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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tales From Revision Hell

Hello, name is Erin Kelly and I am a critique partner and friend to the LadyScribes, an aspiring Regency writer, and for the last few weeks, I have been in revision hell.

You know the one: hair knotted on the top of your head, fingernails chewed to the quick, eyes gritty from staring at the same blasted ms for hours on end. The one where you find yourself so immersed in mentally hashing the plot, you can’t remember whether or not you already shampooed your hair when you're in the shower, or you accidentally lock your dog on the back porch and then proceed to drive her crazy by calling for her all over the house.

Yeah, that lovely little portrait has been all me lately.

Overwhelmed by the enormity of all the elements needing change, not to mention the short amount of time in which they needed to be done, I wasn’t getting anywhere. But this weekend I had a breakthrough. After hours—weeks, really—of staring bleary-eyed at my computer screen, desperately trying to keep the many versions of that particular ms straight in my head, writing and rewriting the same scenes, deleting and shuffling until I couldn’t remember what had happened when and to whom, I suddenly decided that I wanted to go outside.

I know, not the biggest epiphany in the world, but bear with me. I closed my computer, changed clothes, doused myself in bug spray, and headed for the dock. Since the evening boat traffic had died down, my husband and I decided to take the canoe out and get a little exercise.

As we paddled along, for once I didn’t think about when Evie would discover Benedict’s true identity. I didn’t mull over the timing of their first kiss, or obsess about how much of Benedict’s past to keep a mystery. No, as my oar rhythmically sliced the glassy surface of the secluded creek that feeds our lake, I simply soaked it all in. The perfect temperature, the cloudless sky, the sound of the canoe gliding over the water.

I marveled at the great, overhanging trees whose leafy branches reached to the water like outstretched arms, breathed in the woody scent of the forest and reveled in the near silence around us. Silence that, for the first time in weeks, my mind didn’t race to fill.

By the time we got back, I was happy, relaxed, and exhausted. Instead of dragging the laptop out, I spent a little time with my hubby and then actually got to bed at a decent hour. And wouldn’t you know it, a funny thing happened when I sat down to my computer the next morning. I felt renewed. I had stepped back enough that in a matter of moments, I knew what I needed to fix, and how to fix it. It was far and away my most productive day yet.

So here’s what I think. When we are most mired in the things that need to be done—be it new writing, revisions, or research—sometimes it feels like we don’t have the time to step away and take a moment for ourselves. But next time, try setting it all aside and doing something outside the box. That time we didn’t think we had may end up being the key to actually saving time—and our sanity!

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I no longer feel panic each time I think of what still needs to be done. I’ll get it done, and it will be great, and soon I’ll be on to actually writing new stuff again.

So tell me, have you ever found yourself mired in revision hell? Any tips on how to survive—or better yet, thrive?


  1. Great blog Erin! I'm in my own little state of revision hell, it's pretty tempered by the constant pressure to study for the Oklahoma bar so I'm swinging from one extreme stress to the other. Ironically they both equal each other out when I'm working. It clears my head to go from writing to studying. But in the past, my best way of handling revisions was to put on some music (I always make a playlist for each novel, with theme songs for characters, and music that puts me in certain moments in the novel). Music gets the blood flowing, relaxes me and puts me in the mood to just let the "changes" and revisions happen without the usually persistent migraine lol.

  2. Holy cow - the bar and revisions?! You're my hero, Lauren :) Great tips for getting the blood flowing. I have never tried a play list - I generally write in silence — but that may be just the thing to shake things up for me a little.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Erin,

    Like you, I've been revising. First I received notes from my agent saying my hero wasn't going to fly, and then the next day I received revision notes on my debut book from my editor. Both deadlines were looming and I felt a moment of pure panic.

    The things that help me are taking a deep breath, positive self-talk and making lists. When I make a list, everything starts to feel more managable. And breaks really are important.

    Memorial Day weekend I refused to take my computer, check emails or write. I just spent time with my family, and it was worth it. I felt rejuvenated and reconnected with my family.

  4. I'm a surviver of revision hell. Looking forward to seeing you on the other side!

  5. I'm in the midst of it myself. LOL. When I can't stand to look at it any more, I switch gears for a bit and do something completely unrelated. Sometimes it means taking my nephew to the library. Other times I just do something simple like go to the grocery store. Still other times, I sit down and write something unrelated.

  6. Wow, Samantha - two books at the same time?! That would be more than a little daunting! Of course, if anyone can do it, it's you. You must tell me more about these lists!

  7. Thanks, Heather! I plan to be free as a bird at Nationals :)

  8. Catherine, with all that you have going on you must be a whiz at this stuff by now! It's interesting how rejuvenating those simple, mindless tasks can be. That reminds me - I must go grocery shopping soon or we'll be eating cans of tomatoes for dinner!

  9. I agree that a change of scenery makes a huge difference when editing/revising. Sometimes I get so caught up in the words and it seems like they're moving around on their own--only they don't have a clue where they are supposed to end up! That's when I know I have to go look at something else. Preferably something non-wordy.

  10. Erin you're living my fantasy life, but I've told you that before LOL. A canoe ride sounds perfect to the land locked lubber. I could hear the swish of the water against the boat. Wow, great blog. I stay in revision hell for the most part. Ugh speaking of which I'm headed there now. I'll let you know how it goes. And that was great advice. A writer can't write if they never experience life first.

  11. Ha- Donna, it sounds like we've had the same, overzealous words moving about on their own :). Yes, sometimes non-wordy is the only way to go!

    Suzie, I do believe I'm going to have a plaque made that says that! *A writer can't write if they never experience life first*
    Words to live by! Good luck with your own revisions, ladies!

  12. I find a good cry always helps.
    And yes, walking away is sometimes the best thing you can do...just to gain solace in knowing that the world hasn't unraveled and fallen to pieces like your plot has. It's funny, no matter how many times I've made it to the other side, triumphant and happy -- I still have the same fears and worries that I'll never be able to do it when faced with each set of revisions for each new project. It's just something we must learn to make friends with...to feel the fear and do it anyway!

  13. Erin, I loved this post. Isn't it true that sometimes we just need a little perspective? :) Glad things worked out and glad that you're moving on again!