Battling writers’ doubts

Revision update: It’s moving along, slowly but surely. I’m on around chapter 6.

There’s something wonderful about revising. In the first draft, you’ve mixed up all the ingredients and baked the cake; in the revision, you’re topping it off with the perfect frosting and decorations. Well, sort of. But it is the time when you make your story as pretty as it can be.

When you’re writing the first draft, you don’t have to worry if sentences aren’t sparkling with squeeky clean grammar. You don’t have to worry if things don’t completely make sense. Writing the first draft is like jumping into the deep end and not worrying about whether the water will be warm, cold, slimy or whatever as long as you can make it out at the other end. Revising is taking that water journey and turning it into an Olympic medal-worthy dive.

Ok, my metaphors are a little shaky, but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when you’re working on your first draft of a book, it’s ok to mess up, it’s ok to get crazy and let it all hang out. But when you’re revising — like I am now — it’s time to rein things in, to be more critical about the story, plot, characters, writing. To me, it’s harder.

Now, on one hand, I enjoy revising. It’s the hard work that polishes up a manuscript so it shines. And when some sequence or something is not working, finding the way to fix it is great, awesome, a high.

But the thing about revising is, it can be so nerve-wracking. Should the character do this? Would this work better? Would this scene be better placed earlier? Or later? Does the story need this scene? I’m not one known for my decision-making, so you can imagine how many times I question myself in my head.

There are so many questions to consider, and sometimes, the answers aren’t what we want them to be, like when we have a beautifully written sentence or paragraph that we’re so proud of but deep down we know it doesn’t add to the story and just slows the reading so it has to be cut. These are hard choices, difficult decisions to commit to, especially for those us who are newer at the game.

But those of us who are newer, have to be more and more on top of these things nowadays. Agents and editors are busier than ever, and many agents don’t take on projects unless they’re publishing-house ready. Same with editors. So, our books don’t just have to be better than the others in the slush pile; they have to be as good or better than the ones on the bestseller lists.

So, it’s easy to imagine that doubts can weigh heavily on us when we’re in the revision stage. I’ve been having them a lot lately, to the point that I decided to move away from my paper-only-computer-when-I’m-done revision method to start putting corrections into my computer for the first eight chapters and see if they’re working, see if I’m heading in the right direction. I need some assurance that I’m making the right decisions.

And how do we know? Well, critique groups and beta readers are an enormous help in times like these, just don’t ask them to read your work after every little change.

But mostly, confidence is the best way to battle these doubts. Even agented and published writers have doubts about their new works, so it’s not just for the newbies. But having confidence in what we’re doing can keep us moving forward. To build that confidence, keep writing, and writing, and writing. AND keep reading, and reading, and reading. The more books you read in the genre you’re writing, the more you’ll know a good sentence, paragraph, chapter, plot, etc., when you read it, and you’ll be able to see it in your own work too.

Facing any doubts lately? How are you battling them?

Write On!

3 Responses

  1. Karen Collum says:

    Thanks for giving me an insight into your revision process. I’m still a bit terrified by editing! I also couldn’t agree more that as new authors our work needs to hold its own next to other already published books. It’s a high standard but then that’s half the fun of the challenge, right? Good luck and hope the editing goes smoothly for you 🙂

  2. Karen Strong says:

    The past week I had major doubts. I thought about throwing in the towel (and putting my manuscript in the fireplace). I basically had to step back from the situation and realize that this is what revision is for–to fix problems. Plus, letting my subconscious figure out some issues also helps.

    Good luck during your revision!

  3. Editing isn’t as daunting as you’d think Karen No. 1. The important thing is to not rush it, take your time and don’t worry about how many passes you have to do to get it right. You’ve invested so much in just finishing the book, so keep it with the revision. And if you ever feel like you can’t look at it anymore, put it away, start working on something else and come back to it later. The break will do you both good.

    Karen No. 2, I’m with you, but DON’T do it — through in the towel or put your manuscript in the fireplace. Stepping back from it for a bit is a great idea. Getting some air can be a great refresher for any revision. You can also try looking at it from a different perspective. What would these other characters think of the events in the story? Maybe write some scenes in their POV. When I was having problems with the revision for my first novel, writing out a timeline was what finally helped me. I was finding it hard to see the whole story, and without that, I couldn’t see the smaller parts in the right perspective. But the timeline helped a lot. Good luck with yours. I know you’ll figure it out.

What do you think?