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We have all done it. No, really; it’s okay to admit it. No one here will judge you. It’s a part of the writing process, like it or not.  All you have to do is say it out loud and admit it to yourself: My name is *insert name* and I have had revision angst problems for *insert a ungodly amount of time*.

There, now doesn’t that feel better? Has that weight lifted off your chest yet? No?  Still feeling like you’re the only one in the world that thought your first draft was peaches and sunshine only to have your editor tell you what you just wrote–your blood, sweat, and tears–is more suited for the trashcan than the New York Times Bestsellers List.

You’re not alone. I routinely write articles or some other works (this post not excluded) and think to myself (or cry, for that matter), “WHY AM I EVEN AN EDITOR?”

But then I reel in the angst and calmly remind myself that first drafts are crud and revising only makes me a better writer in the long run. 

*Now take a deep cleansing breath*

Manuscripts are like our babies in a way. The hard work, the time, the research, and the utter brilliance you thought you put into your book should be perfection by the time you go over it a second time. But the angst comes when you realize what you thought was brilliant isn’t so shiny after all. Not all is lost, though.

Let’s discuss what revision angst is really and why almost every author has succumbed to its evil embrace.

Revision angst is the feeling or state of mental dismay an author will experience after writing their first draft of anything.  And I’m not talking about rereading your work and spell checking that sucker. I’m talking about stripping the layers of your work down to the bare bones and examining it until you’re blue in the face and realizing that what you’ve spent so much time on could have been written by a second grader. Or you simply wrote a five-hundred page women’s lit that needs to be cut down to three hundred pages and you can’t imagine cutting even one of your beautiful words.

The torture!

My first words of advice to any author that has the angst is… Stop it and get over yourself!

If you spent two years perfecting the greatest love story of all time that also happens to be a dystopian novel set in Los Angeles on the brink of the zombie apocalypse, you may be overstretching your genre.  Granted you may have nailed the romance part, but be careful that your other elements (dystopian and zombies) may need some developing or (the horror) cutting. The point is that as an author you know what you want to say, but just because you have written it all out, doesn’t mean it all needs to fit into one book to make sense.

Revision is key in novel writing and I can’t stress this enough. If you wrote a twenty-sentence paragraph and can’t possibly cut one word, that could be a problem. Not because every word is vital, more so that you will tend to think your whole book will have this same vitalness, which will make it wordy, mundane, boring, and inane. So how do you get over your revision problem?

  • After you have gone over your manuscript two to five times find a good group of objective peers who can look over your work and give you honest feedback about development, wordiness, plot, etc. Then listen to all suggestions and remarks; this is when you grow that backbone you have been missing. If you can’t take criticism, you shouldn’t be writing in the first place. These peers are your first readers before your work is live to the world. They can help you sharpen your story so it’s tight and concise. If you can’t stomach their comments, image what reviewers will do to you.
  • Find a good editor.  It may cost some money, but it is money well spent to find someone who can help you present a body of work you can be proud of. There are so many editing services an author can use: manuscript assessments, content editing, copy editing, and proofreading. While editing can be brutally painful, if you ask any published author they will say it gave them the piece of mind they wouldn’t have had without it.

Revision doesn’t have to be a dirty word or a problem. As an author, you have to learn to let go and accept that your first draft of brilliant words will be cut and criticized. If you don’t believe this, you’re just living in la-la land.

As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”


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