Revision Anxiety

When I recently reflected on the hurdles that stand in my way before I begin revisions, I felt excited and optimistic about turning my abysmal first draft into something worth sharing. I looked forward to throwing myself wholeheartedly into the work.

That … is not what happened.

What I failed to anticipate was my anxiety. I’ve been trying to write this novel for five years — that’s five years of attacking the story from different angles, experimenting with different variations on plot and point of view, sending rotten draft after draft off to beta readers and being told that it just wasn’t working. After six or seven such drafts, I feel like I’m finally coming from a place of raw potential. I feel like the draft that I’m revising could really be the one, like I’ve found something worth running with. And that is absolutely terrifying.

The problem is that this idea exists in mint condition in my head. No matter how good a writer I am, the story will never be as good on paper as it is in my imagination. I’m okay with that when I’m writing first drafts, because I’ve accepted that first drafts are meant to be bad. The same isn’t true of revisions. Revising this novel is guaranteed to be a process of disappointment, because it will never quite be what I want it to be.

So, I haven’t been revising. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve been actively avoiding revising, because stagnation is less painful that letting myself down by telling this story poorly. I’ve poured so much of myself into this story. I’ve picked it apart and interrogated it over and over again. Now that I can clearly envision what it would look like to tell this story well, how could I possibly let myself do it badly?

Here’s what I’ve found: I will inevitably fail to tell this story the way I’ve imagined it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t create something worthwhile in the process. I cannot do this work perfectly, but I am the only person who can do this work at all. No one else is qualified to tell this story — I don’t think anyone else even wants to. The only way out of this story is to tell it, once and for all.

I’m going to put my big kid pants on, sit down, and write.

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