Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 'o' Critique Part 2: How to Revise (When You'd Rather Just Drink)

In Monday’s post, INTERN talked about the 14 stages of Critique Acceptance. Today, she’ll focus in depth on #6: paralysis.

Getting a critique of your work-in-progress can feel a bit like getting your plans for your dream house torn apart reviewed by your architect friend. OK, so you always had a feeling that putting a spiral staircase from the bathroom to the balcony didn’t really make sense, but now here’s this outside person telling you that you also need to widen the doors, raise the ceilings, and put in a chimney to go with that fireplace.

How the hell are you supposed to build your house with all these new constraints? How do you even get started? Will it still look even remotely close to the house you envisioned?

Maybe you are a person who picks up a pencil and gets started. Or maybe you find yourself circling the drafts again and again as your brain threatens to explode from the sheer complexity of the task ahead.

Eventually, however, you have to do something. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a cramped, dark, smoke-filled hobbit house and no one will come to visit.

With that in mind, here is INTERN’s secret strategy for dealing with paralysis, listlessness, or Work Avoidance of any sort:

Focus on what you can do.

If you’re feeling too paralyzed to even think about revision, take out a highlighter and highlight all the pages, paragraphs, or individual sentences that don’t need revising. Easy! Fun! It’s just like coloring!

If you’re too afraid of screwing up to start re-writes, make notes. You can’t screw up notes, can you?

If you’re too daunted to think about the high-level issues, go through your manuscript and fix the continuity errors. Or the screwed-up days and dates. Or other nonthreatening, fixable stuff.

If you’re too stumped to write scenes, write sentences. If you’re too scared to write sentences, write words.

There’s always something you can do.

Yes, all you’re doing is avoiding the real work.

Or are you?


Special Ed-sounding tasks like highlighting your good sentences might sound like a waste of time. But the point of these tasks isn’t to make Crucial Advances. The point is to get the ball rolling.

For INTERN, these dumb, easy tasks are like a gateway drug into the real work. Scribbled notes have a way of turning into scenes, and the process of fixing superficial errors has the pleasant side effect of sparking Real Insights.

So that’s INTERN’s secret for getting over paralysis. What’s yours?


  1. You mean after the drinking, the eating and the video games and anything else I can possibly think of to avoid revising? (I clean my writing room so much more thoroughly when I should be revising...)

    To get myself restarted I take a print out of my manuscript and some pens on the bus. I leave the books at home. It's just me, a long busride and my manuscript. (And naps. But they're used for Serious Reward Points only.)

    -- Tom

  2. Totally right about doing *something*. There's always something. When I don't have the mental energy to write something new or rip out the problem passages, I write notes about sequels/prequels/short stories/the secret lives of minor characters. All of which coalesces into brand new writing at unexpected times.

  3. So far, my main way to get over revising paralysis is to start a new book. At least I have a new WIP, even if this method hasn't helped re: revising.

    OR HAS IT?

    Well, it's true I've been using knowledge of what I know I need to revise to improve my initial draft of my WIP. And that has given me confidence to actually start writing revisions for my older manuscript. Although it is still painfully slow.

  4. I have to trick myself into working, taking steps like you mentioned.

    I'll say, "Oh, it's okay. I'm just going to read this chapter and I'll make little notes about what I think I need to change when I actually start editing."

    Then I'll progress to, "Oh, that's such a little correction there. I'll just go ahead and make it so I don't even have to worry about making a note."

    Then that leads to "Oh, this sentence could use rewording. That's easy, too. I'll do that real quick."

    And before you know it, I'm actually doing real editing work!

  5. Haha awesome. I love it. Thanks.

  6. This is incredible, and I love you, INTERN! I will definitely be using some of these ideas on future Days Of Revision Avoidance.


  7. This year I blundered into a really productive habit. Someone gave me a very pretty 5x7 journal from Barnes & Noble, and I've forced myself to write down whatever random thoughts come to me about my manuscript.
    If I have an idea for a scene, but I'm not ready to write it yet, it goes on the cheery pink page of the journal. If I want to consider an edit, but I'm not ready to plow ahead with it, the idea goes in the journal.
    When I'm really stuck, or too overwhelmed to open up the MS itself and start hacking away at it, I open up the journal instead. And 90% of the time, some little tidbit of wisdom I'd written there four nights ago puts my feet underneath me again.
    I think this would work even if the journal weren't pink. Though I could be wrong.

  8. I read INTERN's blog to get over paralysis. Among others who amuse and educate.

    And ewwwwww on the snake. I kill bugs from time to time but I am NOT going to eat one. Unless it flew down my throat during a run and I swallowed it before I could cough it back up.

  9. You read my mind about drinking versus revising!

    Last night I left a party early because I felt guilty about not working on my revisions more that day.

    I ate a KitKat and worked on five short paragraphs. It was a good day!

  10. I usually go for a walk/run in the rain. That always gets me all hyper and then I just want to do something, anything... and plopping myself down in front of a WIP at that point usually does some good.

  11. Sometimes I'll explain to my critiquer why I've done certain things, making it clear that I'm doing it really to make myself think it out (so they can skip it if they want). This works best, though, with plot and character issues.