For me, this year has been one of a lot of excitement, a lot of changes, and a lot of challenges. I landed my agent in February and it was a dream come true, but the excitement was quickly replaced by reality (read: revisions) and I’ve been editing ever since.
Yes, you read that right. I’ve been editing for nearly eight months…and I’m not done yet.
The last couple of months, especially, have been ones of desperation as I worried I’d never get my novel in shape for publication or that maybe I should just give up on it completely. No matter how many angles at which I tried to approach my story, how hard I pushed at my mental blocks, or how many breaks I took, I couldn’t reconnect with the confidence I once had in my story and myself.
The worst part was that I wasn’t sure where I was stuck. Troubleshooting is easy when there’s only one variable of change, but suddenly I was:
1) receiving feedback on my story that was far more intense than I’d ever received before
2) facing the reality that my book would actually–hopefully, but also frightfully–be read by people other than my critique partners one day soon
3) starting to think about my career and my business as a writer
4) being haunted by burn out on this story after five major revisions before my novel even reached my agent
My biggest fear was that I wasn’t ready to be a published author after all. If I can’t complete edits when they’re asked of me, how can I ever hope to be a professional writer?
Thankfully, a couple of weeks ago, I had an “aha” moment that changed the way I understood writer struggles. I couldn’t tell you what finally led me to my epiphany aside from being on the verge of giving up, but one evening it hit me that the culprit hindering my progress was that edits had taken me down a wrong turn at some point. As I continued to edit down the wrong path, my uncertainty grew worse. As soon as I realized the deviation I’d taken from my original vision and came up with a solution to get back on track, all my fears—about publication, about the quality of my story, about my career—melted away.
But before that, one hang up had shut down the entire operation.
The thing about writers is that our emotions about our stories, our writing, our careers, how our work will be perceived by others, and the myriad of things that crop up in our personal lives are so tied together that sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s holding us back. That’s why writing is so damn hard. And this is what makes it almost impossible to disentangle those emotions and keep moving forward on the other aspects of our writing lives while we sort out the one wobbly leg. We have the tendency to chop all the legs off and bury ourselves in chocolate and wine instead.
But professional writers (and that’s all of us who take our writing seriously and strive for publication) don’t have the luxury of hanging up our pens and calling it a life. We wouldn’t even if we could. Instead we have to fight through the times when we struggle by looking inside ourselves and asking, why am I really stuck?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
– Am I trying to turn my story into something it’s not? Am I writing what I think I “should” instead of what I want to write? What book do I most wish I’d written and what aspects of that book do I most love or most admire?
– Have I done enough prep work in understanding this story and these characters? Do I really understand their goals, motivations, conflicts, and stakes?
– Do I understand my own goals for my career, or am I simply following the path that has been laid before me because that’s what writers are “supposed” to want? If there were no beaten paths, which one would I trudge for myself?
– Which aspect of my writing or career is scaring me the most? How can I make myself stronger and more knowledgeable in this?
– What is overwhelming me and how I can break that down into more manageable chunks? Where is the pressure coming from–myself or an outside source–and how can I relieve that pressure? Move back a deadline? Have a heart-to-heart?
– Am I going through any transitions in my life or my career? How do I feel about that? What scares me and what trills me about this change?
– Is the feedback I’m receiving helpful or harmful? Can I learn from it? Can I implement it? Can I be strong enough to say it doesn’t apply and let it go?
– Is there something outside of my writing that’s taking my attention and energy? Am I setting healthy boundaries between family, friends, work, and my writing? If I had complete control to create my ideal schedule, what would it look like? And how can I bring my current schedule closer to that?
– Am I taking care of myself? Am I allowing myself enough quiet time, enough reading, enough fun, enough time where I’m not thinking about my writing at all?
I’m a big advocate for journaling through the blocks (something someone should have reminded me when I was struggling through this one!) because the Flannery O’Connor quote is true: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Respond to these questions in your journal until you have your own “aha” moment, until the weight lifts off your shoulders, and the future looks bright again. Because sometimes what you think is making you stuck on your novel isn’t the actual battle you’re fighting. But every step you take toward self-knowledge makes it easier to identify your struggles in the future, and to overcome them.