Revision Hell II: A Crisis of Faith


I’m a little down today. Things have really been busy, but last night I got a lot of work done on my revision of Soul Cavern. I was feeling pretty good about it. Then today, I read a critique I got from a close writer friend of the first 80 or so pages. Now, I know the first 80 pages have some weak spots, as I rearranged some things, fiddled around with them, etc. I had a lot of trouble reading this critique, mainly because everything in the line edit portion was negative (things I’d done wrong, done badly, overdone, underdone… you get the idea) with the exception of one sentence. And the summary portion at the end essentially said, “The dialogue was good, but the rest of it sucked.”

Okay, that might be the interpretation of my very cruel internal editor. It was neither that stark nor that mean. And please don’t think the critiquer is bad or that I have any anger or anything in regards to it. It just really got me down.

I’m usually good at taking criticism, particularly if I think it’s warranted. But, probably like a lot of other people, I like to hear the good bits too. Tell me what I’m doing right, as well. I don’t need a ticker tape parade, but I do need a counter balance to, “Man, this sucks, you should change it.” — Even if it really does suck and needs to be changed.

So now, I’m completely down on myself and my writing because it’s such a huge undertaking, revising a novel. And I find that I really hate it. I mean, I REALLY hate it. Maybe I’m just not really cut out for it. But, either way, it has to be done and it has to be done rather quickly, because I have to have it in to my mentors at SHU around the first week of April. And now I need to go back and look at the first 80 because it sucks even more than I originally thought. But tonight, I have to find a way to get through this grey fog and go back to Chapter 7 and work on the revisions and try to convince myself that they don’t suck too. Because, for me, if something is just going to come out crappy, I don’t see a reason to waste time on it.


So, how do you keep going when you’re convinced that everything you’re putting down on paper sucks?

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  • Reply
    robert bourne
    March 5, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    I sit on it for a bit then go back and look again..sometimes you get so wrapped up in what your working on you lose focus…even if it’s for an hour I find that makes a diffeerence..

  • Reply
    March 5, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Venessa, I share your pain. Every so often, I reflect back on my writing and say, “OMG, this sucks!”

    I know time might not be on your side, but these things DO TAKE TIME. You’re so caught up in your writer thoughts and isolated bubble of life that it’s hard to think outside the box.

    For me, escapism is key. Don’t dwell on your writing for a night or perhaps even a week. Watch something totally out of the ordinary like a chick-flick (at least, that’s something totally of the ordinary for me). Hang out with some friends who don’t relate to your writing and just experience a refreshing sense of other aspects of life. You’ll find that such moments will allow you to recharge and perhaps, inspire you to think of something new, creative, and forward thinking.

    After the escapism is over, do another reality check of your writing. You’ll often find alternative and better ways to resolve the weakest parts of your writing. In the end, don’t give up. Vent through your blogs (like this post), beat up your husband (just kidding), and continue to revise.

    One good positive outlook: if your writing truly sucks, it can only get better from now on. How exciting! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I would get a second opinion from an appropriate buddy and discuss how I can improve. However, most people do not like to hurt our feelings and just tell us that it’s fine.

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 3:03 am

    As if I’m haven’t been long-winded enough…

    I just saw Orson Scott Card in your author blogroll, and that reminded me of this quote I’ve got up on my bulletin board from him. It says:

    “Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

    “1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

    “2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

    “It’s best if you believe both these things simultaneously, so that you can call on Belief 1 when you’re deciding whether to mail the story out, Belief 2 when going over the story to revise it, Belief 1 when choosing which market to submit it to, Belief 2 when the story is rejected (of course, I *expected* to get this back), and Belief 1 again when you put it back in an envelope and mail it to the next-best market.

    “Of course, believing two contradictory facts at the same time is sometimes referred to as madness — but that, too, can be an asset to a writer.”

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 3:03 am

    I feel for you. Your post sounds way too familiar to me, and as I was reading I kept hearing in my head all the advice I’ve heard over the years. You’ve probably heard similar bits of advice.

    Hopefully, you know the strengths and weaknesses of your critique partner really well. Remember, she’s only one opinion and she comes with her own set of biases.

    An author I really respect, Lindsay Longford, preaches her golden rule of critiquing, which is Do No Harm. She likes to say that for every bad thing you point out in a critique, try to say five good things, because to our ear, criticism far outweighs any compliment.

    If the critique of the first 80 pages really has you worried, give it to a few more trusted people to read. Then don’t listen so much to the specifics of the critiques, but look for trends. If the critiques are fairly consistent, then there may be a problem, but if they’re very different, then it could simply be a matter of personal taste.

    But don’t let the opening slow you down. If you’re already on chapter 7, keep pushing forward. Let the critique move to the back of your head. Some distance might make it easier to work through.

    I remember hearing Jennifer Cruise speak once. She said she never really nails the openings to her books until she’s finished the endings. Maybe, as you do your revision, by the time you revise the ending, the fix to your opening will be obvious.

    Me, personally? I’ve been known to hand a chapter to my critique partners and tell them: “Just tell me it doesn’t suck. That’s all I want to hear: It doesn’t suck.” But then, that only works during the creative phase of writing. It’s not so helpful during the revision stage. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I understand, as well as one can. I have got to be one of the most sensitive people EVER when it comes to taking criticism in regards to my writing…because for me each piece is almost like a child. I love, I care for it, and then I have to send it out into the world and let it fend for itself. And no mom likes to see her kid get beat up…but sometimes it happens all the same.

    My favorite quote on writing…the one I live by:

    ” Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”
    Cyril Connolly

    It helps me to remember where the best writing comes from. Best of luck.

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Ah, one of those critiques. I never liked those that just piled on the negative without at least acknowledging the parts that you did well too. On the other hand, with these critiques I do usually find them to be more accurate than I originally wanted to admit. Keep in mind, you don’t have to change everything they say, it’s your writing, it’s your style, and it is up to you to change what you agree with and adjust it as you see fit.

    Not everyone likes the writing of every author, I think we all know this. I know I’ve certainly had my stories dragged through the mud, but once I cleaned that mud off it really did come out better!

    To actually answer your question, I try to ignore the negative comments and dig into what they are actually trying to say, find the “weakness” and make it stronger, and try not to take it too personal. Though, I know how hard that can be. =/

  • Reply
    Carolyn Bahm
    March 6, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Boy, I’m in touch with this feeling! I get this way periodically about my creative writing. Two things help me:

    1 – I have some fiction and non-fiction pieces I’m particularly proud of — to the point where, when I read them, I can’t believe they came from me. Re-reading these always help me rebound and get some of my cockiness back.

    2 – I’ve been privileged to be in classes taught by several professional authors. Just listening to them as they grope for the right words to critique a manuscript or communicate an idea (or discuss their editing efforts) reminds me that even the great ones are human. They start with the same blank page we do, stare in dismay at the same pile of compost poured onto the page in the first rough draft, and glow with pride when they get the soil just right and see their flowers grow and bloom.

    Yeah, I’m a big fan of the tortured analogy. :oP

    Cheers to you. I believe from the quality of writing in your blog that you have what it takes. :o)

  • Reply
    Venessa G.
    March 6, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks everyone! I know I’m not the only one who feels this way and has these doubts, but at some moments, it really does help to hear from others who do. I appreciate everyone’s wonderful comments and all the suggestions on how to deal with the evil voices in my head.

    I’m in a lot better frame of mind today and am actually working on chapter 7. I’m not going to worry about those first 80 pages right now. I have enough on my plate. Those pages will keep.

    Good writing to you all ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    March 6, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    *sigh*. Writing is rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting. You are not alone in HATING it! haha.

    Keep your chin up!

  • Reply
    March 20, 2008 at 6:03 am

    I tell myself “Oh, I’ve got to that stage now have I?”

    I think it is something that every writer goes through periodically and is another step along the way to the finished work. I’m sure I’ve seen an editor or agent (Miss Snark, perhaps) saying that when, not if, authors reach that stage she encourages them to just keep on writing. I think it helps to know that it is part of the process.

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