I am in the process of revising a middle grade novel, and it’s kicking my butt. The only upside is that it provided the inspiration for today’s blog post. There is seemingly no end to the assortment of obstacles getting in my way. For the purpose of this post, I’ve narrowed it down to ten. While a few are specific to my own personal quirks, I’m hoping that most will be universal enough to help others wrestling with an unruly revision.
1. Problem: External noise
This one’s a no-brainer, right? But for some reason it doesn’t always occur to me. I share a house with three kids, a spouse, and a dog. Noise is unavoidable. I can lock myself in the bedroom or office, but doing so somehow guarantees that the interruptions will multiply. Instead I stay in the family room, in plain sight, with music going on the laptop and a pair of headphones or earbuds to drown out the chaos. It’s a clear sign that Mom Is Working. I can keep an eye on things, avoid being a total hermit, and still get some writing done.
2. Problem: Internal noise
Solution: External noise
When the kids are at school and I have the house to myself, my brain kicks into overdrive to fill the silence. It cycles through an endless litany of to-do lists, regrets, doubts, new story ideas, and random tangents. So I put on music or even the TV, just loud enough to act as counterpoint to my noisy thoughts. It’s kind of ridiculous that I can only work when it’s not too noisy and not too quiet, but there you go.
3. Problem: Falling asleep (seriously)
Solution: Get up and move
I have a problem with falling asleep if I sit in front of the computer for more than 20 minutes at a time. For obvious reasons, this interferes with my revisions. So we bought a secondhand treadmill desk. Can’t fall asleep while I’m walking, right? It has the added benefit of burning calories, so it’s win-win. Other times I’ll take the dog for a quick walk or simply stand up and stretch. Sitting still for too long isn’t good for anyone—even those without a potential case of narcolepsy.
4. Problem: Wasting time on the internet
Solution: Kill the wi-fi
Willpower is not enough to keep me from checking email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, news sites, blogs, weather, and/or Wikipedia every five minutes. I have to either go somewhere without wi-fi or get off the laptop completely and revise with paper and pen. I know there are programs that can actually block your wi-fi while you’re working, but I guarantee I would find a way to cheat.
5. Problem: General procrastination
Solution: Set a timer
It never fails. As soon as I sit down to revise, I think of three quick things I need to do around the house first. Or five quick things. Or twenty. And then I’ll get right back to revising, I swear! Ha. This is a trap. There will always be other things that clamor for your time and attention. Do not listen. Set a timer for two hours, one hour, twenty minutes—whatever you can manage. And then do not allow yourself to stop revising until that timer goes off. The clock provides a simple but effective form of discipline. Train yourself to follow its call, and no other.
6. Problem: Tweaking the same word and/or sentence over and over
Solution: Place markers
Type “something profound goes here” and move on. Come back to it with a fresh point of view. Otherwise you could keep circling around the same minor problem for hours or even days. Trust me on this. I am the queen of tweaking.
7. Problem: Life
Solution: Don’t fight it
Life is hectic. It’s messy and unpredictable. Work. Illness. Family issues. These things have to come first sometimes. They just do. There’s no sense beating yourself up about it. The revision will still be there waiting when you get back.
8. Problem: Laziness
Solution: Delayed gratification
If you just need a quick nap or a cookie before you get to work, you’re doing it backwards. Set up a reward system for yourself instead. Revise a page, get a cookie. Revise a chapter, take a nap. See? Easy. (Yeah, I’m still working on this one. But the theory is sound.)
9. Problem: It’s too huge
Solution: Break it up
Those 50,000 words taunt you from the screen, endless and impossible. If you can, try to think of your project in more manageable pieces—maybe a thousand words a day, or even a hundred. If you’re on deadline and don’t have the luxury of time, break it into the smallest pieces you can with the time you have.
10. Problem: You just can’t even
Solution: Too bad
You’re so sick of a particular manuscript, you can’t even look at it without feeling nauseous. But what’s the alternative? Abandoning a promising piece of writing to an eternal black hole because you can’t bring yourself to face it? You are tougher than that. You’ve already put so much work into it! Dig deep and find the discipline to finish. Maybe your excitement has waned. Maybe you feel like a great idea went off the rails and is unrecoverable. Again, if you’re not facing a deadline or contractual obligation, take a break and work on something else for a while. But if you are under contract, you have to suck it up, my friend. And even if you’re not, I urge you to finish. Maybe the project will never sell. Maybe it was a stepping stone, helping you refine your craft. But it is not wasted time. Each manuscript is proof that you are committed to the work, and that you can finish what you started.
Which revision foe is your own personal Lex Luthor? Have a helpful tip for defeating it? Let us know in the comments!
Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.