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.)

HPSocksIMG_4148

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:

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.

Out of the Query Trenches

I’d been in the Query Trenches a loooong time. For the past few years, I’d pretty much lived there. I had my own mailbox and a clown with a little dancing dog that came by every so often to cheer me up. (Okay—the dog is real, but my husband would not appreciate the clown metaphor.)

Anyone who’s ever written a manuscript and sent their baby out into the daunting world of slush piles and literary agents knows the particular kind of hell this journey is for most writers.

It’s said that Mark Twain wallpapered his attic in rejection letters before he published Tom Sawyer. I used to print and save my rejection letters and post them on the wall until I realized that a room decorated with rejection was really depressing.

So I treated myself to cupcakes (or wine) whenever a pass came in, and for the really tough ones—rejections on full requests—I bought shoes. And a puppy.

Emmy and shoes

But today, I’m relinquishing my spot in the query trenches to another hopeful writer. Not because I quit, but because I didn’t quit.

And finally, finally . . . I HAVE AN AGENT!!!!

*pops cork*    *twirls *

I am so deliriously excited to announce that THE AMAZING SARAH DAVIES of The Greenhouse Literary Agency has offered to represent me!!!

Yep. I just looked down, and my feet are still floating off the ground. And yes, her name requires SHOUTY CAPS–she is that kind of agent.

It is such a gift to have a champion for this story, and I know my manuscript is in the very best hands.

I’ll soon be pitching my tent over in the Submission Trenches. I’m sure the clown and his little dancing dog will visit from time to time. Hopefully, before too long, my story will find a home with a publisher.

Whatever happens, I’m taking with me the most important lesson I learned in the Query Trenches–one I want to encourage you with, fellow dreamers . . .

Never-never-never-give-up

 

 

How I quit, started over, and finally received offers of representation.

I remember the moment when I got my first full request for my historical fantasy, THE DESCENDED.

I went into the ugly cry, clutching my laptop to my chest like a beloved friend. “The agent loves it,” I exclaimed through my tears. “She thinks it has potential.” *continued incoherent mumbling*

“I knew it!” my husband shouted. Then there may have been some awkward dancing with the laptop clasped between us.

Because, finally, finally I’d MADE it. Two years of writing and revising my manuscript and months of rejections had led precipitously to this moment when an agent—a fabulous agent whom I liked and admired—opened the hallowed DOOR OF PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY.

Only . . .not.

I had a lot to learn about the query process then. *shakes head at naive, younger self*

Fast forward months of maniacal email inbox stalking to the kind, but vague rejection. No dancing this time. Straight up despair.

That was it. I sucked. My dream was just the delusion of a crazy person. A talentless crazy person. So I did what any sensitive, creative type would do in my shoes.

I quit.

There I was, crying on a treadmill at the gym with my husband running beside me. (I was at a sedate, depressed walk) I attuned my heart and mind to the things I could do with my life that didn’t involve, you know, words and imagination.

“Don’t quit,” my husband said. “Use what you learned and write the next one.”

Very Obi Wan Kenobi of him. I scoffed and snot-cried. Then did something that seriously surprised me and my battered ego. I went home and started my first YA, THE DREAMSPEAKER’S DIARY. A story about a girl who’s terrified to speak her dreams aloud and then learns that it’s those very dreams that empower her. (Basically, a long note to myself.) I was not going to fear my dreams—even if they sometimes led to heartache and rejection.

Because, at the end of the day, my passion is to write. I crave an audience like every artist, but something in my soul needs to create these worlds and characters—even if I’m the only one who experiences them.

I was a lot smarter this time making the query rounds. Slog it out in the query trenches long enough and you learn a few things. Mainly–have critique partners comb through your manuscript before you send it out into the world.

DREAMSPEAKER’S did well. I won contests, I got requests. LOTS of requests.

THIS WAS IT. I was poised on the brink of REPRESENTATION. Even the rejections coming in were personalized and detailed, so complimentary that I printed some of them and tacked them to my inspiration board. Then . . .

EVERY. DOOR. CLOSED.

No weeping treadmill pity party this time. No Yoda-like pep talk from my husband.

I was not giving up. Period. So I sent another draft to my CPs and Betas. Took all their critiques on the chin like a champ (some of them were tough) My revised manuscript morphed like a snake shedding its skin. I attended conferences. I read EVERYTHING in my genre (and outside of it). THEN, finally, I sent my polished little baby out into another batch of queries.

But, like I said, I was smarter now. So, instead of focusing on the queries and rejections, I started another speculative YA, SUBPARS.

And this story, I LOVED. The main character is a knock-me-down-but-I’m-getting-back-up kind of protagonist that inspired me and challenged me through the PITS OF QUERY HELL.

I couldn’t wait to query the agents who liked my writing with DREAMSPEAKER”S. In a fit of bravado, I even queried a couple agents I thought were unreachable–the ones I’d admired from afar and Twitter/Blog stalked for years. So with a shaking finger on the send button, and a please, please, please mantra in my head, I sent them SUBPARS.

I heard back right away from THREE AGENTS OF AWESOMENESS. Requests!! And the next few days went something like this:

“Ohmygosh, I’m so HAPPY!!”

Then,

“I’ll never make it. This SUCKS. I am in rejection HADES!!!”

I was told great things about my writing, but that the paranormal and speculative markets were FLOODED. And DEAD.

*Cue violin* I slid right into a post-rejection funk.

I may have drank my celebratory champagne spitefully. I may have bought myself a few pairs of shoes to cheer myself up. I zombied out on Twitter, read other writers’ success stories. All I needed was balloons and black crepe paper to make my pity party complete.

It just wasn’t going to happen for me. I was a writer—an author, even. But I just wouldn’t be a published one.

I told myself I was okay with this. And ate excessive amounts of chocolate.

I hoped against all hope for good news in my inbox.

Meanwhile, I completed an R&R (revise and re-submit) with an agent who was interested in DREAMSPEAKER’S. I focused hard on that project. (And re-wrote the novel from start to finish)

I waited. And refreshed my email constantly. And said please, please, please a thousand times in my heart.

And then.

I got an offer of representation from the agent who had my R&R. I sent emails to all the agents who had my queries for both manuscripts.

More agents responded.

The UNREACHABLES reached out. They LOVED SUBPARS. They loved my writing.

With my feet floating above the ground, I tried to make sense of the words I was reading in my emails–because all at once, multiple agents were offering me representation.

I drank champagne again. My boys toasted my joy with sparkling cider. We danced around to the song “Happy.” I wore my red rejection shoes just because.

champagnephoto

So, here it is, the moral of the story: Dream big. Quit if you need to. But then start over. Dream bigger. Grow. Learn. And above all—HOPE.

This isn’t the end for me. Just a new chapter on a journey that may or may not ultimately lead to my book sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble (please, please, please)

I’ve got more rejection to face. Probably more closed doors. Definitely new books to write. But hope is the one essential ingredient in it all.

Well, and puppies. Puppies really do make everything better. And shoes. And friends who “get it.” So there you go, fellow dreamers and writers. I get it. Hang in there. Keep on going after it—your own happy dance might be right around the corner.

Media to Manuscript: What I’ve Learned from Editing Commercials

As a scriptwriter, I’ve learned the value of editing scenes–particularly when developing short commercial spots.

You’ve got 30 seconds to grab the viewers’ attention and convey a story. Every. Word. Counts. You end up leaving out scenes you think were really great and cutting lines you thought were important.

Then, the spot airs, it’s effective, and you realize it’s better for having been whittled down from the original.

Shooting a commercial spot with Lola the 'Super Dog'! View more at: www.luminarycreative.com

Shooting a commercial spot with Lola the ‘Super Dog’! View more at: http://www.luminarycreative.com

 

 

If we apply this to novel writing, it makes us better writers, and our manuscripts stronger. What we think is “essential” is often just part of us, as authors, fleshing out our characters and stories. This is part of the process of building a story with layers, and characters with depth. HOWEVER…less is more totally applies here. If a scene can be cut without affecting the MC, then you should probably cut and paste that baby in your archives, or cut file.

Try it out—it probably makes your MS move faster, and thereby, more interesting.

Happy Writing!