It’s amazing the things we learn from personal experience. You know that saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? I try to incorporate that in my line of thinking before passing judgement, especially when I’m trying to figure out what would lead someone to make a certain decision or make a stand for a particular issue. Trying to imagine what someone is thinking or has gone through—or even talking to them about their personal experiences and decisions—is nothing at all like going through it yourself, though. The process of self-publishing has taught me this in the last three weeks.
Writers are amazing beings, and having jumped into this self-publishing adventure, I have even more respect for them. Sure, they create characters we fall in love with and set our imaginations on fire with places and situations and possibilities we never considered. But they also learn how to edit and rewrite effectively, accept constructive criticism in the name of perfecting their manuscript, and learn how to market themselves, many with full-time jobs completely unrelated to novel writing. If anyone ever tells you writing a book is easy, they are either extremely gifted or they are lying because that’s not the norm. When I write, I’m exposing my gifts as much as my flaws to others on paper. The only way I can imagine feeling even more naked is by actually standing naked in a crowd. That’s not all, though. When you share your work, you have to have thick skin and a brain. You have to put aside the hurt you feel when someone tells you that you have done something wrong and find a way to use that criticism to make yourself better. It took me years to learn that. Even with a perfect manuscript, well, haters are gonna hate. They’re going to leave negative reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. Some people are just nasty. Some are jealous. You have to learn how to discern the haters from the true constructive feedback that will help you grow.
Just because a writer has finished a manuscript doesn’t mean they are finished with their novel. They go through rounds and rounds of editing and rewriting and even writing new scenes. That’s where I am now. I got to the point this week that I had to take an evening off because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I get so worked up when it’s time to write or edit when working on Scars because there’s a lot of pressure. I want to be proud of the version I share with my beta readers in a month. The fewer spelling and point of view problems there are, the easier they will be able to focus on structural issues or the flow of the story.
Needless to say, I felt pretty beat up after last week’s revisions. The first few days were down right frustrating. I literally made a bunch of revisions on Monday only to undo them on Tuesday and Wednesday. Three days wasted. I was so mad and frustrated and, quite honestly, on the verge of giving up. Again. Everyone talks about how great it is to write and then publish a book. No one tells you how heart breaking or gut wrenching or mind blowing the journey is. And honestly, if you are doing it right, it should be all these things. Because if it’s not worth working hard for, it’s not worth doing.
For those of you who feel like you are the only one struggling through your revisions, I want to share with you my own roller coaster ride so you know you’re not alone. Here’s a summary of my first week of revisions: the good, the bad, and the disheartening.
I sat down Monday evening to begin working on changing my first-person point of view to third-person point of view. It’s a necessary change, but it’s one I have dreaded. Aside from the fact that it is labor intensive to make that kind of change, third-person feels completely wrong to me, and the more I dwell on it, the more confused I get about how to do it. (Did I ever mention that I have a serious problem with overthinking things?) I proceeded to go through the first chapter and not only change the point of view but also cut out huge chunks of information. In writing classes, I’ve learned that less is more and that when we edit, we should be prepared to pull out the hatchet. I took this to heart and gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done.
I sat down to review all the cuts and changes I had made the night before, and I almost cried. I had taken the hatchet approach a little too seriously and cut important things without noting somewhere else to put them in. I quite literally sterilized the opening scene. I began undoing the changes, but it was emotionally draining, and I ended up going to bed.
That night, after I shut down my laptop, I struggled with the question of how much cutting is too much? How do we know what to cut and what to leave in? At this point, I can’t answer those questions for you. What I can do is give you this piece of advice: use markup in Word so that if you cut something, it’s still reversible.
I also noticed a trend with my work: I’m stuck in an editing vortex in which I keep working on the same four or five chapters over and over without moving to the other 15. One time, I went whitewater rafting in Fayetteville, WV—if you haven’t been, by the way, you should go to West Virginia, whether for whitewater rafting or zip lining or hiking or whatever. Just go. Anyway, our raft tipped, and I ended up on top of a rapid, stranded on a rock. To make a long story short, I was in a life-threatening situation, and when I went over that rapid, I passed within inches of a vortex called “Teacher’s Pet” (because it’ll keep you after school all day long). If you get sucked into a vortex like that, you’re not coming out alive. I have experienced the same with writing and editing vortexes. It took me years to finish my first draft of my vampire novel because I couldn’t get past perfecting the first three chapters. So, be careful of editing vortexes: you’ll never get the manuscript finished if you can’t get past the first few chapters.
I spent my designated novel time on Wednesday evening, doing more of the same: undoing the changes I made Monday. It took so much longer to undo what I had done because I had to read through it all and decide what I needed to add back and what was okay to let go. While struggling through this, I began to fixate on the fact that I hadn’t shared anything on my blog or Facebook for over a week. The pressure of falling behind on my social media responsibilities only added to the stress I was under. On top of all that, I began to question the name of my book. Is that really the best name? I wondered if I shouldn’t come up with other options and poll some people, like my beta readers. Then, I tried to come up with a list of other names.
Again, I began to think about that editing vortex, and the idea that I was wasting precious time weighed heavily on me. It’s amazing how powerful our minds are and even more powerful negative thinking can be. Self-doubt can be just as crippling in this process as having to take time out to fix a big mistake.
I sat down to write a new scene. I knew I would eventually get to this task. There are several new scenes I’ll have to write in order for everything to flow better and make more sense. I sat down in front of that blank Word document, and I stared at the white screen. Nothing. Would. Come. I was staring writer’s block directly in the face, and I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to write the scene three times, and what I typed just wasn’t right. You know how they say “Use it or lose it?” This is true for writing. I hadn’t had to write in so long, my creative muscles atrophied. It took several attempts to break through and get things rolling.
I rewrote the scene I added on Thursday. Hey, just because you get the muscles pumping again doesn’t mean they are functioning at full momentum. It happens. I expected it. I wasn’t let down.
After a day of putting my taxes together, I sat down at the computer and cringed. It had been a long week of working a full-time job, using any spare time I could find to revise, and spending the day doing taxes, and my brain was mush. That week had also consisted of a lot of additional stress from worrying about my quality of writing, trying to loosen my creative muscle, and wrestling with all the other little things that bother me about this project, like social media and the title. Sometimes you have to realize you can only do so much in a day. Or a week, in this case. Being creative is very taxing, and when you need a break, you just know. Listen to yourself.
Ah, glorious Sunday, spent doing much of the same: rewriting the previous day’s scene. Twice. After I finished, I sent it off to my sister for input on all the changes I’ve made.
After I sent it off, I reflected on how much I didn’t get done during the week. How tiny things like social media and book titles and over-editing and letting fear cripple my abilities had prevented me from being more productive. And as I thought about all these things, I realized something. I’m making this worse on myself than it has to be. I need a plan.
Want to know what my plan is? You’ll have to check back next week.