Revision is hell. Whereas mediocrity is expected in the first draft, revision is the fabled realm of shiny, awe-inspiring perfection. I tend to forget that revisions are like climbing a up a pyramid: the first step will only get me a little ways up from the cruddy, muddy bottom. On an intellectual and experiential level, I know that this is a phase. From a metaphysical vantage, I’m looking up at the dense clouds obscuring my path and wondering if there is really even anything there to attain.
Here’s an excerpt from a Sunday brunch conversation:
Me: “I just realized I’m writing the world’s dumbest book.”
Mr. Aniko: “I guess we’re at this stage again.”
Me: “Stage? What stage?”
Mr. Aniko: “Where you say your story is stupid, and maybe it would be better to stop. You did this four or five time with Stolen Climates.”
Me: “I did?”
Mr. Aniko: “Yes.”
Me: “Well that was silly. Stolen Climates is good. Not at all like the dumb story I’m writing now…”
I have entered my first This Is Crap Phase of the revision process, and thought I’d share a few tips on what I am doing to overcome it. Yes, I am sharing these tips to avoid revision. I am also sharing because Mari Biella, author of the delightful novel The Quickening, has nominated me as a Beautiful Blogger! I hereby declare the first step to overcoming the This is Crap Phase to be:
1. Befriend other writers that you admire. Find writers who are fierce in their dedication to craft and honest about the legion of difficulties inherent to writing. I am fortunate to have the members of #TESSpecFic as well as Mari in my circle of writer friends. There are others, both online and off, and I can’t tell you how often they have given me the courage to keep going when all I want to do is curl up with other people’s books and ignore my own.
Once you’ve assembled a climbing party, the next thing to do is:
2.Tackle your overgrown yard. Yes, this is a metaphor for revision. It works best if your yard is so very, terribly, embarrassingly, non-HOA-compliant that when you drive down your street, you wonder where your house is. By clearing away the canopy of overhanging limbs, twining vines, and (really!) impressively tall weeds, you discover that you have a house. A cute house. Not perfect, but not the worst house in the entire world. This is the essence of revision: weeding, chopping, rearranging, and discovery.
Now that you’re at your desk, looking out on a recognizable yard & not a jungle, you need to:
3. Paint your nails. You’re going to be looking at your hands a lot because you have a LOT of revision to do. Extra points for nail polish that has a clever name, like “So Much Fawn” or “Commander in Chic.”
4. Tie your hair back. Yes, even the blonde-streaked bangs you got by accident, but turned out to look pretty good. Hair is a distraction you don’t need when fighting off a hydra of hyphens.
5. Wear your most comfortable, jersey stretch skirt. Nothing ends a writing session faster than a tight waist band. If you can wear a matching shirt, go ahead, but comfort trumps style.
Now for the difficult part. Bravery, bravery and nerves of steel! It is time to:
6. DISCONNECT from the internet. Yes, it hurts. Do it anyways.
The final, yet crucial step:
7. Open the file for your Work in Progress, put your pretty hands on that keyboard, and prepare to haul your jersey-clad booty up another level of stony, revision hell.
May your climb be happy!
PS – For those who got an early email with incorrect numbering, sorry! This puppy chose to publish itself before I was ready. A little less polish to it than I like, but my nails sure are pretty! xoxo
ROFL 😀 Love! Love this post!
Yes I have been there, more times than not.
Love all your points especially 3, 4 & 5 🙂
Sending big hugs to you and no I am sure your ms is not crap!
Kim, thanks for the hugs, and for stopping by!
So awesome! This post was so amusing that I had to interupt my wife’s reading to read it to her. I promise to follow as many of these as I can; however, I no longer have the hair that I did in my teens, so I can’t pull any back; and I just recently quit chewing my fingernails so I’m afraid there isn’t much to color. 🙂
Jimmy, hi! I’m glad you had fun with it! Revision is grueling, so I thought a lighthearted post was just the antidote. 🙂
You and me both, brother. You and me both. I wish I still had hair to pull back.
Aniko, great post. It reminded me of my own wife. She puts on two dance concerts a year at our school, and your conversation with Mr. Aniko sounds like the same things we say the last few weeks before the concert. And they always come out amazing. So I’m sure the same will be the case for your WIP.
Paul D. Dail
http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog
Dance is something I always meant to get around to learning, but never did. I’m far too old (and too ungainly!) to ever be a ballerina, but I toy with the idea of taking classes just because I think it is beautiful. It’s wonderful your wife is bringing dance to the students; that’s a definite Good.
WIP still chunking along… I’m having fun with it now. I’ll revisit the ‘This is Crap!’ phase sometime in the third revision. It’s nice to have a respite from it, and I think the nail polish was key! 🙂
Oh man, been there with the revisions lol I try to tell myself I’ll only revise 3 times. Go through it (the story) 3 times and… maybe a “Lucky 4th” for good measure. In the end its just done, as you put it, when the weeds have been tossed aside and “you discover that you have a house.”
*At which point (at least for me) you can at least overlook the few weeds you missed before submitting. 🙂
Oh, yes, the grand discovery of a house, of recognizable structure! It’s a good thing to finally attain, in writing and in … gardening? 😀 I used to love revision, but I honestly don’t remember it ever being this arduous.
And yes, I’ve found that letting a few weeds linger can be less damaging than one might be led to believe. I think that trying to make a story perfect is a fool’s errand; no matter what you change, there will be something else that will need to be updated. I’ve seen writers who spend ten years on the same short story, and it makes me a little sad. At some point, it is as good as it gets. If it’s not at a publication-ready level, move on. There are many, many stories waiting for us to tell them!
Of course, I’m not advocating we should be sloppy or leave egregious mistakes we know about and could fix! Just that there might be a few quirks after final revision. Different readers will notice different things, and even if you thought the book was perfect, that’s probably not the case.
Oh exactly! I got a friend who’s still got cold feet on his first short, well over a year. I too always wish for the thing to be perfect, but yeah, you come back to it a week after submitting and one finds a few little tinsy-wincy things. But I guess that’s why there’s that saying “a book is never finished, it’s abandoned.”
I knew a girl who was in a writing workshop with me. She told me she’d been writing for eight years, and was planning on getting her MFA in creative writing. I asked her what she had written, and she told me that she had been working on the same story. The same story! I really wasn’t sure what to do with that. Not that there’s anything wrong with long term projects, but the idea of only working on one story for eight years, and on the basis of that, planning to get an advanced degree? I was … befuddled. Yes, that’s one way of putting it. 🙂
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Very interestingly, as I didn’t mean to publish when I did! There was some sort of accidental slip involving my laptop mouse that led WordPress to think I meant to publish. It seems to be okay, though, so I forgive my laptop mouse! 🙂
Great. Now I have Alice Cooper stuck in my head.
Thanks for the mention, Aniko, and I love this post! It’s very relevent to my own situation at the moment, as I too am stuck in revision hell, and as a consequence say things like ”I just realized I’m writing the world’s dumbest book” about ten times a day. I love the idea of writing a survival guide for this part of the process.
I actually don’t have a problem with Step 6: I love nothing more than disconnecting from the internet for a while. Unfortunately, there are so many other distractions that not even this can necessarily guarantee a few good hours of solid work …
Believing that your writing is rubbish can be useful on occasion, as it encourages you to work very hard to improve. However: courage, Aniko! I’m sure that your manuscript is a lot – A LOT – better than you think it is :-).
You’re welcome, and thanks again for the nomination!
I would never have guessed you have the “world’s dumbest book” phase! Your writing is knock-out gorgeous. I guess the idea that you sit, and beauty just flows from your mind to the screen (or paper?) was me being romantic about how easy it must be for other writers. It’s good and bad to know that everyone seems to struggle. Good because I feel less alone (Step 1!), and bad because, gee, I’m not sure I’d wish revision hell on someone I didn’t like, much less on you!
Thanks for the encouragement! I do feel that I am improving the manuscript, and believe that I will get there. It’s just much, much harder than I expected!
Thank you, but it’s always, always difficult, and I have many “world’s dumbest book” moments. I’m having one just now, actually! To be honest, though, if I didn’t go through these rough patches I’d be more worried, because that would suggest to me either that I was not being sufficiently self-critical or that I wasn’t taking it seriously.
Everything that is worth doing is worth suffering for, and I think you can be perversely pleased about the tough times. They are what will drive you to write a truly knock-out novel!
I think that some of the “world’s dumbest book” moments come from the fact that any idea, sufficiently examined, starts to look absurd. I think that goes double for horror and some other types of speculative fiction. A haunted car? Carnivorous vines? A woman pregnant with demon spawn? Whether or not any of those ideas were well executed is left to the discretion of the reader, but at face value, they all sound a bit lame.
I agree that the suffering indicates that there is a good level of critical analysis occurring.
Best of luck making it through your “world’s dumbest book” moment – the struggle will be worth it!
Very sound advice. Something every author needs to abide by. I’m glad you took up a spot on the blog tour, Aniko. I might not have found your insightful blog otherwise. 😉
I’m just glad that Michelle somehow found me & was kind enough to extend the invitation. I love getting an early read of a good book, but it’s a real treat when the author turns out to be an awesome person! Your blog tour provided both the good book & the awesome author, which made it an absolute win for me. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed this post.
I laughed and laughed at that exchange. That’s pretty much my conversations with my wife to a T. I told her about it and her part at the end includes “And I (her) want to punch things). I love the ideas, though I might skip the part about painting my nails 😉
I really didn’t remember being that doubtful of Stolen Climates, or at least not in the same exact way as I have doubts about my WIP. Once it was pointed out that I’d done this before, I could vaguely recollect it. How absurd: back then I didn’t have nearly the amount to doubt as I do now! ha!
It’s funny to think of this same conversation being repeated by different couples. Writers are such a mercurial bunch. Our SOs are very, very patient!
Glad to hear I’m not the only one who does that! One day I think a scene is great and the next I think it’s the shallowest drek ever written. I think it’s funny that your husband has already picked up on the phase.
It takes a lot of faith to keep going, doesn’t it? Writing is very hard work. After three days of full time writing (I took some time off), I’m really ready to get back to the office… to see people, yes, but also because my job is much less taxing than non-stop revision!
I’ve come to anticipate the “this is crap” stage. In fact, if I *don’t* go through it, I feel the project is incomplete, or perhaps I haven’t challenged myself enough. It’s so normal that it’s almost a requirement.
We writers are such weirdos.
That seems to be a common thread in the comments, that the doubt is inherent to the creative process. It makes sense, really, since revision tends to take on a lot of characteristics of destruction. There is always the worry that instead of removing excess, we’re mistakenly removing vital heat, or that the scenes added for stability are really just so much cruft.
Welcome back from vacation, by the way! I was jealous when I saw all your hiking tweets!! I hope you had fun.
And, since I told Hunter where his book was on my To Read list, I think it’s only fair to tell you that FATE’S MIRROR is in line behind his. 🙂 Looking forward to it!
Ohhhh, now I’m a little bit nervous. But excited too. I hope you like FATE’S MIRROR! 🙂
I have no doubt I’ll enjoy it. I had to actively hide my Kindle from myself after I read the sample on Amazon. Writing is the one thing that really eats away at my reading time! 🙂
OK, I painted my nails, but don’t have enough hair to tie back. LOL! This is so true. I go through periods of thinking the book is utterly horrible, then hating it, then loving it again. But after writing books for so long, I’ve come to expect and accept these stages. The creative process ain’t pretty. 🙂
In no particular order, my WIP emotion cycle goes something like: compelling, interesting (in a shiny bauble kind of way), repellent, beloved, horrifying, terrible, awful, pretty darn dumb, showing promise, exciting, crush-worthy, published. This is only my second novel, so I was hoping the mood swings were an aberration specific to only first novels. Alas!
EVIL ETERNAL is at the top of my To Read list. I’m trying to wait until I get through the first revision because I tend to read when I should be working, especially when it’s a good book. And I am sure EVIL ETERNAL is one of those that will hook me.
(Okay, I took a preview of the opening – wow!! the orchard, wow!!)
I definitely go through this phase. I’ve had almost identical conversations when I start to question myself…
Love the tips! I really suck at painting my nails though, so I think I’ll skip that one. Besides, my cat would probably feel obligated to ‘help’ me, which would only make things worse. 😛
Cats are very ‘helpful.’ I used to have three of them, and there was no writing that happened without at least one of them on the desk. Actually, there was very little of anything happening in the house without at least one curious kitty supervising.
The rotten-dumb-book phase seems to be a common ailment for writers. The good thing is that it doesn’t seem to have stopped any of us from continuing to write. I suspect there’s more than a little stubborn mixed into the soul of every writer!
I was really excited to find your blog, and I appreciate you hopping over to visit mine. 🙂
Yes, I’m glad we found each other through Jimmy! I’m looking forward to checking out more of your posts. I enjoy reading about the journeys of other indie authors. 🙂
I was busy re-working my debut novel today, now that my publisher closed and I find myself fully indie. It made the job easier seeing my name mentioned among you ladies. It was very sweet. 🙂
Sorry to hear about your publisher closing. I am sure that is very disappointing. The good news is that being fully indie is both possible and fun!
I don’t remember what Google search brought me to Jacquelyn’s page, but I immediately liked her writing style. When I saw your name in the comments, I was very pleased at seeing someone I knew in an unexpected place. Thanks for taking the time to leave such thoughtful comments everywhere you go!