Where Did My Story Go?

August 24, 2017

In response to the question: “What’s your worst writing habit?”

“Too much revision. Sometimes I’ve lost possibly good work by going over and over it like a dog with a bone till nothing good is left. I’ve worn it out.”
~ Cynthia Flood

With a few of my picture books, I feel like I’ve lost my way. I’ve gotten so much feedback, and then revised and rewritten in so many different ways, I can’t see the forest for the trees. What happened to my story?

Facing Frustration

Lately I want to scream. Okay, I have screamed—in the privacy of my car with my radio blasting. Why? Because after weeks and months of rewriting and revision, my story seems worse—a patchwork of ideas and words sewn together like some hideous literary Frankenstein’s monster.

All along the way I’ve received great feedback, wonderful ideas that sparked creativity. I’ve dug in with renewed excitement, only to hit another wall, doubting what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.

Going Back to the Beginning

With two picture book stories in particular, it’s been painful. The initial ideas were so fun, so delightful to write and revise in the beginning. Both of those went out on submission and received passes from the publishers. So I took those comments and revised. And then sent it to my group or back to my agent. More feedback. More revision…and less fun.

It’s not the “first draft blues” because I don’t write first drafts like most people (free and easy and letting it all hang out, though I’m getting better at that). Some people miss that freedom and dislike what they see as the drudgery of revision. I like revision—most of the time. And more often than not, moving away from that initial idea is a good thing because it morphs into this wonderful new story that you never imagined.

But sometimes losing that initial spark means losing sight of what I wanted to do with the story—and that’s on me.

So I’m going back to the first drafts, the ones I loved and my critique groups loved to remind myself why I wrote the story in the first place and if I want to return to that or move in a different direction after all.

Taking Back My Power

I realize as I’m writing this that I need to listen to the words I spoke last night in the picture book class I’m facilitating: “You are the author. The choices are yours.” It’s not that I don’t do that. I’m very conscious of what feels right and what doesn’t with a story. But I believe I’m still, subtly, writing with the market in mind—what might sell—and that’s getting in the way of me telling the story.

That’s why it feels like a mishmash.

Okay. Good to know.

So I’m going to revisit those early drafts and not only identify what I loved, but also what the stories are truly about. Then I’ll decide whether to keep going or set them aside for something new.

I’ll let you know what happens.