Editing: Red Pencils and Frustration

It was while teaching first grade that I learned how much angst the red pencil on my desk caused for six-year-olds. Imagine the surprise of a new teacher when red marks on paper caused eyes to well up with tears.

My way of correcting the problem was to mark papers with a variety of colors and to save the red pencil for drawing stars and happy faces. The students never said how this worked for them, but I soon discovered the parents were quite happy with the change.
The editor assigned to me by my publisher must have been one of those people who hated it when teachers “bled” all over their papers. She had a complete color-coded system for editing. If she thought I should remove something, it was highlighted in gray. Things she wanted me to review for possible rewording were highlighted in green. If she had a suggestion regarding story development, voice, word choices, or scene development she typed a message to me in blue text. Red was the designated color for my responses. Maybe this system was developed to make writers feel in charge of their manuscripts. After all, the one with the red pencil is the one with the power.

Even without red corrections, I was sometimes a little annoyed when something I valued was being questioned. Despite much pain during the editing process, it is a good feeling when someone expresses appreciation for a novel in which they found no errors. Thanks Jessie Sanders! 


  1. When I was working as a technical editor, we used blue pencil for marking manuscript changes.

    1. Secondary Roads, you apparently had it figured out that red is a color that upsets writers.