on getting a story published

unstuck2My short story “Family Mart” was published in Unstuck Vol. 2 back in December. And though I announced it on Facebook and Twitter, I just realized I never wrote about it here. Ack, social media. Anyway, this was exciting, exciting news for me. Encouraging progress just when it felt like my writing had stalled. Unstuck took a big chance on me – they liked “Family Mart” but wanted changes. I had been receiving a lot of “almost” responses to the story for over a year. That is, personal responses from lit mag editors who said they liked it, but… sorry, no. Some of the almost-but-nos may have had to do with the content – “Family Mart” is fantastical (a woman wakes up with a hoof instead of a hand) and a lot of magazines focused on literary fiction just aren’t quite willing to go there. The story ended up being named a finalist in a couple of contests, but never published. I knew it needed something but I didn’t know what. The editors at Unstuck had a lot of excellent suggestions and were patient as I worked through several revamps of the piece and I am so grateful for that. I hope “Family Mart” is the better for it.

I should back up and say that I began writing “Family Mart” in 2007. Yep, that’s right, from start to publication took five years. I suppose that is one of the biggest reasons I was so thrilled to see it in print. Finally! It’s a now-6,000 word finished, published story that over the past 5 years went through so many rewrites I lost count (50?) and had to create a separate folder on my computer to house them all so I could manage to find the most current one. I felt strongly about this story in a way that I don’t often feel about other pieces – that is, I wasn’t willing to let it go or to gather dust on my hard drive, forgotten, and thus the five years of rewriting, re-plotting, re-thinking, and submitting. I’m glad I stuck with it. I hope my next published story doesn’t take nearly so long.

Unstuck publishes literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal, which is, of course, exactly what I was looking for. Its second issue includes work by Steve Almond, Kate Bernheimer, Jedediah Berry, Gabriel Blackwell, Edward Carey, Jonathan Lethem & John Hilgart and Paul Lisicky. I’m honored to be in such company and so impressed with the issue itself — more than 500 (print!) pages of some wonderful, inventive stories. Order yourself a copy! Or download the Kindle version.

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The power of editorial suggestion

I have a publication coming up. I’m thrilled about this – thrilled that my short story finally found a home after some 3 years of sending out various versions of it, of getting some finalist mentions, very nice, personal rejections and a lot of flat-out no-ways. And I’m thrilled that the editors of the magazine it will appear in took a chance on me. Because they did: They accepted the piece under the condition that we work together to revise it.

I suspect this is unusual. I wrestled with whether to accept these conditions. On the one hand, my writerly ego wanted desperately to believe that my story was great the way I had decided it should be and other than minor copy-editing, it should be published as is. As a former editor I of course know better than that and told my writerly ego to shut up. I was worried about my own ability to revise a story that I had already revised some 50 times — in the end, a valid worry. (No, sadly, the 50 times are not an exaggeration.) But I decided to go with it. I agreed: You suggest edits, I revise. I revise to your standards, you publish.

A year later the story has been revised several times, drastically, and it will appear in print very soon. The process was an interesting one for me. I have been edited before, mostly as a journalist, but quite possibly I have not been edited before on a piece of writing I felt so strongly about. This story was a pet project of mine for reasons I cannot explain. Changing it so much raised big questions; questions that I have not often seen discussed: How much revision is enough? How much is too much? Who decides? Does editor always know best? Is there a point at which one should stop and listen to that writerly ego? And from a fairly unpublished writer’s standpoint, there’s the power issue: At what point does the need to get published trump ownership of your writing? That is, is editorial compromise for the sake of the work, or for the goal of publication? I’m not sure the two can be separated.

I don’t know that I have answers to a lot of these questions. I was lucky to have some very attentive editors who made a lot of fantastic suggestions. I was lucky to be given the chance to rewrite my story. The story went in a new direction that I might not have chosen without the editorial prodding. It’s going to be published. For now, that’s enough.

It begins again.

I haven’t written anything new in a long time. I spent much of the 2nd half of 2011 revising and reconsidering writing that I’d begun, in some cases, years before. This was a good thing, as I am a horrible procrastinator when it comes to revisions. I would put off revising forever if I could. But alas, good stories, essays, novels, etc. don’t spring wholly formed and perfect from our brains. Or at least, from most people’s brains. I had to seize the revision momentum and go with it. I suspect that revision, while still somewhat gut-wrenching to me, has gotten easier. That more practice with revision has resulted in less time wasted, improved editing skills, and a sharper eye. It took me years – literally, years! – to understand what was involved in revision. It’s not just about cutting words or adding paragraphs or polishing sentences, though it could involve all of those. It’s about pinpointing what is working and what is not, about finding flaws of logic and blips of out of place action, writing, or characterization. It’s about seeing the parts at work in the whole.

All of this revision has paid off: I made progress with stories I had long ago declared dead. I got an acceptance for a story I have been shopping around for more than three years and writing and revising for five. The story was a finalist in a contest at a major magazine two years ago. After that milestone, I submitted it with a confidence and fervor that I had not applied to any other piece of writing. And still it took two years to find a home for it.

If this sounds discouraging, I do not mean it to. What I suppose I’m getting at is that this is a tough business, writing. For example, the magazine that accepted it wants another revision before publication. Good stories don’t spring wholly formed and perfect from our brains and they don’t even end up that way after 47 revisions. There is always room for more revision to be done.

The concerns about the story from the editors are valid; I have known there was something that needed to be clarified in the story, but despite the many, many revisions the piece went through (I lost count), I could never quite get at what that was. So I’m thrilled and grateful –they’ve agreed to take on a story that needs work, and they’ve agreed to help me make the needed tweaks that I couldn’t quite see. The surprise, beyond the acceptance, is how relieved I am that someone finally “gets” this story and what it needs after all this time.

And so, it begins again. And again, and again. That’s writing.

How to revise (I think), part II: the hard part

Part I in this series is here. As you may remember, we left off with a printed copy of the piece, covered in red ink indicating possible revisions. Next:

4. Back to work and back to the computer. Save a new copy of the piece of writing. I’ve got my paper copy covered in red ink, and I’ve got my brand new electronic copy, ready for the revisions. This is the hard part! I now go over every red mark on my paper copy and make the related changes on my electronic copy. There’s something about seeing potential revisions on a hard copy next to my computer that helps me as I proceed to re-read and re-analyze. Of course,  I now have to make decisions (ack!): Do I really want to cut that sentence, or add a graph there? How can I reword X?
I go through each red mark, one by one. Some days I only get through a page or two, some days it’s more than that. I might end up cutting extraneous wording, rewriting a sentence and adding a graph one day, and simply considering the consequences of cutting a word or two another day. It takes a long time, and it’s not easy. Sometimes I still have trouble making a decision and will often change the color of text I’m considering adding or deleting to remind myself of the option while I’m going through the piece and working on other changes. (I recently realized that I most often end up going with my original, gut instinct, which is why I value that first impression so much.) I sometimes stop working on the computer and return to my hard copy. I find that when I’m having trouble rewriting a line or paragraph, it can be helpful to try writing it longhand. (I suspect this is because the computer makes for laziness – I tend to try to move words around, to cut and paste rather than rewrite. Picking up a pen forces me to start over.)

5. Be ruthless and detached. Notice everything. Question everything. Act like you didn’t write the piece in question and you’re reading it in a magazine (but in the most critical way possible, like you have to discuss it in a class, or give a presentation on it). I can’t provide steps for this part, only some nebulous ideas about how I proceed:

-I operate on a “less is more” philosophy, which is why cutting is such an important part of my revisions. If there’s a sentence, or a paragraph, or even a word in my piece that isn’t serving a purpose, I try to cut it. You might ask yourself why it’s there, or what purpose it could serve, but in the end, if you can’t come up with a good reason for it, it needs to go.

-When I said that I’m on the lookout for anything that makes me stumble, I mean anything. Sometimes I might not know what the solution is, but a word, punctuation, paragraph, or sentence that makes me stop in a story or essay is a problem. Ditto for problems with logic and timing (she took her watch off in the last scene and now she’s wearing a watch again?), anachronisms, flaws in research/factual errors, etc. They’re all bumps in the road. One way to find speedbumps is to read your piece out loud and/or have someone else read it to you. Any point in your writing that causes you to have to re-read the wording, or to stop, or get confused – you have a problem that needs fixing.

-A lot of the changes I’m talking about making here are grammatical, or structural, or just general aesthetics. But I tend to think there’s a relationship between those things and a well-written, smoothly flowing story or essay with a coherent plot. I think structural and grammatical problems are often signs of other issues in plot, character development, timing, organization, etc. For me, when I’m struggling with one of those larger, more abstract problems (even if I don’t realize I am) my confusion sometimes comes out in poor writing, awkward wording, or other speedbumps. They end up being clues to larger problems that I need to fix.

-Consider consistency. On occasion I’ve found the tone/voice I started with in a piece isn’t the one I ended up with, and that’s something I address in a revision — even if I’m aware of it while I’m writing the first draft.

-On a somewhat related note, I remember reading in Ron Carlson Writes A Story that as he was revising his story, he did one pass on the piece to make it colder. As in, the story took place on a cold winter night, and he didn’t feel that he’d made the reader feel the temperature enough with his descriptions. He felt it was important to the mood of the story, and so he rewrote to amp up the wintry feeling. That kind of blew my mind – I’d never considered making that kind of single-minded, precise revision. Now I do. For example, I recently wrote a short story that had a lot in it about birds, and as I revise it, I’m not only considering whether the detail on the birds is enough, and factually correct, but also whether the language in certain parts of the story is birdy enough. Can I amplify the feeling of flight, for example, with my word choice? So, I guess to summarize, consider the themes, motifs, settings and mood of your story/essay and whether any aspects of those need to be punched up or toned down.

6. Print it out again. When I’ve gone through all of my red marks and cut, added, changed, re-written, etc. and I think I’m through with all of my intended revisions, I usually print out my piece again. I’m not as critical of a reader on this pass; I just try to read for enjoyment and … smoothness. I try to put myself in the place of a reader who has never seen the piece, and read from their perspective. I’m looking for additional changes I might need to make, of course, but I’m assuming that most of these changes are minor, perhaps slight wording or punctuation alterations that make the piece more readable. I also try think as if I had never read the piece before, and if there would be anything else I’d want to know. (Occasionally, my brain makes a leap in a story that doesn’t get conveyed on paper, and I want to make sure that anyone else who might read it is going to make that same leap.)

7. Decide what “done” means to you. I have written on this blog before about how to know whether a piece of writing is “done” or not. I certainly don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but after a thorough revision, I tend feel either:

1) That I’ve done the best I can and the story/essay is as close as I can get it to what I wanted it to be; it’s time to send it out. I don’t mean that it’s perfect, but I feel good/confident about it, and I can’t imagine another thing I could do to it right now, based on the hopes/plans I had for it from the outset. Finished! Time to move on.

2) That I’ve done all I can do to revise the piece right now, but I’ve got a nagging feeling that something still isn’t quite right. The problem is that I don’t know what the something is. I might know at what point in the story/essay the problem occurs, but I don’t know what to do about it. This is when I sigh, feel depressed, put the piece away again and hope that time away provides me with some insight when I start the revision process over again. (Alternatively, if I had a writers’ group/writing buddy that I turned to, I might seek their help at this point, and that might allow me to avoid another forced break.)

As I’ve said, revision is a nebulous process, and it’s a hard one to provide directions for. If these steps feel less than concrete, well, that’s because the process is a slippery one, and a personal one. Only you as the writer know what you wanted to create and whether your piece has reached that potential or not. And every writer is bringing every piece of writing knowledge they’ve ever gotten to the table for the revision process and that makes for different kinds of thinking for everyone. The more I revise my work, the more I see that’s it’s all about your gut instincts, and developing enough experience at revising to make those gut responses stronger and easier to act on. I’ve come to understand that my instincts are even more important in the revision phase than in the creation phase. It sure seems like it should be the other way around.

How to revise (I think), Part I

A note: The following is what works for me. No doubt it won’t work for everyone. It’s a process that I’ve come to slowly (am still coming to?) over several six or seven years. During that time I’ve tried to understand and accept (most of) my writing-related habits, both good and bad, and that’s been key to developing a routine revision process. And it’s also been key to trusting my instincts when it comes to revisions — which is, I think, half the battle. I wish someone had given me the following advice five years ago, but at the same time, I think that the only way to get yourself a revision process is to do it. Write stuff, and then revise it. Again and again. There are probably a million ways to go about revising a piece of writing, and it’s a matter of finding what works for you. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, here’s how I do it, but I don’t mean this to be taken as some sort of panacea of revision processes. It’s just one person’s routine.

1. Finish the piece of writing. I don’t mean to sound flippant; I’m absolutely serious. One great impediment to my attempts at revision in the past (and still, sometimes, when I lapse into old habits) was over-editing while I was writing. I’m one of those writers who likes to tweak, endlessly. Sometimes I never reached the end of an essay or story, because I got so caught up in perfecting what I had already written that I lost momentum. I think there are a lot of writers who are perfectionists, who agonize over every word, sentence, character behavior, etc., and I think it’s an easy trap to fall into. But seriously? Don’t. Just write through to the end. Force yourself. Let your misspellings go uncorrected, let strange plot twists you aren’t quite sure about stay in the document, let some facts go unresearched. Leave holes. Just power through. Do not go back and reread from the beginning of the piece over and over again. I know it’s easier said than done, but it makes revising a lot easier. (For me, a big help in getting beyond my over-edited, obsessed-with-perfection writing process was doing NaNoWriMo. I highly recommend it as an exercise in letting go and freeing up your inner, less-perfect, just-get-through-the-first-draft writer.)

2. Put your piece of writing away. Save a copy, print it out, or whatever measures you usually take to safeguard a manuscript. Then put it away, forget about it, don’t open the file. In my experience, the longer you can stay away, the better. For me ‑– and this is just me – I need a minimum of a month away from something I’ve just completed. Two-to-four months works better than one month, if you have that luxury. (I am assuming that what you’ve written isn’t some freelance project that has a short deadline, and likely therefore an editor to guide revisions.) I do this with short stories and essays – I give myself a certain amount of time to write a first draft, say a month, then I close the file and don’t return until some time has passed. I can see that this might be a more challenging thing to do if you’re writing something longer, say, a novel or memoir. But potentially it could work, by writing a chapter, putting it away, and then moving on to the next while the first chapter “rests.” I read somewhere (maybe in On Writing?) that Stephen King writes his novels straight through in a relatively short period of time, working very long days, and then puts the manuscript in a drawer for as long as a year before attempting any revisions or further drafts. So I suppose that’s another way of handling revisions to a longer work.

When you’ve been away long enough that the words feel foreign to you, or maybe you’ve forgotten some aspects of what you’ve written, then it’s time to get it back out again. I have actually been putting myself on a revision schedule so that I don’t put off doing the work indefinitely. (Yes, I hate revising so much that I would avoid doing it forever.) For example, I wrote a short story in January, and I told myself I’d begin revising it in May. It wasn’t an arbitrary deadline — I had planned to accomplish other writing goals in the intervening months and so May was the next opening on my writing calendar.  I had definitely forgotten a lot of things about that story when I began revising, so I was feeling clear-headed and unattached to the writing. My only goal for the month of May was to revise that story and send it out.

3. Don’t touch the computer….yet. Print out your piece of writing and grab a red pen. On my first re-reading of the work, I mark things that sound awkward to me as I read. I am looking for phrases that are worded oddly, anything that makes me stumble, and anything I can cut: Redundancies, unnecessary explanatory sentences, unnecessary dialogue, over-written language (you know, that whole “kill your darlings” bit). Maybe it’s the former newspaper editor in me, but I try to be ruthless at this point, particularly with the cutting. There’s no harm done, because you’re using a red pen on a printed version of your piece which of course you’ve got another copy of elsewhere, so you can always change your mind about what to cut/change later. But because you’ve been away from the work for a while, your first pass is your “first impression” of the piece. I tend to notice more in the first reading than in subsequent ones, and so the feeling that some wording is not quite right or that a sentence could be cut is usually an accurate one, and it’s a feeling you can lose touch with quickly as you get more involved with the piece again. It’s at this point that I also write notes and questions to myself in the margins. Include more X here? Consider adding a graph here? Need more explanation of this? That kind of thing. I suppose I should point out that I am not actually making any final decisions about cutting, changing or adding to the piece. I’m just getting my initial impressions out on the paper. This phase of the revision is not necessarily fast. I sometimes spend as much as a week marking up a short story with my handy red pen. When you think you’ve finished, put the pen down and walk away. Take at least a day off. Go for a run or do some yoga, or whatever it is you do that helps your mind rest. Let your subconscious ponder your questions while you’re asleep.

Coming soon: Part II, the hard part.

Wednesday things

1. I noticed this morning that a story I’ve been working on lacks any sort of central conflict. Oops. So I’ve hit a dead end on that one, perhaps. Or maybe it just needs some time to marinate for a while. Sigh. Or maybe I just need to take a shower. I get a lot of good ideas in the shower, for reasons I cannot explain. (Random related question: Is there some kind of shower-friendly white board type of thing out there, for writing down the ideas that come while you’re washing your hair? If not, someone should invent that. Really.)

2. I spent much of yesterday morning working on a revision of the story that was workshopped at the writers’ conference, and I realized that finally, after years of struggle, I have an actual revision process. It’s not pretty, and I still detest revising, and I try to escape from my desk every five minutes or so while doing it, but the process/routine is there. I feel good about that. I now see why revision isn’t easily taught. Now that I think of it, probably this could be the subject of its own post. Hmm.

3. Ever send your work out to a lit mag, and a few months later think, “Oh yeah, hey, I wonder what the status of that is?” and then realize the magazine you submitted to ranks among the 25 Most Slothful, in terms of response times? Yeah, me too.

4. Finally, I saw this excellent bumper sticker yesterday:

Have a lovely Wednesday!

on (not) letting go

Two events have me feeling a bit unsettled. Over the weekend I sent out my short story to be reviewed by the members of the writers’ workshop I’ll be attending later in the summer. This morning I returned the proofs of another short story to the editors of the magazine that will publish it in the fall.

When is a piece of writing complete enough to be sent out into the world? I know that I’ve done all I can to both of these stories for now. Last week my head was swimming from looking at them so many times. I could no longer read them and see where change could occur. I could no longer read them, period.

And yet: I did not feel that the story I sent to the writers’ workshop was quite … well, it just wasn’t there yet. I wanted more time to think about it. If I did not have the workshop coming up, I would have put the story away for a few months then come back to it. I would have written another story that included one of the characters from this one, which would have helped me develop that character further in the original story. It’s likely I will still do that. But I know that the raw story is out there somewhere, and while that’s OK (I am, after all, looking forward to getting feedback on the piece, and there needs to be room for feedback) I feel uneasy about it, too.

As for the proofs, I had not looked at that story in several months, and it felt very different to me after all that time. I felt that I could tweak the writing quite a bit. Is there a point at which writers feel they can stop tweaking words here and there? I think that if you’re at the point where you’re just making those kinds of small adjustments it means you’re done, and yet. I made a few small changes to the proofs, not as many as I could have, or wanted to, because I know that the time for lots of changes — just made because I wanted to make them — had passed. I had to let it go. I feel a sense of excitement that the story will soon be published, but at the same time, I’m horrified. How can that story be published?! I want to keep tweaking and adjusting and changing things. But I have to let it go. It’s time to move on to something else.

Do authors ever return to their previous books and wince? Do authors ever return to their previous books at all? I remember when I went to hear Joan Didion read in Boston and she said she never thought about her earlier works or her body of writing as a whole. She dismissed them as if they didn’t exist. “It was just something I wrote,” she said.

When does one get to the point where what you’ve written feels like that, “just something I wrote,” instead of some long process involving lots of anxiety and overprotective feelings and an inability to let go?

on truth

I’ve been wrestling with the same essay for about five years now. It’s a chapter of the travel memoir I wrote about living in Korea, which became my MFA thesis. The chapter always stood alone better than some of the others, and for that reason it’s the one section of the book that I’ve sent out to literary magazines. It was a finalist in a contest I entered a few years ago, and that little bit of a confidence boost has left me reluctant to let the piece die despite a number of rejections since then. I know that there’s something to the essay, but in the past year or so I’ve realized some tweaks were needed. In the years since I first wrote the piece the writing has become stale to me; some days I just assumed I’d looked at it too many times, but on others, I saw that the writing could be better. Because I looked at the piece so, so many times, I have had a hard time making myself work to improve it in order to send it out again. I have been easily frustrated by it. I’ve been bored by it.

Since the beginning of this year though, I’ve been trying. Really hard. I’ve printed the essay out and ripped through it with a red pen several times. It was longer than 5,000 words, which is the prose cutoff for some lit mags, and I managed to shave more than 1,000 words off of it — which to my surprise, improved it. I tightened some sentences, and eliminated words and phrases that I had realized didn’t add anything. Still, something wasn’t right. I got frustrated again. I wondered if I should give up on the essay altogether.

In my previous post, one of my suggestions for getting unstuck when mired in a writing project was to “get at the truth.” I’m not talking about fact vs. fiction when I use the word truth; at least not exactly. In my previous post I think I referred to what I’m talking about here as “the emotional core” of a piece of writing. It is responsible for an element of believability; it is hard to quantify or describe. But as a reader, you know it when you come across it. It’s that something that pulls you into a piece of writing.

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News flash: Momentum is important.

This month I’ve managed to finish, revise, and send out a short story that’s been dangling unfinished and unworkable since 2007. I’m feeling pretty good about this. The story was one of two unfinished pieces I began in 2007 that have been gnawing at me ever since.

I don’t intend to take so long to write anything so short ever again. Revisions are one thing; sometimes you need time to be able to understand what a piece of writing needs before you can make changes to it. But these two stories were sitting as unfinished first drafts on my hard drive for an exceedingly long time, particularly for two pieces of writing that are so short. (The story I wrapped up and sent out this month ended up being 14 double-spaced pages, about 5,000 words.)

The story, before I proofed and revised it a couple of times, reflected the fragmented writing process that went into it. It’s hard, after all, to pick up where you left off if it’s been so long since you left off you don’t remember where it was you left off in the first place. And so, when I finally got through the first draft and began revising, I realized that I’d switched tenses as often as paragraph to paragraph. I’m not, it should be said, normally a tense-switcher, but so much time had elapsed between writing sessions on this particular story that I don’t think I knew what tense I was writing in whenever I returned to the piece. What a mess. It may seem simple to go back and fix something like that, and compared to major plot changes, I suppose it is. But I ended up having to spend a lot of time going back over the story and discerning what tense, exactly, what the right one, and then making sure I fixed all of the instances of the wrong one. Ugh. I hope not to have to do that again.

One thing I got from attempting NaNoWriMo this year was an understanding of what it means to bang out a draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do need to reach an endpoint before you can polish and revise. My M.O. from now on is going to be faster, less polished writing — with actual endings. Momentum is important. Revisions can come later.

Now that I’ve finished getting this story out the door, I’m wondering what to tackle next. I have numerous essays that need to be revised and sent out (and that second, unfinished short story!) but I’m itching to start something new. Something big.

The voice that needs to be heeded. And ignored.

After several days of taking care of a very sick little boy, I managed to escape today. The boy safely (if not quite happily) deposited with our childcare provider, I headed to my favorite local coffee shop (FLCS) this morning in a very determined state. I have promised myself that this month I will revise and send out the short story I’ve been working on for two #$%@!! years. I carried a printout of the story in my bag.

Alas, FLCS was crowded with laptop-toting hipsters and an apparent convention of dog walkers this morning, and I had to continue on down the street to the creperie on the corner, which always has tables free. The fact that it’s a creperie whose best dish is French toast may explain the free tables. Or maybe it’s the fact that the coffee costs 30 cents more than FLCS, comes in a smaller cup, isn’t as hot, and doesn’t taste as good. Just a guess.

But I digress. I took my lukewarm coffee to one of the many empty tables and settled in to work on my draft. I recently finished writing the short story, which is a huge milestone. I have been struggling with one pivotal scene for a long, long time and finally managed to just get it down. Complete the story, revise later, is what I told myself.

I have always struggled to revise my work. Revising is the point in the process when I am mostly likely to abandon a piece of writing, to get frustrated and put a piece away for a long time (sometimes years), or to get really, really down on myself and my writing. I have written here before about revision and its pitfalls.

It’s been a while since I spent any time focused on revision, and the time away has not made revision any more fun. I spent much of the morning covering my pages in red ink, crossing out unnecessary sentences, tightening up paragraphs, and trying to improve poor writing. I then spent the entire walk home from the creperie thinking about how the story was awful, it needed so much more work, not ready to send out, maybe never ready to send out, what’s the point, etc. etc.

Wow.

In just a morning, revising decimated my writerly self-confidence. I realized that my many frustrations with revising in the past revolved around similar feelings of self-doubt.

Wow, again.

Turns out, revision is the act of finding fault with your writing (and, hopefully, trying to fix it). Sounds obvious, but when you look at it this way, it’s easy to see how a concentrated effort at finding problems, errors, awkward writing, skips in logic, etc. can result in thinking that you’re not a good writer. The question is, how the heck do you ignore this voice that says, “look, you included all these extraneous sentences! What poor word choice! And you call yourself a writer!”

This is a voice that, unfortunately needs to be heeded as much as it needs to be ignored. Obviously, you’ve got to clean up the piece. But you don’t want to end up revising forever, of falling into the trap of thinking that your work isn’t good enough, ever. How do you find the happy middle ground, where revision occurs but isn’t a debilitating process? How do you know when you’ve revised enough?