bed telling yourself to just forget this whole writing business.

Stage 5: Acceptance



You want to see this book through, and if editing is what it takes, then…you’re just going to have to do it.

You grit your teeth. You spend a couple of weeks tackling the editor’s big suggestions. You cut entire scenes. You totally change the central conflict. You come up with an entirely new ending. You wrestle and wrestle with the words on the page until your brain feels like soggy cereal—and you send it off again.

When you see the editor’s response in your inbox, you hold your breath. Click.

“You’ve made so much progress!”


They give you MORE suggestions and comments to work on. But there are fewer of them and they aren’t as “big” as before. And now that you’re committed to the editing process…you’re actually kind of excited about working on them!

You dive back in and end up sending drafts back and forth five or six more times before you finally get the email you’ve been waiting for.

“I think this is ready!”

You take a deep breath and think back to that first rough draft you thought was perfect, and compare it to the story sitting in front of you.

“You know what?” you type back. “I couldn’t agree more!”

Every writer - including me - has suffered through these five stages at some point in our writing careers. But you don't have to suffer alone! If this story has convinced you that YOU need an editor, I can help! I promise I’ll take good care of your book baby!

I offer detailed developmental edits of manuscripts if you need. Click here to get started or click here for our recommended list of vetted editors.

Disclaimer: This blog post may contain affiliate links to products we enjoy using ourselves. Should you choose to use these links, At Home Author may earn affiliate commissions at no additional cost to you.

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