Revision Fatigue and Battling the Doubt Monster

I’m going to be honest. I’m sick of reading my book.

That probably doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for FLASHFALL, but that’s just where I’m at this stage of the editing process, now that I’ve read it eighteen million-billion times.

People suggest taking a break, and coming back to your manuscript with ‘fresh eyes.’ I had a four-month break while waiting for my second round revision notes. Two weeks into editing, and my brain’s pretty much ‘what even are these words?’

LegoComputergiphy

Revision Fatigue has set in. So I break the edits down onto sticky notes, put them on my board beside my laptop, and tackle them a scene at a time. Between that, I take Emmy for walks and drink copious amounts of coffee. I wear my Gryffindor socks (because magic) and my t-shirt that says, I Can and I Will (because cozy encouragement t-shirts help, too.)

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Still. As much as I whittle away my edits into a mountain of sticky-notes, another voice rises up, louder than my writer’s voice.

This is crap. This plot has too many holes. That doesn’t make sense. That’s cliché.

The voice of the Doubt Monster.

If you’ve ever written a book, or undertaken a creative endeavor, you’ve probably encountered your own.

So what can we do to battle the doubt? Here are a few things that help me:

  1. Get outside your own head. Sometimes, we are too close to the story to see when a character’s motivations are unclear or a plot development doesn’t make sense. Beta readers and critique partners are essential. Open yourself up to other people’s feedback. If you’re re-working a scene, and feel like it’s not working—run it by a couple (trusted) people. They can help re-assure you or re-direct you. By the time you’ve revised your manuscript that many times, it can be hard to see it objectively.
  2. Trust the process. It’s normal to weary of reading your book. That doesn’t mean it’s bad—it just means you’ve grown numb to all the discoveries that make books interesting. Also, by the time we get to multiple rounds of edits, we’re viewing our writing through hyper-critical lenses, focusing on the ‘problems’. Reading from that place is never fun.
  3. Commiserate with other writers. The authors in my debut group (The Sweet Sixteens) have gone through similar feelings, and just reading about their experiences makes me feel better. I love connecting with other writers on Twitter, too, and being able to share the challenges of writing and editing. So many times, they have great insights and perspectives to share. It’s reassuring, therapeutic, and usually enough to squash the doubt monster.
  4. Trick your brain. There have been studies that show how our brains ‘see’ printed and computer text differently. If your words are starting to blur together, print out your manuscript and work from the hard copy for bit. This helps me enormously—especially when I’m working through any big revisions. The other thing that helps me is a change of scenery. Try writing outside, or go to a coffee shop. Sometimes we just need to shake up our routine to get our focus back.
  5. Trust yourself. This is vital, because the best writing happens when we write from a place of confidence. Something inspired you to begin this journey—and the heart of that story is still there. Don’t get so caught up in the ‘problems’ you are fixing, that you lose sight of what the story’s about.
  6. Take a moment. Take a day. On a fresh page, write something entirely new. Or, approach a scene you’re revising from a new angle. Throw off all constraints and allow yourself to exercise and re-charge the artist part of your writer self. This is what I do when I stall out in my writing, (staring at blank walls, anyone?) or if my writing becomes stale and the characters or dialogue flat. It seems counter-productive to ‘getting the revisions done’—especially when you’re on deadline, but these moments have actually led to some of my strongest scenes in FLASHFALL.
  7. Don’t be afraid to break it. Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be. For more about this, check out my post on Publishing Hub.

Believe that you are capable of writing and re-writing your book to its fullest potential. It’s normal for the Doubt Monster to visit from time to time. Just don’t let it stay.

Keep writing. Keep revising. You’ve got this!

If you have any suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments! (Or tweet them at me: ) How do you overcome doubt? What helps you avoid ‘zombie brain’ when you’re revising? Please share!

For more, here’s a peek at my revision process:

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Navigating the Revision Cave

Sometimes, when I’m deep in the Revision Cave, I run into walls that make me lose perspective. I focus so hard on the challenges presented by an edit, that I lose sight of what revision truly is: opportunity. The push that makes us look harder at something, until we scratch away the surface and reveal a character for who they really are. The nudge that compels us to make the hard cuts so other scenes shine brighter, and the pacing of the whole book improves.

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

When I was in third grade, an author spoke to us fledgling writers at a Young Authors Conference. He said, “writing is re-writing.” I honestly had no idea what he meant at the time. Fast forward many years, and many books later, and I believed that I had gained a good understanding of that old adage.

Young Authors' Conference, 8th grade

Young Authors’ Conference, 8th grade

But if editing my debut novel has taught me anything, it’s that I had NO IDEA how deeply I’d need to explore the depths of my creative abilities to revise again and again and again.

Sometimes, your editor (or agent or critique partner) may like your writing, but they push you to develop something ‘more.’ That is when you either bang your head against the wall, or you persevere, dig deep . . . and occasionally discover moments, or scenes, or elements that you didn’t know you had in you. The more that can take your story from good to great.

A little over a year until FLASHFALL releases, and it’s really coming together during these final rounds of edits. It’s a book I will be proud to see on the shelf. But it’s not the same book my agent sold last fall. It’s been shaped and stretched into a story more richly layered, visceral, and compelling than I realized it could be from the ‘early days’. The bones were there, but now parts of it feel three-dimensional and ‘alive’ in ways it didn’t before. That is the beauty of revision.

Writing is re-writing. And re-discovering. And re-imagining.

Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Then, once you’ve re-envisioned, have the courage to write something new. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be.

For more about this, including some of the best creative advice I ever received, check out my post on Publishing Hub, Don’t Be Afraid To Break It.

And, if you’re curious about my process, here’s a peek . . .

Reaching Past Rejection: How Dreaming Big Led to a Book Deal

Dreamedit

I wrote this in the sand the day before I met my agent in person, at this past summer’s SCBWI LA conference. I was in a bit of a creative/emotional funk, wrapping up months of revisions and getting ready to send my manuscript out into the great big world of publishing. I had one of the best agents in the business, (and her amazing editorial skills), but I had no guarantee that the doors I hoped would open, wouldn’t in fact—close.

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I stood barefoot in the surf and stared toward the horizon, making wishes on the waves. I picked up two sea stones, held them tight and thought of every dream I had for myself as a writer, and threw one of those rocks back to sea. I let the waves carry away the hopes and dreams I’d made, and kept the other stone, as a reminder to myself that those dreams were still out there—waiting for the right time and place to land.

As my feet sank into the sand, I gave myself a pep talk: if things didn’t go as I hoped, I’d allow myself a good cry, then get right back on that metaphorical horse. This wasn’t my first Rejection Rodeo. I had persevered through years of rejected queries and manuscripts to get to this point. The fact that I hadn’t given up was something to celebrate.

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One of the promises I made myself as I watched the August sun sink into the ocean, was that—whether I landed a book deal or not—I’d keep writing.

What I couldn’t know then, was that I’d make it through the ups and downs of the submission process with more than one editor who wanted the stories I had to tell. I couldn’t know then, as I drew those letters in the sand, what Sarah’s voice would sound like when she called and said, “how does it feel to know you’re going to be a published author?” Or how I would cry happy tears when she told me they wanted not just one, but two books.

As I threw my rock out to sea, I didn’t know that some of my dreams would find their landing just eight weeks from that day.

That sea-tossed stone now sits on my desk, a reminder of when I let go of what I couldn’t control, and celebrated what I had accomplished so far.

Rockrotated

If you are holding your own sort of sea stone, remember the dreams you painted inside your heart. Keep pushing. Keep running. Keep learning and growing and doing everything else but give up. And if you’ve been too afraid to go after what you love—maybe this is your moment. Whisper your dreams to the waves and be true to the courageous voice inside you that says “reach.”

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#8TerribleTitles

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My fellow Sweet Sixteeners Janet Taylor, author of THE DIM, and Jessica Cluess, author of A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING, tagged me on Twitter to participate in this blog hop! The rules are simple: Scroll through your manuscript and stop in random places. Whatever you land on becomes one of eight terrible titles. So, here are my beauties taken randomly from my YA debut (spring, 2016), ASHES FOR STARS:

  1. The water is hungry
  2. I am so, so close
  3. I still want my banana
  4. A sort of vibration
  5. My hands these days
  6. Five minutes to curfew
  7. Like it might bite
  8. “Huh-uh.”

Haha! #3 is my favorite. This is actually a timely post because my editor has suggested a title change for my book. Hmm, perhaps I should send her this list . . .? Who wouldn’t want to read a book called “Huh-uh”?

*pets tiny dog and muses about titles*

This isn’t my first title change. Every agent who offered me rep was like, “So . . . how attached to the title are you?” (Originally called SUBPARS) And my wonderful, amazingly-British super-agent Sarah was all, “I hope you’re not married to the title, attol.” *hear that in the queen’s English*

Fast-forward to much earnest re-titling and the editors I spoke to were all

Catgiphy

So, good times over here in Title-land . . .

I now tag fellow Sixteeners Jeff Garvin, author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and Erin Schneider, author of WHERE THE WATER FALLS, as well as my amazeballs CP and author of TRUST ME I”M LYING, Mary Elizabeth Summer, my agency sister, Dawn Kurtagich, author of THE DEAD HOUSE, and hilarious writing friend Rena, who is currently outpacing me in NanoWriMo by like,15,000 words. *cues up blog distraction*

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Happy terrible titles day, everyone! (And wish me luck finding just the right one to (possibly) replace ASHES FOR STARS . . .

Writing Crimes: Overused Words and Phrases

lion

On a recent run, I came across this violated stone lion. Look closely . . . it’s been embellished with blue glitter nail polish, eyeshadow, and yes—lipstick. At first glance, it looked like all the other neighborhood stone lions, but a closer inspection revealed that it had succumbed to a makeover.

Now, personally, I think it’s adorable that some kid took a look at that lion and thought it needed a little something special (sparkles, of course) and that those claws would look better with nail polish. For the purposes of this post, however, let’s call it a non-obvious crime.

Some writing mistakes rear up and smack you on the nose: plot holes, switching tenses, too many dialogue tags, not enough dialogue tags…Grammar, too, is often an easy fix: the right use of its and it’s, lay and lie, and good ‘ol punctuation and spelling. But word overuse is more insidious–often overlooked in first, second and even third drafts.

While polishing my manuscript for submission, I came across a phrase I tend to overuse: ‘my heart pounds.’ And by ‘overuse’ I mean—this pains me to admit—no less than NINE TIMES–followed closely by ‘my stomach twists.’

*face palm*

The worst part is that they’re not even good phrases–‘telling’ writing instead of ‘showing.’ Criminal, indeed.

The good news: I gave my manuscript that close second look (and third and fourth) and caught them. Every writer I know has words and phrases they tend to overuse. It’s the kind of writing crime that can easily go unnoticed (like the glammed-up lion.)

So, as I go through my manuscript and rework these phrases into moments the reader feels along with the character, I’m on the lookout for other such overused words.

Another I caught myself using too much: ‘groan,’ followed closely by its sister, ‘moan.’

O_O

*sigh*

Hey, that’s what the editing process is for, right? This is another instance where beta readers and critique partners are so helpful–they will usually see the nine million times you used the word ‘slowly’ and issue you a friendly citation. Better them, than an agent or editor.

If you’re in the revision process, I’d encourage you to do a ‘find and replace’ search (under ‘edit’ in Microsoft word) Type in a word or phrase you find yourself leaning in to, and see if you’ve committed any crimes. Hopefully, nothing as bad as my heart-pounding, stomach-twisting felonies.