As some of you already know, I have recently emerged blinking into the cold winter light after many, many weeks spent in the Revision Cave.
The Cave is a dark place where writers sometimes go to improve their manuscripts. In my case, I’d been sent there by my editor*.
It’s pretty scary inside, and I had to go deep – deeper than I’d ever gone before – in order to produce my best work. There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it; the other Dames can attest to that. There were honestly times when I thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this writing gig after all. But I got through it, finally, by focusing on one thing at a time and pushing through, day after day, until I could see that little glimmer of
hope light that showed me I’d found my way outside again.
I’ve learned a lot while working on my editorial letter for The Iron Witch. Here are just a few of those lessons:
1) Never be afraid to ask for help. You can ask your editor, your agent, your family, your cats (I actually tried this once or twice), your best friend, your husband, partner, lover, brothers or sisters, your critique partners, crit group, other writers, readers, your hairdresser**… But whatever you do, if you have a serious revision/rewrite to undertake, ask for help if you are stuck. You don’t have to be alone even if it feels like you are.
2) You will sometimes feel that you might never find the end of the work you’re doing. It will really, truly feel this way. But I promise you there is an end and you will emerge more-or-less in one piece; gasping, bloody and battered, kinda like that girl in The Descent:
3) When your novel is cut into tiny little slices, and pages are scattered everywhere, and you forgot which chapter goes after Chapter 5, and you’re beginning to wonder if it might be a good idea to train as a surgeon before even attempting to put it all back together again… breathe. Take a deep breath and remember that, even though it doesn’t feel like it, you are in control. It’s your novel and you can pull all the right pieces into the right places. It might take a while, and you might be
scared out of your mind a little nervous about it, but you will get there in the end.
4) You will get absolutely sick of your own story at some stage. This is just part of the process – a natural part – and you shouldn’t see this as a sign that the whole project sucks and you might as well give it all up and turn to
5) Finally, you’ll learn that the more you chip away at the work that needs to be done; the more you dig deeper and deeper into the manuscript; the more you trust yourself… then you’ll begin to see the potential for something so much better. You will hit a wall or two (see No.4), sure, but then you’ll go through it and you’ll want to keep going because there’s no way you’re giving up on that vision of what you want this story to be. You might never quite match it in reality – you might not even come close – but at least you tried. If you give it your best shot and you put 200% of your effort into the revisions, your stay in the Revision Cave might not turn out to be such a bad thing after all.
You might even… want to go back…
* I’m kidding about him actually sending me there. Although I’m not kidding about being in the Cave and how scary it can be.
** Probably your hairdresser won’t be much help.