Pep Talk for Writers In The Middle of Editing A Manuscript

Are you editing a book? And by editing a book I mean, reading the same good passages over and over to make yourself feel better about all the ways it doesn’t work, constantly refreshing your inbox for beta-reader feedback, and trying to remember why you even started writing this stupid story in the first place? 

Then you, like me, are in desperate need of a pep talk!

Last time when we were adrift and unmotivated in our first drafts, Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights brought us back. This time, we need a bit of a tougher approach. 

Enter Eleanor, from (one of my favorite shows that you should definitely watch just get past the first few episodes) The Good Place. 

Let’s do this!

First of all, I’m totally with you. The editing phase is not fun. You already wrote the story, and sifting through the same pages, issues, and scenes again and again is a far cry from the fun creative wellspring that is developing a world and characters. I hear you and you should probably just take a minute to be bummed that editing is so forking hard. 

Okay good. Now that we’ve gotten the good cry out of the way, let’s move on to what to do about this phase, then. 

Start with the good. Look through your manuscript and your beta-reader feedback and revel in all that you’re doing well. Do you write snappy dialogue? Well done! Is your description spot-on? Hell yeah! Does your book open well? Please tell me all of your secrets because, holy shirt are those opening chapters the hardest to write and you’ve accomplished what I consider to be the absolute hardest part of writing a book.

After you’ve solidly congratulated yourself on all that you do well, it’s time to get elbow-deep in some constructive criticism. I know it’s hard, I know it’s fragile and nerve-wracking, and you absolutely have to do it anyway.

Remember that feedback is there to make your book stronger, clearer, and better. You’re chiseling at this thing every day because you are trying to give your characters voice, your world a stage, your story a home.

Still, it’s hard. It’s hard on your ego, it’s hard on your figurative and literal vision (as you read the same words over and over and over), and it’s hard on your mental agility. At any one time, you could be navigating through timelines, scenes, character perspectives, and plot points, all while trying to scroll to the right spot to paste that one line where it would go perfectly without getting distracted by all the other problems you scroll past along the way. It’s maddening.

You have to be honest and critical, without being cruel to yourself.  You have to acknowledge you’re not as good as you think you are, and still see your potential and be your own biggest cheerleader.

Are you going to quit? You totally can. You can give up at any time. 

Because sometimes, it really does become too much. But I would guess if you’re close to giving up, what you need to do is step away. Like away-away. Take a break from the whole thing and work on something else to get the energy flowing again, or read a book about the the craft of novel-writing (this one is great), or a book for the fun of it. Remember reading for pleasure? Take a hearty manuscript vacation. Your book will be waiting for you.

If a break doesn’t sound like the right move, just keep at it. Every day. The breakthrough will come.

Finally, remember that you’re brave.  Writing a story that comes from your insides that you spent endless hours sculpting is big enough, but then letting other people read it? And then hacking away at all the ways it’s not good enough?! It’s the ultimate exercise in vulnerability for a writer. It takes a true badass to face up to all that you don’t yet know, all that you have left to learn, all that you have to fix.

Editing a book is hard, exhausting, and takes a lot of time, patience, and dedication. You can do this. Whatever it takes for you to do this. Shut out the negativity. Infuse yourself with good energy, surround yourself with good people, and consume good art. The rest will all fall into the good place.

Now get back to work, you have a damn good book to edit.

Write on!


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