Notes to My Revising Self

A friend is in that tough stretch of novel revisions where you’re so close to the end, but you’ve been putting in long hours and you’re starting to lose perspective. That place where you start to question your sanity and how far off the finish line really is and if it’s all worth it anyway and maybe you should just give up and do something practical or validating or relaxing with your time. I was in that same spot so recently, it was easy for me to slip back into that suit of anguish and self-doubt. My friend wrote to a group of writers asking for advice. When I responded with my pep talk, I was really talking to myself a yearish ago. My reply resonated not only with my friend but the other writers too, so I thought I’d share it here in case this helps anyone else out there in the throes of revision.

Things I Learned During My Many Revisions That I Will Probably Re-Learn Over and Over

Focus on big picture stuff first. Don’t get caught up in the nitty gritty, fine-tuning. You don’t want to spend an hour perfecting the description of a house only to later realize the house has no place in the story after all. 
Prioritize your revisions with what the story absolutely needs first and don’t fret about whether or not the writing is “good”. Just tell the story. 
Translate the story from your head to the page in as tidy and interesting a way as possible. 
Don’t try to please everyone. 
Don’t try to address every comment readers have offered you. Pay attention to the feedback that rings true or rings exciting, that speaks to the core of the story you are trying to build on. 
Don’t be tempted by cool ideas that aren’t the best fit for the story you’re wanting to tell. 
If you’re feeling burnt out but want to keep writing, write the scenes that are jumping out at you first. 
Breathe, breathe, breathe. 
If you’re feeling down on your writing and/or where your novel is at, go back and read some early drafts. You’ll be shocked at all the things you’ve changed that you totally forgot were ever in the book and how much better the book is for it. 
Do a lot of free writing with pen to paper about what your characters want in certain scenes, or anything you’re muddling over. Something about scribbling with a pen helps loosen up the brain. 
Revisions can be an endless rabbit hole of changes if you let it. A story can always be changed and “improved”. Only you will know what’s truly essential for the draft to be “done” and what is unnecessary hand-wringing. 

3 Responses to “Notes to My Revising Self”

  1. Anna-Maria Crum

    Some good advice. I would add that you should revise for different things. Don't try to revise for content and sentence structure at the same time. Save the line editing for the final polish.

  2. mfantaliswrites

    Ah, the "endless rabbit hole." You are so right. The hard thing is "know[ing] what's truly essential for the draft to be 'done'" — and for that, I point myself back to your fourth piece of advice: "Don't try to please everyone." Excellent post, Jenn!

  3. Jenn (From the Mixed-Up Files)

    That's excellent advice, Anna-Maria! And thank you, Maryanne. I think it's easier said than done, trying not to please everyone, but it has helped me so much keeping that thought in mind as I write and re-write.