“I’m in a terrible place with the revisions,” an accomplished and well-published writer friend wrote to me. “After a few hours today, I’m feeling really depressed and incapable.”
Even if you love to revise (and I have writerly friends who really love this process), revising your writing can be painful.
So painful, in fact, that revising your writing actually hurts.
I’ve been in that dark terrible hole of self-doubt where it feels like every change you make and every revision you do is just weakening your writing.
Sometimes you have to go into a pit of muck and misery in order to climb back out again.
But even when you know that intellectually, and even when you’ve been through the revision process before and your writing has been that much better after the rounds of revisions, the knowledge that you will eventually have a more polished and perfect piece of prose rarely makes it easier emotionally while you’re in the thick of it.
So how do you save your sanity when revising your writing is making you miserable?
1) Take a break and exercise. When Peter Ferry was writing his novel, Travel Writing, he would go for a bicycle ride to clear his head and figure out how to fix a weak spot in his novel. Ferry says one secret to revising your writing is to incorporate movement into your day.
2) Take a nap. Studies show that even a 20-minute snooze can help clear your head and improve your cognitive abilities. Throw yourself on the bed and sleep off the revision despair.
3) Take some fish oil and/or eat a fish sandwich. If you’re a vegetarian this won’t work but fish is brain food. Maybe it’s completely psycho-somatic or maybe it’s because it fixes my blood sugar to eat, but when I’m trying to untangle a problem in my writing, it always helps me to eat some fish.
4) Splurge on something that motivates you to work. My vice is organic dried mango. It’s so expensive that I don’t buy it often. I use the dried mango to bribe myself to get revisions done.
5) Call a writer friend. Misery loves company. We’ve all been there. If you’re having a hard time revising your writing and you’re finding the whole process painful, pick up the phone and call a friend and commiserate. Texting and Facebooking don’t count. Talking in person or on the phone with another working writer will make you feel better. And just voicing out loud the trouble you’re having will help you find the mojo to keep going.
Do you enjoy the process of revising your writing or would you rather get your molars pulled than rewrite a single sentence? What works for you when you’re despairing over revisions?
Published: October 6, 2010
Last update: March 5, 2022