Before I go into my revision strategies, I wanted to share some thoughts about the mindset I try to lean into when I revise. Coming up with ideas and writing rough drafts has always been the easier side of writing for me. Revising (and revising and revising) has always presented more of a challenge. I often get discouraged, want to give up on a project, and, in the past, would want to give up on writing altogether, etc. Developing a healthy mindset towards revision has been a crucial part of leveling up my writing and developing a professional writing career. Here are four facets of the revision mindset I’ve adopted over the years.
- Setting the manuscript aside
It’s really important to me that I take enough time between drafts to be able to approach the manuscript with a more balanced and less biased eye. And I don’t just take time off, I work on other writing projects in the meantime. Rotating through different projects helps me take the pressure off any one project, which, in turn, helps me to be willing to revise ruthlessly and sometimes even completely toss that draft to start again.
- Staying focused on goals within my control
I am somewhat obsessed with focusing on writing goals that are 100% within my control. Things I haven’t been able to control over the years: whether any editor wants to acquire my work, whether any given person wants to read my work, whether anyone who reads my work actually likes it, whether there is currently a place for my project in traditional publishing as a business, whether any given project ends up being “on trend” or not, how much time I have to give to my writing vs. the other responsibilities in my life, etc. Things I can control: making my work the best I can currently make it, using the time I do have for writing in productive ways, trying to carve out more time for writing, and working to improve my writing skills over time. When I go into revising a project, I try to block out the many aspects of the business and of life that are out of my control and zero in on what is in my control—crafting this particular manuscript into the best possible story I am currently capable of creating.
- Developing patience with myself/a growth mindset
In order to not waste as much time being frustrated with myself/my writing abilities, I have developed a pretty patient growth mindset over the years. Yes, I am not A Natural Total Genius/The Best Writer Ever. But writing isn’t just about innate talent—it’s also a craft that can be practiced and improved over time. Like woodworking or playing the violin, or any other skill that we view as a learned craft instead of a purely intuitive art. Genius though I am not, I have been able to slowly improve my writing, step by step, year by year, and I plan on continuing to do that for the rest of my life.
- Committing to show up and do the work
If someone has a nine to five job, they have to show up at work and do the work. Writing is my job, so I have to show up and do the work. (And even before I was published, I tried to think of it as A Job, even though I couldn’t put in full-time hours on it.) As stated before, I am (tragically, I know) not a Natural Genius, and can’t just write in pleasant, joyful fits of inspiration. By hook or by crook, I just have to get it done.
This quote by Ira Glass really helped me keep trying, and keep revising, in my pre-published days:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”