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?’

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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:

Author to Author + ARC Review: SHALLOW GRAVES by Kali Wallace

One of the best things about being a debut author has been getting to know some of the other amazing young adult authors publishing their books in 2016. I had the privilege of reading the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Kali Wallace’s SHALLOW GRAVES, and she agreed to answer a few questions about her publishing experience.

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Summary:

Breezy remembers leaving the party, the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to the face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain the necklace of bruises around her neck. She also can’t explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch.

Returning home seems impossible. Her parents and sisters have clearly grieved and struggled to move on, and Breezy can’t begin to answer their inevitable questions. Her heartbeat comes and goes, she doesn’t need to eat or drink, she can see the inky memories of murderers, and she can somehow pull on this dark guilt to kill them. Haunted by the happy memories from her life and disgusted by the half-dead creature she’s become, Breezy embarks on a reckless quest to find answers and a dangerous healing magic…but the cure is as dark and terrible as the disease.

Set in a gorgeous, terrifying world, Shallow Graves is a stunning novel about the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the creature she’s become.

Find SHALLOW GRAVES on Goodreads

Pre-order now or find it on shelves Jan. 26, 2016

My Review:

I could not put this book down! It was entertaining from the first page to the last. The premise is so intriguing. From the first sentence, I was hooked by the story questions—and they emerged into more and more interesting questions as the story unfolded. I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic writing. Kali Wallace is an artful storyteller, and the queen of metaphors! But that is just icing on the cake of this enthralling tale.

Wallace builds a whole world of re-imagined creatures, with their own characteristics and mythos—all woven together with the over-arching mystery of the main character, Breezy. She is a well-drawn, witty and sympathetic character that I liked immediately—and loved by the end. The author writes such fantastic dialogue! I looked forward to the exchanges Breezy shared with a most interesting cast of characters.

I recommend this book—especially to fans of shows like Supernatural, Grimm, and anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery, and a bit of horror.

My review on Goodreads

Author to Author

(I throw a few questions at an author, and they throw one back at me.)

Jenny asked Kali:

 

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process (so far)?

I have two answers, one about writing and one about people.

The answer about writing is: edits and revisions! Is that a strange answer? Writers complain about edits and revisions all the time, because they are, indeed, a terrifying amount of work. But there is also something wonderful about having my story be picked apart and pieced back together into something stronger and better with the guidance of fantastic editors.

I love that even after I’ve pushed a story as far as I know how to push it, my agent and my editor can come along and say, “Oh, my sweet summer child, we are not done yet,” and open up ways to make it even better. It’s a fantastic feeling to look at the book in ARC form and compare it to the appallingly terrible first draft I finished way back when and see how much it has evolved and improved over time.

My second answer is a lot more squishy with feelings, because it’s all about the people I’ve met as I’ve been going through this process. Other writers are my favorite people in the world, and being a debut author means I get to connect with tons of them to commiserate and laugh and encourage, and I love it. It’s so much fun it ought to be illegal.

 

What advice do you have for writers?

Stop worrying about what you think other people want to read. Seriously. Just stop. STOP. Don’t do it. If you are trying to please an audience by reverse-engineering what’s popular or beloved in other books, readers are going to be able to tell, and they will not be impressed.

I see so many writers say things like, “I have this idea, but I don’t think anybody wants it,” or “I would write this, but that’s not what readers want,” or, worst of all, “I bet I could get published, if I wrote something like those other things,” and I just want to shake every single one of them. Write what you want to write instead. If you don’t, it shows and it’s never pretty. Readers are not idiots; they can tell when you’re trying to be something you’re not.

But they can also tell when you are being sincere, when a story really matters to you. So write the story that’s under your skin and in your guts and haunting the corners of your house and whispering in the back of your mind. If you don’t have that story yet, write until you find it. You will eventually.

 

Describe your book in five words:

Being undead is so overrated.

 

What inspired you to write your book?

This book is what happens when somebody who watched too much Supernatural back in the day, back when it was new and more importantly when it still had a kickin’ soundtrack, starts to think, “But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters? What if they’re just people living in the best way they know how? What if they’ve got friends and family waiting for them to come home, always worrying that some crazy-ass humans with more weaponry than good sense are going to hunt them down?”

And of course once I started to think like that, I started feeling really bad for all those monsters who just wanted to be left alone in their monstrous lives, and the whole thing just kind of… grew from there, gathering up a whole bunch of other ideas about life and grief and trauma and being a teenage girl in the world. But it started with the monsters. Story ideas are like mushrooms. You don’t even know they’re waiting there in the dark for the right conditions, then suddenly your entire life is covered with suspicious squishy colonies that appeared overnight.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced getting published?

Like many authors (most authors?), the first book I sold was definitely not the first book I tried to sell. My first novel was on submission for something like 10 months, with something like 30 editors saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or, “Wow, no, this is way too gross,” or not saying anything at all. It is very discouraging! There’s no sense in pretending that it’s not discouraging. Even if the editors are saying encouraging things and asking to see more, it still sucks.

But, well, there’s also no sense in doing anything with all that time but working harder, so when my agent and I realized this first book probably wasn’t going to get any traction, we started working on getting the second one into shape, and I was also working on writing a whole new manuscript.

I think it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking, “They have to want THIS STORY or else nothing matters,” but loving your story and wanted to see it published is one thing, and being so precious about it you hang all of your hopes on it is another. It wasn’t easy, to get over that initial disappointment, but I think it became easier once I realized the only thing I could really do, because it was the only thing that was 100% within my control, was to keep writing more. And more and more and more.

 

Kali asked Jenny:

Without spoilers—what is your favorite scene in your book? Why?

One of my favorite scenes in FLASHFALL is actually a kissing scene, LOL! But I don’t love this scene simply for the romance—it’s a moment following an attack in a prison camp, when Dram sort of “talks” Orion down from an emotional cliff. Their world is utterly shaken, but they help remind each other what is constant.

It’s a scene with kissing, but it’s really about finding the light in dark times, and holding on to what is true—even when the rest of your world implodes.

The line at the end is my favorite. It would be spoiler-y for me to describe it, so I’ll just say that Orion realizes how strong she is. I think this is true in life—the tough things we go through can shatter us or strengthen us. Sometimes a bit of both.

Find FLASHFALL on Goodreads

 

In which I went to NYC, met my editor, and EEEEEEE!!!

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Just after visiting Macmillan Publishing, Flatiron Building, NYC

 

Click here to watch the video

As I write this post, I’m in a boutique New York City hotel near 5th Avenue, perched on the twenty-first floor. Literally, I’m perched, like a heavily-layered pigeon at the edge of this historic building. It’s freezing out, but I have an adorable balcony with an (almost) view of Rockefeller Plaza, so I’m letting my toes go numb while I soak up this surreal moment.

 

There is something about a dream materializing that makes you feel anything’s possible, like there’s a sun glowing inside your body, and that a unicorn could prance down 57th street at any moment. None did, but I kept an eye out for them, just in case. I also kept an eye out for all French bakeries, but that’s another story. One that will probably evolve into mild regret, sweat pants, and extra gym hours.

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It was my birthday, so I may have eaten both cupcakes. And see, there’s that balcony I mentioned…

If you like pictures, come say ‘hi’ on Instagram. I promise, not everything is food. There’s also my dog.

 

Anyway . . . publishing. The dreams-come-true and unicorn possibilities and now-the-hard-work-really-begins part.

 

My first night in NYC, I met my editor, Kate Farrell, (the senior editor at Henry Holt). She’s a lot of fun, and it was so cool connecting with the person who feels so deeply connected to my book. And also there was a photo booth. With a really bright flash.

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Hanging out with my editor, Kate Farrell

Kate’s said that some BIG edits are coming my way. (That’s the hard-work-really-begins part I mentioned.) But it will only make FLASHFALL better, and more exciting, and memorable and sparkly. If you’re going to put in the blood, sweat, and tears writing, you might as well make it awesome, right? (Remind me of this later.)

 

No really, remind me—please.

 

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This is from my shirt that I got just before my trip. Whatever is in your heart to do . . . go after it, work hard, believe it’s possible.

 

I dreamed about meeting my editor in New York long, looong, before it seemed possible. For more about my journey to get an agent here, and getting a book deal here. I hope my publishing story inspires you–especially if you’re in that place where the voice of doubt is telling you to quit. I felt that way so many times. More about that here.

 

Maybe your dream isn’t meeting your publisher in New York City. Maybe it is. Either way, I hope there are unicorns in your future. Or at least the feeling that they are possible.

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Vlog Post from NYC

In which a debut author visits her publisher in NYC, turns into a popsicle outside the Flatiron Building, but remains hysterically excited

Thanks for checking out my first Vlog post! I’d love to know what you think. I’ll be posting ‘authorish insights’ and ‘behind the scenes publishing’ stuff, along with tips for writers going after their own publishing dreams over on my new YouTube channel. If you like that sort of thing, I invite you to check it out.

I plan to keep most videos over on YouTube, and keep this blog separate, but just thought I’d share the first one. : )

Happy Writing!

By the way, if you watched the video you heard me mention the NEW TITLE for my book. It’s official! ASHES FOR STARS is now called FLASHFALL I think it works well for a sci-fi/fantasy, action-adventure, high-stakes, fast-paced kind of book. What do you think?

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

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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.

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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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