Are You at THAT Stage of Revision? Keep Writing!

Katherine Paterson wrote of her struggles in writing in her book, Gates of Excellence. She writes of coming into the house one day and dramatically announcing that she was never going to finish her book.

Her husband calmly replied, “Oh, so you’re at THAT stage.”

What a refreshing concept–there is actually a stage of writing where the author is in despair; but if you trust the process, you’ll make it through that stage and the book will be great. (Thank you, Mr. Paterson!)

I am in THAT stage of writing right now. Why?

I am doing what I call a Quantum-Leap-Revision. This isn’t just a few changes in each chapter; rather, I am totally revising the whole thing, shaking up the plot, moving chapters, omitting chapters, writing new chapters. This revision will wind up a galaxy away from the previous one.


To do a Quantum-Leap-Revision requires that you let go of any preconceived notions of where the story might go. You must be willing to change ANYthing and EVERYthing. You are allowed one “heart of the story” to keep sacred, not to be touched by the revision. But everything else is up for grabs.

My poor story. It looks like swiss cheese right now. And I am in despair that it will never come out right. Yes, indeed: I am at THAT stage.

16 Comments
  1. Hi Darcy,
    I feel for you. But, it’s good to know that even Katherina Paterson goes through it! It’s humbling. Thanks for posting. It makes me feel like I will eventually get my stories right…

  2. Dear Darcy, Thank you for this and all your thoughtful, useful advice in this blog. This one strikes a nerve. I’ve been at That Stage with my ms. for a while. The image in my head is Lego pieces scattered across the floor, the instruction booklet useless, my desire to chuck the mess sometimes stronger than my need to use those pieces to build something! Some kind person told me this means I’m closer than I think. Her encouragement — and yours — come at a good time.
    Ann
    p.s. I’m looking forward to meeting you and working with you at SCBWI-Poconos Retreat. We can compare notes on galaxy shifting.

  3. Hi Darcy,
    You really seem to be in synch with me these days. I am exactly at THAT point. I am excited but feeling like there is sooooo much more work to be done. I’m on my second draft and knowing absolutely I will need a third before I can send it to my critique partner. But yesterday seeing two new women’s fiction debut’s, was very encouraging. They are regular people, just like me, who worked hard and completed their MS, found agents and viola, are now first time published authors. Thanks for helping me keep up my spirits and know there will be a time when this book is ready for the world. Just not quite yet!

  4. Oh and one of the author’s is Julie Kibler, “Calling Me Home” – I started reading it and so far it’s fabulous. Centers around a white 16 year old girl in 1930′s Kentucky falling in love with a Black teenaged boy.

  5. Darcy, I’ll go down that lane (er, hop that galaxy?) with you! How good it is for a writer to be reminded that dedicated, skillful authors like you and KP struggle with the same problems as the rest of us?

    On Christmas Eve I sent my agent the full first draft of the manuscript I’d been working on since September. I allowed myself a few days of delusion, (it was Christmas after all) and we left on a family vacation. Over the next two weeks, I came back to reality, and knew that there were problems — big problems, that would need to be addressed when I got home. Fast forward to the day before Valentine’s and here I am — in THAT stage.

    Things are going well, they are, but SLOOOW. I’m lucky to make it through a few pages a day some days, what with all my beefing up of characters, and plot changes. Some days, honestly, I am terrified to open the document. In fact, I just folded LAUNDRY in order to avoid it (if that tells you how very reluctant I am).

    But I open it anyway. We are a relentless sort, us quantum leapers, aren’t we?

    Thanks so much for the gentle reminder that I am not alone, and that one day, I will get to those elusive words, THE END!

    Hope you are well!
    Chris

  6. LOVE this post! Can’t tell you how many times I have been at that very spot. I wish you a whole new galaxy full of exciting new planets!

  7. Chris:
    Folded laundry? Wow, you really are desperate to avoid the story.
    Glad you are leaping with me.
    Darcy

  8. Ann: Yes, looking forward to Notes on Galaxy Shifting.
    Should I change the name of my blog? Galaxy Shifting Notes?
    Darcy

  9. Janet:
    Don’t get me wrong. I love revising, too, and it does make a story shine if we do it well.
    It’s just that, at some point, I wish someone would say, “Well done!”
    But they won’t until, well, till I’m done.
    Darcy

  10. Man was I relieved to see this post in my reader last night. I spent most of the day wrestling in my head and crying over the ironing board about my rewrite. My husband was encouraging as well, and listened as I went over and over the different beginnings I’ve worried, reorganized, and rewritten to death! Thank you so much. Sincerely, Aidan Larson

  11. Hi Darcy,

    I found your post/site through a news aggregator. I really empathize. I too am in the midst of a Quantum-Leap Revision (on my first novel). I made the naive mistake of doing a complete rewrite of my first two chapters. Not a single word was preserved (unless you count the “I’s,” “the’s,” and “a’s”). It ended up creating HUGE butterfly-effect ripples throughout the rest of the novel, and four months later, I’m still working on it. By the time I’m done with the 2nd draft, it will have taken as long as the first.

    The most difficult part about the transition is like you said: it looks like swiss cheese right now. I can’t show anyone the first draft because the novel has progressed so much since then, and I can’t show anyone the second draft because it still doesn’t cohere. And because I’m writing this thing on spec, there are times when I wonder: why am I doing this to myself? I’m torn between the sunk cost of the first draft and the opportunity cost of my social life (and other hobbies.) So, yeah, I guess you can say I’m at “THAT stage.”

  12. Sounds like childbirth. My husband prepared to be my childbirth coach before our first child was born, and he recognized the transition stage–right before the baby crowns–when the woman is ready to give up, cry out for every drug in the cabinet and feels like she just can’t go on. And then baby arrives and the reward is in her arms.

  13. Pingback: Where First Drafts Go Wrong and How to Get That First Draft Done

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