Today I hit a rough patch. I got caught in the cycle of, “Have I really edited this section well, or do the phrases I took away and added feel forced and out of place?”
It’s hard to tell whether something we’ve added or taken away feels unnatural. Does it feel stilted because it just looks and feels unfamiliar now? Or does it feel stilted because it is?
There are a few main ways to approach something you’ve revised when you’re trying to determine if it all makes sense or not.
1.) Take some time away from it. If you look at the same thing for too long, trying to tell if it’s bunked up or not, it’ll end up looking wrong. It’s sort of like when you say the same word over and over again. Say it enough times, and it’ll feel wrong (and you’ll start questioning the nature of human language, which can give you a headache). Apple. Apple. Apple, apple, apple, apple, apple, lappul, lappole, labole, abbil, lappilappil. See? The same thing happens when you spend too much time with a piece of fiction or artwork. Take a few steps back, take a trip to check if there’s anything edible in the freezer, watch a youtube clip of someone doing a horrible rendition of your favorite song, and then go back and read it again. Read a bit before the section you’re interested in. It’ll give you some context and keep your brain on a path of comprehension instead of patterned annoyance. Hopefully, taking a step back will give you the ability to look at your work with clean, fresh eyes.
2.) Have someone else read it. Preferably someone you trust the opinion of, who you’ve come to know as a good critic and reader of your writing. Make sure to give it to someone who hasn’t read it before, that way they aren’t prejudiced by older versions. This happens to me all the time. I give my book to my sister, say “If you’re not busy?” and sprint from the room before she can decline. Then I come back, and she says, “I thought you’re character had green eyes? Didn’t you tell me at some point that she ends up figuring out who did that?” Sigh. If you can’t freshen up your own eyes (step one above), it might just be better to have someone else look at it with even FRESHER eyes!
3.) Move onto something else for a while. Edit a different chapter, keep reading until you find a different problem. Just be sure to make a note that you still have some revising to do in that section, and come back to it later. Don’t obsess over revising a specific section, because you can get burnt out and in the end, you might not come away with anything better than what you started with.
In the end, it’s just about trying to read your book (or bribing someone else to do it) with fresh eyes so that you can get a sense if the changes you’ve made make sense. Good luck!
Here’s where I’m at as of today: