I’m here. I actually made it.
I told myself I would wait to post again on the blog until I finished round one of revisions on my manuscript.
Here’s how I thought that would go:
(September 16th, early evening) HEYYY GUYYSSS!!!! I DID IT!!! I DID IT!!! I’M ON TRACK AND I JUST TURNED IN THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF WRITING EVER!!! TIME FOR A BRISK VICTORY LAP AS I BASK IN GLORY!!!
If you haven’t caught on yet, this post is not going to go in that direction. In fact, many times over the past four (FOUR! I cringe) weeks I wondered if I would ever get to this place. I pictured myself falling down a black hole where lazy and incompetent writers go to die. This hole has been after me for years, of course. It sneers whenever I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It opens its jaws every so slightly.
“Come on in,” it says. “We have Netflix, and junk food, and a job that will suck out your soul but pay you lots of money so you’ll think your purpose in life is fulfilled.”
“Never!” say I, knowing full well I get to have small amounts of junk food and Netflix on my side of the universe. And of course, also knowing that nothing else in life will make me feel fulfilled apart from writing. I’d rather write terrible words every day, crawling inch by inch towards improvement, than have my mediocre words gilded and hung up on someone’s refrigerator.
I’m starting the black hole talk again. Let’s segway into another topic, in a non sequitur that’s nearly as abrupt and poor as the transitions between my manuscript’s current chapters! Hahahaha… heh heh.
I’ll give a few facts and figures to how this revision went, for anyone interested. Then I’d actually like to discuss the dark side of moving up in the writing business. Disclaimer: the dark side is actually crucial for anyone wanting to write. It’s just… surprising.
Facts: In the TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS of this revision…
The first FIVE DAYS were spent researching, taking notes, and re-outlining the book. My mentors provided me with amazing sources, and it took a full two days’ worth of work to sort through them all and copy down diligent notes for applying to my manuscript later on. I also attended an all-day SCBWI conference during this time, which contributed to helping me reshape the manuscript as well.
The following ELEVEN (yes eleven, I am cringing so hard at myself) DAYS were spent not writing. They were spent on an extensive road trip for my brother’s wedding. This trip included the preparations and packing (two days), the several day journey out (two days), the several day wedding extravaganza (three days), the several day journey in (two days), and the resettling/unpacking (two days). I also got into a huge tiff with one of my best friends during the resettling period, which was a major distraction for the time I did set aside for writing. To be clear, of course I don’t regret being a part of my brother’s wedding. It was an incredibly special event and I was wholly honored to be a part of it as well as spend time with my relatives. Was I surprised at my inability to simultaneously be a writing machine during this time? …Yeah, I was.
The next FOUR DAYS were spent constructing and deleting and reconstructing and redeleting the first three chapters of the manuscript. A lot of tears were shed during these days. I decided on numerous occasions that oh well, I would never be an author, black pit here I come. But then about ten minutes into my Netflix episode I would throw my bucket of popcorn down and stomp back over to my computer. Finally on the fourth day I sent in my stupid horrible three chapters to my mentors, who patted my head and told me they were in fact just fine and to keep writing the actual rest of the book.
The last EIGHT DAYS were spent writing the remaining twenty-two chapters of the book. And yes, I do mean writing. My outline entailed major plot changes, and ultimately about ninety-five percent of the narrative needed to be rehashed to make everything work.
Typing out this timeline certainly gives me a little laugh, a manic writer’s laugh of course, because looking at the process of this revision is not at all like basking in glory. It’s more of a study in my limitations and strengths as a writer. When I’m down to the wire I know how to produce. But when I’m certain that my book is terrible and I’ll never hack it in the writing world? That slows my process down to a grinding halt.
I’ve gone through these spirals before, of course. But the difference this time was that I had people to disappoint if I didn’t follow through. In the past, I might have thrown down the pen (or more likely closed the Word document) and decided to simply take a break from writing.
Writing is supposed to be fun, not stressful, I might have thought. I would find a handful of reasons to validate my decision and then go and hide in other pockets of my life until writing would eventually come sniffing out a few weeks or months later and find me again.
But that was so NOT going to happen this time. This time, I had people counting on me. I had three official Pitch Wars writing mentors, plenty of unofficial writing mentors, writer friends in Pitch Wars, writer friends outside of Pitch Wars, two active CPs rooting for me, and then the usual crowd of friends and family. I had professional deadlines. I had an agent round to get to, darn it!
When I think about this scenario from a distance, it feels like I should have been invigorated by the crowd of supporters. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this responsibility didn’t lift me up out of my couch and fly me over to the computer to get straight to work.
But it didn’t.
Instead it crushed me down like giant barbells on my shoulders. The pressure to not screw up, to keep up with the other mentees, was debilitating. I felt nauseous daily. I consoled myself alone, and when that didn’t work I reached out to my support team and received plenty of love and support. But it still didn’t console me like I had hoped. Up until the moment I hit “send” on the email entitled “DOPPELGANGER- Revision round 1,” I honestly wasn’t sure if I would get through it.
Every new chapter was a new set of anguish. Was I making the story worse? Did I lose some important themes or motifs along the way? Did I ever have any motifs to begin with? Was my earlier version always this bad and I had been stuck wearing rose-colored glasses for five months??
A pretty well-known idiom states that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” And I see that. I attest to it. But I’d like to add a saying of my own:
“The harder they fall, the greater they come back.”
Shortly before I found out that I was accepted into Pitch Wars, my husband and I decided to take an eighteen mile hike up and down the mountains behind our house. I remember setting off in much the same way I started out these revisions. I was energetic, cocky, and looking forward to celebrating our grand success by telling everyone. Fast forward nine hours later and we’re shuffling the last mile back to our car. I’m bawling, barely moving, and at this point I’m one hundred percent certain that one toe is broken and seventy percent sure another toe is broken as well (I turn out to be correct about both.) We get to the trail end and I don’t feel like boasting, I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m embarrassed and still crying and I don’t think my husband has even seen me deteriorate like this. He steals glances at me as we practically crawl across the parking lot to our car. I wonder if he’s regretting this entire marriage decision he made two years ago.
“Sorry I’m such a wimp,” I sob as I turn on the ignition.
“Wimp?!” he says. “I just watched you claw and fight and push yourself beyond your limit.”
“But you didn’t hit your limit,” I say (still sobbing). “It was easier for you.”
“Yes,” my husband says. “So I didn’t work as hard as you. You just grew today. You’re a survivor. Look how strong you are. Now you’re an even better hiker than you were this morning.”
My husband is asleep in the next room right now, but I imagine that if he were awake, he would give me this same kind of motivational speech.
I just got through my first round of Pitch Wars revisions. No, it was not easy. Yes, it took a lot more time than I expected it to. No, the manuscript isn’t perfect. Actually it’s currently in very rough form, because I have to make sure the story and plot are working before I go in and edit smaller patches. I don’t feel cocky. I don’t feel proud. I don’t feel much like celebrating.
But I got through it. I pushed myself beyond my limits as a writer. I’m learning what it’s like to write being watched. I’m learning what it’s like to turn and gawk at other writers sprinting out ahead of me while my mentors gently tap my shoulder and say “it’s not a race, it’s not a race.”
And it’s not a race, of course. No one is racing me to finish writing my book. It’s my book, not anyone else’s. And it will keep pushing me to be a better writer in the long run.
Okay, * takes deep breath.*
… Time for round two.