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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Finding a Way to Slog Through the Muck

Revisions, for a writer at any stage of his/her writing career, can be a daunting task. After all, we wrote the words we wrote for a reason. As writers, it's difficult to step outside ourselves and take a step back, to objectively look at what works and doesn't, and to find a way to make it work.

Yet if you or I want to be successful, we have to do just that. In fact, the longer we've been writing, the more difficult it can be to revise effectively.

We learn more about writing craft, and suddenly, everything on the page is garbage.

"I'm an utter failure. How can I have written that and thought anyone else would want to read it? Better to just toss it in the garbage and start over. Better yet, instead of starting over, maybe I should just throw it in the trash and follow it up with everything else I've ever written. I'm a fraud. I'll never get the hang of this. What a load of..."

Wait. Stop right there. If you get to that stage, you've almost broken through with this particular manuscript you're working on. Or at least that's been my experience. When I'm ready to give up completely, then I'm finally making headway.

I've been in that stage recently. So...I set the manuscript aside for a bit, and then came back to work on it again with a fresh perspective. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was. There were even moments of brilliance, where I've impressed myself with what ended up on the page.

Even with that, though, there is always still a lot to slog through, a lot that needs improvement before it is ready to put out in front of the world.

When you get to this point, how do you keep yourself working? Do you reward yourself? Do you grant yourself a bit of freedom for each chapter/block of words you get through? What other recommendations do you have to keep yourself working to improve something when you can no longer stand looking at your own writing?


  1. I take it so much at a time and take a break from it.

  2. Wow, is my office bugged? I believe I've said that little rant verbatim! ;)

    I agree with the comment above, take a break. It also helps to read a book in the genre. Often, I get inspired by the author I'm reading, or if you stumble upon a book that "sounds" like yours, it helps to know that - hey that person got published, there's hope for me yet!

  3. Taking a break from the slog is always a good idea, so long as it isn't too long. In my experience, the longer the break, the harder it is to get back to it!

    CJ xx

  4. Taking a break seems to be the consensus, at least so far. I'm in agreement. :)

    And Jessica, I took those words straight from my own head/mouth. LOL.

    So true, CJ, that it can be hard to force ourselves back to it if the break is too long. I just experienced that, actually. The book I was working on when I wrote out this blog post is one that I wrote over two years ago--and never revised or edited in any way, other than the first three chapters. That was too long, and it made it immensely more difficult than necessary.

  5. When I get to that stage, it usually means I'm sleep deprived. An early bedtime or a nap is usually very helpful at that point.

    I had a similar experience with a book due the beginning of December. After taking a break and several deep breaths, I approached it systematically. I went through each chapter and determined the goal of the chapter, the pov character's mission, and what stands in the way of that mission.

    It was tedious, but suddenly it hit me what wasn't working in the story and why I didn't like it. I had some weak chapters in the middle that turned out to be an easy fix. Now I'm excited by the revision.

  6. Samantha, if I'm sleep deprived, it definitely adds to it. And then I usually get a twitchy eye, too. Not fun.

    Sounds like a great method to sorting through a big problem. Breaking it into smaller pieces is fantastic advice. :)

  7. If I feel myself bogging down, I pick milestones; the end of chapter three. This flashback. This fight scene.

    If I'm still stuck, I take a few days off and write something completely absolutely different. When I was stuck on a historical drama, I totally turned around and plotted out a ridiculous space-opera, complete with talking AI space ships, ray guns and queens of planets.

    Then I get someone else to read what I was stuck on and see what they say. Usually it's my hubby and he says, "sounds great!" Which, while not being as in depth as I would like, still fills me with confidence and give me a push to start up again.

    Rinse and repeat. :)

  8. I have to say I've done any and all of these. I take a break, start something new, read a book and take tiny steps. All of these work at some point in time and if one doesn't work, then try another. Great blog post, Catherine. I hate revisions myself. I have a whole ms that needs it and I keep putting it off for this very reason. It's just so much easier to write something new rather than try to fix something old.