Anonymous said: Hi Courtney! I finished a manuscript about 2 mos ago and set it aside. At the time, I was proud of it and was excited to begin revising. But as I've gotten back into the novel, I've been feeling awful about it. I don't know why I wasted so much time on something so bad. I'm lost and doubting my ability as a writer. I have no idea what to do or how to make the ms any good. I don't know why anyone would want to read it. Have you ever experienced anything like this? Do you have any advice? Thanks!!
First, congratulations on finishing your manuscript! That takes a lot of hard work and focus so I hope you’re proud even if you’re in the Feeling Awful Stage about it.
I think it’s pretty common for writers to be super happy with their book when they’re done—because often, there is such bliss in finishing—and then to experience that OH GOD IT’S HORRIBLE crash right before embarking on next round of tough work. The toughest work. Revision.
All books need revision.
ALL BOOKS NEED REVISION. I just have to say that again, in capitals, because it’s one of the most important things you’ll learn as a writer. And it’s something you’ll learn over and over again. It’s rare that anyone has a perfectly polished, ready-to-go novel after they’ve typed its last word. Sometimes it’s not perfect after the first, second, third or fourth round either. (ALL THE RAGE took close to seven for me.)
You were excited to revise when you finished. WELL, I’m happy to tell you the prospect of revising can be a lot more exciting than the actual doing, so what you’re feeling is pretty normal. The actual doing is daunting. It makes sense to me that after diving back in after an extended break you’re feeling overwhelmed by what’s ahead of you and I think you might have sabotaged yourself a little by looking at the big picture instead of parts of the whole. Revision happens one word at a time.
After I finish a draft, all I can see is everything that is wrong with it and everything I have to do to get it to shine. I resent the book. I resent what I perceive to be a lack of writing talent on my part. I feel like the books I wrote before were a dream. I don’t want anyone to read it and can’t imagine anyone wanting to read it.
And then I start revising. And a lot of times, these feelings hang around, definitely overstaying their welcome. But eventually, you reach the point where the book starts taking shape.Take it a scene at a time—you might not be able to come up with a revision strategy at this point because you aren’t narrowing your focus. You’re just thinking BOOK BAD instead of taking it scene by scene, asking yourself what the purpose of each scene is and how you can drive it home or enhance it or cut it if need be. Don’t get too ahead of yourself.
Work in spite of your doubts, a word at a time, a page at a time. You will eventually remember why you wrote the book in the first place. By the end, even if you have to revise again (and again and again) that first round is going to really drive home the possibility of what you’re putting on paper. You’ll realize it’s not as bad as you believed, and even more exciting—that it can be better than you ever imagined.
What you’re feeling is normal. It’s hard. Revise your way out of it. I know you can do it.
I hope this helps!
I highly recommend Fargo the television show. While not totally perfect, it’s fascinating, and often gripping. I yelled at my tv a TON watching it, and my brother and I can’t stop talking about it.
As a fan of the movie, too, I was surprised to feel that it seemed similar in many ways, but always managed to be surprising, while really telling a new story.
It’s some really exciting work.
Also, I recommend Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Boy, am I late to the game on this one, but it’s an excellent book and I’m loving it.