Dear Story Nurse,
I’m not the kind of writer who can start editing a draft as soon as I’m done with it. By the time I stumble over the finish line of a novel-length project, I need some time to emotionally detach from the story before I can think about how I want to change it.
This would be fine, except… by the time I feel ready to edit a story, I’m usually no longer interested in it, or I’ve come up with so many new ideas about how to change it that rewriting from page 1 feels easier than editing. Over the years, I’ve amassed a huge number of trunk novels I just don’t feel passionate about cleaning up.
I’ve just finished a new novella, and I really don’t want to hide it away in the dusty depths of my Google Drive. I know it needs changes before I can show it to beta readers, but I’m having a hard time making those changes fresh off writing THE END. How can I strike a balance between letting it marinate and shoving it out the door before it’s ready? What’s the line between a necessary break from a project and unhelpful procrastination on editing?
Thanks for all your great advice,
Trunk Novelist (she/her)
Dear Trunk Novelist,
Thanks for giving me the perfect companion question to the one I answered in #119: Separation Before Revision, Part One. In that post I talked about why that emotional separation from your draft is needed. You’ve got that part down pat. But the reunion can be just as challenging, and requires its own set of tools.
The thing about emotional distance from your manuscript letting you see its flaws is that you sometimes can’t see anything but its flaws. To counterbalance that, look for ways to rekindle the magic and deliberately remind yourself of everything you loved while you were writing the project. Something kept you going through it from page one to “The End”—what was it? A degree of detachment is vital for revision, but you do still need to feel at least some connection: maybe not passion, but compassion.
Of course, if you’re feeling strong negative feelings about your manuscript, that’s not emotional detachment! That’s quite a strong attachment, and generally reflects or contributes to negative feelings about yourself as a writer (“Everything I write is junk” “I’m embarrassed by how bad this draft is” and the like). The solution may be more time away, or handing it off to a beta reader without a rewrite so that your next interaction is with the beta reader’s comments rather than with your own raw feelings about your work, or venting to a kind friend or a diary or a therapist as you make your way through that first round of rereading and revising.
If you’re simply feeling unmotivated, think about what motivates your pursuit of your writing career in general, whether it’s the hope of professional and financial success, or the praise of your editors and readers, or the craft satisfaction of making a book the very best book it can be. Lean hard on that motivation, and use it to power you through the parts of the gig that you don’t like as much.
It’s perfectly okay to need an extra push to do a thing that you don’t feel passionate about. That said, not feeling passionate about it is not really a reason to so strenuously avoid it. I expect you don’t feel passionate about washing dishes or going grocery shopping, but you still do those things, because they need to get done. Revision also needs to get done so you can stop having those manuscripts weighing on you. Maybe you need to approach cleaning them up the same way you approach cleaning up after dinner: put in fifteen minutes a day of kind of annoying work and then move on with your life, or do it collaboratively or in good company, or remind yourself that it will be so nice to wake up tomorrow and have another few pages done.
Or maybe the lack of passion is the presence of aversion. If that’s the case, I suggest a trip down memory lane all the way to Story Hospital post #1, which lists several possible causes and treatments of reviser’s block. If what’s going on feels just like writer’s block except for revision, see if something in that post (or my similar post on writer’s block) rings a bell.
Once you determine whether the issue is “I don’t especially want to do this” or “I really want not to be doing this,” you’ll have a much clearer path forward. And before you know it, you’ll have cleaned out that trunk and have a whole raft of novels and novellas ready to send on their journeys out into the world.