As mid-October rapidly approaches, I am starting to get inundated with reminders about the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Message boards are lighting up with new posts, my writing studio is advertising prep classes to generate ideas, and Twitter is full of folks practicing their daily word counts.
I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and made it – barely. I finished with a pitiful draft of a half-cocked idea and perhaps only a handful of scenes that would actually work. When I faced the prospect of trying to revise this messy, disorganized pile of words, I got so overwhelmed that I simply turned my back on it and started to write something else.
Once again, I got stuck with nowhere to take my plot and only a vague concept of where I wanted this story to go. But never fear! To the rescue is the month of November, swooping in to occupy my mind on a new story, new characters, and no fear of revisions!
It’s an escape tactic, you see. I always struggle with revisions. Despite an entire shelf of helpful writing books and tools, many pages of helpful critique notes, and a laptop loaded with the handy Scrivener program to help me sift through the story without getting lost, I can’t ever manage to get over my fear of revising.
What if I start making changes and the entire thing shifts into something new? What if I start making changes and I hate the whole project? What if I lose the essence of the characters?
The issue is staring me directly in the face. I need to focus on the heart of my story and not drown myself in self-doubt. I often think of the arts as an exercise in false confidence. When I was a theater student, sometimes to get over your fears you had to “fake it ’til you make it” so to speak. If I allowed my doubts to get the best of me, I’d never succeed, and sometimes I just had to take a leap of faith and trust that I had the goods to get it done.
In the fall of my senior year in college, I took on the role of Puck in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As most people know, Puck closes the show with a monologue delivered to the audience. It’s a beautiful speech, and an endearing moment between the audience and the character. It’s also a very important and powerful moment, which was not lost on me.
Despite months of rehearsals, weeks of performances, and thousands of recitations, every night I turned to my castmate, Zack, and asked him how the speech started. It didn’t matter how many times I’d done the speech myself. I knew Zack knew the speech, and as we huddled in the dark backstage, waiting to go out for the final scene, I could never think of the first few words. “If we shadows have offended,” he’d whisper, and I’d nod and start mumbling under my breath, “if we shadows have offended if we shadows have offended,” right up to the moment I took a step onstage.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know the speech. I did. Backwards and forwards. But as the exhaustion of the production started to set in, and I waited in the wings for my entrance, the weight of the delivery of that speech started to bear down on me. I would get so worked up about the magnitude of the task that I forgot that I actually had the skills to bring it home. Until the moment I stepped on stage and had no choice but to get through it, the speech became greater than me and not the other way around.
This is how I feel when I write. As I’m entrenched in the task of getting the story down on the page, I’m ecstatic. It’s when I have to step back and examine what I’m doing that I go from “let me get this cool idea down on paper” to “OHMIGOD I’m writing A WHOLE BOOK!” In order to try and combat this, I’ve tried just focusing on scenes, but that also doesn’t seem to help. My next step is to try putting together an outline to keep me aware that this is just many small parts that add up to one greater idea, and that it doesn’t all have to be tackled at once.
Anyone else have this kind of revisers’ block? How do you prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed?