Mid-July I completed my first round of revisions on my manuscript. I was ecstatic and eager to move to the next round — I’d realized part way through that I had some continuity errors that needed to be fixed, and some thematic arcs that needed work. So as soon as the first round was done I printed out the entire manuscript and took a pen to it.
The interesting thing about taking pen to page is that it seems to bump me into editorial brain. And, since it was my own work, I wasn’t about making sure to present my comments carefully so as to not hurt feelings or unduly discourage. I let myself fly and, though I wasn’t aiming to do line-edits this round I did allow for marking those places where I would, at some future point, need to take another look.
Then the margin notes began. “Meh” turned to “eh” to “bah” to “ugh” and finally “gah.” As the shorthand notations of dislike grew I began to seriously doubt myself.
How could I consider myself a writer when every page was covered with sentences and paragraphs that demanded to be rewritten?
Thankfully I realized and recognized this attitude so began to shift what I wrote. The second half of the manuscript has a few meh‘s and plenty of circled passages but most of the line-edit related margin notes simply state “clean up.”
The draft I was revising was just that, a draft. One that I had approached constantly with the thought “that’s what editing and revising is for.” I knew as I wrote it that the work was not my best quality writing, that the paragraphs were problematic from a language usage perspective. My goal had been to simply get the story on the page, with the plan to fix the language later. Of course it was going to need work.
I’ve stepped back from the edge – reassured myself that I am a writer. Perhaps even more so now than ever before as I have been willing to push through the challenges of editing and continue to push through the challenges of more rewriting. If my notes are to be believed I have a lot of word-smithing that awaits me in a future edit. But I can do this.
Part of this first novel process is about learning my process. This revision has taught me that I need to be careful in the future. If I had been editing someone else’s manuscript and it looked like this I would never note a paragraph as gah! I would point out the issues I saw, make suggestions to think about in restructuring, and perhaps some larger issues I saw repeated through the manuscript. I would always include something good (strong potential, good ideas, a great phrase — there is always something good to point to). Why don’t I treat myself with the same kindness? Even if I don’t write it out as clearly, the thoughts need to be kept in mind.
We are often our own worst critics and we deserve to also be our own best cheerleaders. Be gentle with yourselves, fellow writers.
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