Flake-out Friday–Ever Feel Like Sisyphus?

Yeah, so sometimes I revise a novel so much, I feel like the poor dude, Sisyphus. (He’s the guy from Greek mythology who has to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill. Spoiler alert: he never makes it to the top.)

This YouTube video captures the tragedy (and humor) of being Sisyphus.



Are You Sincere?

Okay, so I’m still slogging through revisions. It’s fun, daunting, and (forgive me!) tedious all at the same time. When I’m writing an original draft, my brand new plot glides so smoothly across the page, free of the eddies and currents caused by multiple read throughs, strikeouts, hack-jobs, and edits. After three, four, or even twenty tweaks, I’m convinced that I’ve worked and re-worked to the point of turning my once glassy manuscript into a gritty, wrinkled, crumpled piece of paper. It’s at this point where I come close to declaring the whole thing unreadable, disastrous, and generally unfit for anyone’s eyes but my own. Thankfully, reason takes over and I recognize the “good” and edit out the “bad” with relative confidence.

Often, writers refer to revisions as “polishing.” I, too, use that term. It makes me feel good. Polishing indicates pruning, shaping, and overall quality improvement. The finished product is deemed better and therefore good enough to be viewed by others.

*Tangent alert*

Folk etymology describes the development of the word “sincere.” It is derived from two Latin words: sine=without, and cera=wax. In ancient Rome and Greece, dishonest sculptors covered flaws in their work with wax. Since shops in those times were dark places—unfortunately, no fluorescent lighting existed yet—patrons risked purchasing faulty pottery unless they brought the piece outside and inspected its quality in the sun. Trustworthy sellers marked their wares with the term “sincere,” thereby claiming they needed “no wax” to smooth out imperfections.

(I am getting back to my point, I promise this with the utmost sincerity!)

The endpoint or goal of writing is to present a perfect, shiny manuscript, sans flaws, without wax. Sometimes—okay, a lot of the time—it feels like my shadowed, dark world of inventing has blinded me to the mistakes, passive voice, trite ideas, and less than believable characterizations having their way with my sculpture of words. I use revising like wax to smooth out these imperfections. As a result, when I offer my pages for another person to read (sometimes I pity my betas!) I am convinced they will see the flaws, the thick wax covering plot holes, awkward phrasing, disjointed dialogue, and hemorrhaging lines of backstory.

To my endless relief, I’ve gotten incredibly helpful feedback. The changes suggested aren’t as devastating as expected. MAJOR rewriting is not needed. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. The grip of nerves choking my stomach eases. Certainly, the work needs improvement, but it’s manageable. Mistakes, so long as I’m able to recognize them, are allowed. It’s my willingness to learn from them that makes all the difference.

My work is honest, true, my own. It is, in that way, sincere.

Hmmm. Maybe I am a “real writer” after all. I think I’ll go outside and enjoy the sun.

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An Axe Is A Handy Tool

Revisions. The process represents an opportunity to improve one’s writing. Before hand, the price of such an endeavor seems high. When a writer turns pseudo-surgeon, he or she runs the risk of hacking off the wrong limb, resulting in profuse bleeding and gaping wounds in the remaining manuscript.

Deciding what to cut can be difficult. In fact, it can be painful. On the flip side, releasing the once highly regarded word-smithing to the trash bin is like lancing a boil. All that released pressure results in smoothed prose, a better-paced plot, and a reduction in backstory.

Let me cut to the chase. I’ve been struggling with my own revisions. It’s a common thing, I know. I get to the point where I finally complete the manuscript and I think, “Awesome! Task done! Time to celebrate!” Then I remember: nothing is ever d-o-n-e, done. “Finishing” means I get to start over…again. Just call me Sisyphus; instead of rolling a giant stone up a hill, I’m doomed to review every letter and word of my manuscript over and over for all eternity. (Confession alert: That’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Can I just say: “Thank God for Beta readers!” They make me stare directly at my blind spots. They encourage me to face my fears of, “This really does need to be cut,” and “That paragraph, though pretty, does nothing to advance the plot…at all.”  Without that realization, I’d be stuck in the sludge of delusion-land. I would never advance as a “writer.” Stagnation is never a good thing.

So, I want to say thank you to everyone who has pushed me to redo something, to use the delete button relentlessly, to cut out that entire chapter. It hurt, but it felt a lot better at the end.

My new mantra: An Axe Is A Handy Tool

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Locked-In Syndrome

Editing. It’s exciting to reach this stage. It means my “work in progress” is finished, my word count goal accomplished. So why does the word make me take a step back? Maybe it’s because I’ve just spent countless hours transferring ideas, plot lines, character descriptions, and emotional dilemmas from my head onto paper, and now I have to review all of it with an objective eye to delete, cut, and streamline everything I’ve worked so hard to create. It’s like reaching the summit only to realize another mountain twice as tall is waiting to be climbed.

I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I take a deep breath, retie my boots, and trudge ahead with my focus on the next task. Along the way I discover dozens of foot paths I didn’t see before, each one representing a different dialogue, a different side-plot, a different scene. Eventually they will lead to the same end, but I’m reluctant to leave my clear-cut trail, the one leading so directly to the final chapter. What will happen if I take one of these diversions, I wonder. Will I lose sight of my ultimate goal? Is my manuscript at risk of being completely overhauled?

There’s a good chance that my novel will be that much better if I follow an alternate route. Intellectually I know that and at the same time, I feel “locked-in” to what I’ve got. If I change X, I have to change Y, and then Z needs to be smoothed out. As I follow the thought farther, I realize, hey, why stick to the paths I can see?

Now I need a bulldozer.

Oh, boy, one “simple tweak” has turned into a massive reconstruction. This catastrophic mode of thinking happens all before I take even one step. Checking myself, I wonder, what’s so bad about editing? It’s silly to be defeated without even starting. I may find an undiscovered trail leading to a bright oasis. Or I may learn something about my character I never knew before. Editing is an invaluable journey. Hey, now I’m getting excited again.

Phew. Back to work.

I wonder how others cope with facing the challenges of editing. Please do share.