First round edits: The Cliffs of Despair

 For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

I was planning this particular post for next week, but then Abby (aka The Director) asked me this in the comments section of Monday's post:

Have you ever had writer angst that nothing you write is plausible or believable? Because I have been knee-deep in I-write-nothing-that-actually-works angst for months...... and if you knew how to help with that I would be forever in your debt.....

Have I ever had angst about my writing? Have I ever felt everything I wrote was crap? Well...


Writing, Editing and The Cliffs of Despair.

At some point during the past few weeks, I hit a wall. I couldn't tell if what I was writing was any good or not. Every word that landed on the page seemed flat and stale and dull. I was absolutely convinced that I was making the book worse, and that I was never going to finish.

It's not the first time this has happened. It usually happens in the middle of first drafts too, a certain point where I'm ready to throw up my hands and say "This sucks. I suck." So I'm not a stranger to the angst.

But first drafts are supposed to be bad, at least mine are. And there's a world of difference between writing a first draft you'll have lots of time to fix and feeling like the book you're editing (under contract, remember) is just getting worse.

Welcome to the Cliffs of Despair.

found at

(EDIT: One of my lovely commenters pointed out that in the movie these are actually called the Cliffs of Insanity, and Wesley is tortured in the Pit of Despair. An editing/writing slump is a lot like both those things, though, so I'm keeping the name. *grin*)

Fortunately, there are some things you can do when you find yourself clinging to the Cliffs. (Note: this is what works for me. As always, your mileage may vary.)

1. Use your beta readers.

The Cliffs of Despair happen when you've lost all ability to be objective about your own work. So when you can't trust your own eyes, trust someone else's. The key here is to use people who've actually read this work before.

Normally, I'd recommend using different people for different editing rounds to get a fresh perspective, but this is an exception. You're not asking for feedback to make the book better, you simply want to know if what you're doing is making the story worse or not. And the best person to tell you that is someone who's read the prior version.

2. Recharge your brain.

You know how when you stare at a single color for a while, your eyes lose the ability to see that color? Your vision kind of goes fuzzy and dark. Well, that's basically what happens when you stare at a story for too long.  You lose your ability to see it properly.

So back away from the writing for a little while. Read a good book, the kind that takes you somewhere else. Go for a walk. Go to a social event and talk to people. (I know, that's crazy talk. But sometimes it works!) Make sure you're getting plenty of sleep. Do some exercise. Watch an amazing movie or knit or color or sit in a box for a while. Do whatever helps to disengage from your story.

3. Keep climbing.

And then come back to it. Don't wait until you feel "inspired." Don't start another story that seems shinier and easier. Finish what you started. Get to the top.  And sometimes that will mean sitting down and banging out words that you think are crap.

Your inner critic is always most horrible when you're trying to finish something. Mine looks like this:

But when you finish, when you've gotten it done and let it sit and come back to it, you'll usually find that the words you wrote aren't as bad as you thought they were. And the condemning voices in your head will probably quiet down.

Until the next project, that is. *grin*

How do YOU cope with the Cliffs of Despair?

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.