Revision Sensitive Dysphoria

Outline of the system:

  • Put all the comments in a spreadsheet (this involves some exporting nonsense — I’ll show what I did, but it depends on how you got the comments)
  • Make columns for information about each comment (including which reviewer/editor made the comment, what action you plan to take, how difficult the action is, and how distressing you find the comment)
  • Use the last two columns to sort/filter the spreadsheet so that you can do edits that don’t make you freak out — it lets you make continuous progress on revisions even when the work of revising is emotionally very burdensome

Advantages of this system:

  • Harder to lose track of comments (and who said what)
  • Lets you convert (possibly nebulous) comments into actionable items, which are easier to actually take action on, as it turns out
  • You can take out the difficulty/distress columns and then send this whole spreadsheet back to your editor to show responses to line edits (very very useful for journal pubs)
  • Less likely to be totally paralyzed/avoidant of revisions because of the difficulty, because the filters let you decide, like, “Okay today I’m going to only work on easy edits because I’m feeling fragile” or “Okay, I have the whole day to myself to tackle a couple of these really difficult ones”
  • Actually counting out difficulty/distress for me has been helpful in seeing, oh, it’s not nearly as bad as I thought! I can even color-code by difficulty and use pivot tables to make little progress bars to track myself

Part 1: Put all the comments in a spreadsheet

  1. Select the entire document (I use Ctrl-A) and copy it (Ctrl-C)
  2. Paste it in an email draft (Ctrl-V)
  3. The comments now appear as numbered endnotes with hypertext links.
  4. Now copy just the endnotes into a spreadsheet (I used Excel for this but it doesn’t really matter)

Part 2: Columns for information

  • Where is the comment in the document (page / paragraph / line if necessary)
  • Who made the comment (in this example I had two people reviewing in the same document)
  • Category of revision (is this a formatting issue? Content issue? Writing issue?)
  • What action I plan to take about the comment, which can include -Rephrase/reword; Add citation; Delete or relocate something; Re-make a figure; Add subsection/section/line of reasoning, etc.
  • What I actually did with the action (“reworked figure” or “added citation XYZ”)
  • Pasted lines from reworked/added prose to make it easier for them to find
  • I titled one column “How difficult is this to fix?” and rated it numerically 1–5 (one being easy, 5 being very difficult). Doing it with number ratings let me use Excel’s color coding, which was a nice visual cue that let me zoom in on certain ones and get a nice overall image when scrolling very fast through 100+ lines.
  • I titled one column “How distressing is this?” and rated it the same way, 1–5 (one being totally fine and five being very distressing). I went with my first instinct/intuition about this, and tried not to spend a lot of time worrying about why something was distressing. I also color-coded this one, which let me notice some interesting patterns. I’ll talk about that in Part 3.

Part 3: Emotional regulation and brain budgeting

  • Plan an “easy edits” day where I go sit in my favorite cafe and have a nice treat. Use the spreadsheet to filter by Difficulty and Distress so that I literally cannot even see any of the comments rated higher than 3. My goal is to check off as many of the 1s and 2s as possible. I added in at this juncture a “checkbox” column that contained literally nothing but a check or no check — and used a pivot table so that some numbers would go up every time I checked something off.
[screencap of table counting which things I had checked off]
  • Be aware that if this week is bad, I probably get one or two solid sessions of editing, tops. For one bad week, I’d say okay I’ll do an afternoon in a cafe on Tuesday, and a different one on Thursday, and other days I’ll do other work.
  • Do not force myself to approach difficult/distressing edits in the bad weeks. It ends up making me so miserable that I just don’t do anything, and go home feeling angry at myself.
  • Reward myself for what I did accomplish. Every little bit is something! Rewards include food treats, or cute stationery, or putting sparkly stickers on my planner. Some little id-pleaser that can slowly retrain the brain to associate edits with positive feelings
  • Maybe I get three editing sessions this week. I’ll do one in a cafe with a friend, one in a cafe by myself, and one at home. I don’t try to spend more than an afternoon on edits, because I know that I’m just on the border and I can push myself back into a bad week by burning out. Stop at 5 PM no matter what!
  • As a challenge, I ask myself to do a warm up, a push, and then a cool down.
  • Warm-up is 30 mins or ~5 edits of easy changes (1s and 2s)
  • Push is to tackle one or two of the moderately difficult edits (3s and 4s in both distress and difficulty)
  • Cool-down is to tackle a few high-difficulty low-distress edits (3 or 4 difficulty but 1 or 2 distress was stuff like reorganization of ideas, reformatting or remaking figures, annoying citation-wrangling)
  • Okay Weeks often meant that, as long as I didn’t over-do it, the week after would be Okay or Pretty Good. The satisfaction of checking off a few of the difficult and distressing edits honestly is really motivating. The checkbox column feels less important for those but maybe you set up your pivot table fancier than I did.
  • I don’t go more than 3 or 4 editing sessions (~ 4 hrs) in a week, but I intersperse them with writing or other work that feels pleasing. I treat writing as a reward, because I really like it so much more than editing. A pretty good week might have 3 editing sessions and 3 writing sessions.
  • I do the warm-up/push/cool-down structure but try to ride my good mood. I also try to save easy edits for when I inevitably have Okay or Bad weeks later down the line, or even one bad day later this week. This is a slightly more intense version of the one above:
  • Warm-up is 30 mins or about 5 edits of easy 2s and 3s
  • Push is to tackle two or three of the distressing edits — 5s, if I can manage it. Do not do more than a few before moving to cool-down, because the cool-down can be longer when I have more endurance.
  • Cool-down is often 2+ hours, and I try to work through more of those high-difficulty low-distress edits. I try to really ride momentum on this phase, because the sense of accomplishment from getting some of the 5s checked off can take me quite a ways.
  • The sense of accomplishment from a Pretty Good week is frequently its own reward, but I also make sure to really relish it and tell someone (usually my spouse) about how good that accomplishment feels. It can be really validating to tell a supportive friend or partner “I did two 5s today! And I didn’t cry at all!” and have them be genuinely happy for you. Surround yourself with people who will be earnest in validating the everloving shit out of you, because you really want to classically condition the soft animal of your brain to pursue that incremental accomplishment and train yourself away from all-or-nothing thinking.

TL;DR

  • Editing and addressing reviewer comments can be incredibly painful and distressing
  • Logicking yourself out of finding it distressing isn’t going to help. You have to plan for and work around that distress
  • Instead, counting up how many comments are actually upsetting lets you choose when and how to approach the upsetting ones. You can use this spreadsheet format or something else to track it
  • An editing session can be structured like a workout: you warm up with easy stuff, you do the difficult or high-intensity part, and then you have a cool-down

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Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.