Psychology of Revision: Perseverance


5 Days on Psychology of Revising

For six years, I’ve taught the Novel Revision Retreat across the country and I’ve thought a lot about the psychological issues that writers face as they face the work of revising a novel. It’s interesting that most psychological discussions of writing involve writer’s block. Not much discussion of everyday issues of a working writer. Of course, I’m not a psychologist: these are just my observations. Your experience for any particular novel may vary widely from this!
5 Days on Psychology of Revising
Fear and Humility, part 1
Fear and Humility, part 2
Gifted and Talented

Perseverance or just plain Stubbornness’ve heard the stories: Dr. Seuss? first book, To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937) was rejected twenty-eight times. Neil Simon, in Rewrites: A Memoir tells of over twenty drafts needed for his first play.

Most of us would have to agree with Vladimir Nabokov, “I have written–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasures.”

Or Dorothy Parker, “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

Or John Kenneth Galbraith who jokes, “There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.”

Or Truman Capote, “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

We understand that revising means doing it again until it’s right. But psychologically, that means the best trait a writer can have is stubbornness. On days when there is no hope sheer perseverance takes over.


On those days, I highly recommend Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It?s my favorite books on the psychology of making art and goes into much more detail on many more subjects than I can here in five days. There have been days–like when I got that rejection of a novel after two revisions and fourteen months of dealing with an editor–that all I can do is sit at my desk and cry and re-read this book.

And start again.

Perseverance comes in two forms: revising until the story is right and making your art your way over a lifetime. It took Dr. Seuss twenty years after his first book to write The Cat in the Hat. ( 2007 annotated version). It often takes the work of years to hit your stride and produce your best work. We are in this for the long haul and this current book is just one of the waystations. Think career. Get stubborn. Persevere!

A great story of perseverance–it just takes until you’re 96 years old!

How do you deal with those deadly rejections?