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A few weeks ago, a reader sent me a question via email:

I want to be a writer myself onday, but when i write something and then read it over, it sounds silly like a little kid wrote it. Does this, or has this, ever happened to you?

And the answer is yes. I firmly believe this happens to everybody. For some people, the phrase "little kid" might be replaced with "hack" or "monkey with a keyboard," but it's perfectly normal to feel this way at some point in time (or, you know, multiple points in time) during the process. This can happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes, the story is so clear in your head that when you read over what you wrote and it doesn't match up, it just feels like a sucker punch to the stomach. That's not my story, I've found myself thinking. No idea WHAT that is, but it's certainly not what I thought I was writing. This doesn't go away after you get published, either- if anything, once you add in reviewers and readers and all the other things that published writers aren't supposed to think about, but totally do, the inner critic gets bigger, louder, and more obnoxious.

Here's the process I generally go through.

Step One: Write First Draft: For me, doing this is entirely dependent on one of two things (depending on which part of the book I'm writing): adrenaline and perseverence. Adrenaline and enthusiasm for the project get me through the beginning, sheer will forces me through the middle, and adrenaline and I'm-almost-finished euphoria push me in the end. Your mileage may differ, but the important thing with a first draft is to WRITE IT. Don't get discouraged part of the way through and give up. Just keep on writing- even if you're not sure that what you're writing is good. Good will come later.

Step Two: Finish first draft: At this point, my mental state can generally be approximated by the following: I am brilliant! This story is awesome! I love it!! I love writing!! I love using exclamation marks! Puppies and kitties and unicorns- the world is a happy, happy place!

Step Three: Read over first draft: By this time, my mind starts saying things more along the lines of: Okay, this is good. This is really good. This is... ummm... what was that? I don't remember this part seeming so... errr... and, huh, I wonder if anyone will notice that chapters eight through twelve don't really make any sense. And why in the world did my favorite character just do that? I mean, I know I want them to do that, but now that I think about it, it doesn't really make much sense that they did it, so that's probably not good, cause, you know, sense making is generally a positive thing, and.. dang! This ending comes out of nowhere and then cuts off with little to no warning. I'm going to need at least four more chapters here...

Step Four: Revise: This is the stage of the process where it's up to you to make all of your doubts and self-criticism work for you instead of against you. You go through bit by bit, and you do whatever you have to do to remedy all the bad things your mind has to say about your story. Every book you read- every single one of them- had a first draft, that you, the reader, don't get to see. And sometimes, the first draft ain't pretty. Being a writer doesn't just mean writing; it also means revising. It means going over one paragraph eight times, trying to get it just right, and then scrapping the entire page and starting from scratch, and then going over the NEW paragraphs eight times... and so on.

So the short answer to this question is: if you don't like what you've written, re-write it. If this seems like an insurmountable task, then break it down into smaller pieces. Try writing a really short story about your main character- 100 or 200 words even- and just make those 200 words exactly what you want them to be. If you get to feeling like you can't write your story the way you want to, take a break- go out and read a book, or watch a movie, or work on writing something else. Figure out what it is you like about the stories that you like, and think about how what you've written is different and what you could do to make it better. But at the end of the day, the most important thing you can do at this stage is to keep on trying. Don't give up.

Steps Five Through Eighteen Million: Revise again. And again. And again. For me, the majority of my writing time is spent re-writing- first drafts are a thing of passion; revision is work. When you've done all you can on your own, let someone else read your manuscript. By this point, you think it's strong, but there still might be some stray "does this still sound like it was written by a monkey?" thoughts nibbling away at your writerly confidence. A set of fresh eyes can really help.

I've revised every book I've published (or will publish in the near future). For each book, I get an editorial letter in the mail, and that letter has yet to say, "You are brilliant. Don't change a word." My editor is usually kind enough NOT to start these letters "Dear Monkey-With-A-Keyboard," but she's always got suggestions, and they always make the book much, much better. Sometimes, it's hard. Right now, I'm working on revising the sequel to TATTOO, and it's been a huge rollercoaster of ups and downs. At one point last week, I realized that the acronym for "revision in progress" is "R.I.P."- and I have to say, that doesn't seem entirely inappropriate. I'm pretty sure it's normal to feel this way, too (and if it's not, don't tell me!)

Want to read more about authors revising their manuscripts? Check out what Meg Cabot has to say about them here and here, and what Maureen Johnson has to say about them here. Revising is a part of writing, so if you read something you wrote and decide that you need to rewrite it- you're in very good company.

Hope that answers the question! And if anyone reading the blog has any other questions- about anything- email me at, or post them in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer.

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Hehe, "monkey with a keyboard" is perfect for describing those early drafts. I actually enjoy revising my books, though. It's much more adrenaline-inducing to know you're making something possibly mediocre into something magnificent -- well, at least try to. ;)

Good luck with your Tattoo sequel revisions!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this! I'm revising my novel right now and preparing for it to go out to editors, and Golden is one of the books I've read while in the process. I hate to admit that at the time I read great books like that, I end up cursing the author, wondering how they can churn out such entertaining reads so effortlessly while I struggle away. It's nice to be reminded that most authors go through the very same rollercoaster of emotions that I do.

what a great and thorough answer. thanks for reassuring us who sometimes fear during those excruciating moments of self doubt that needing too much revision is a sure sign that, despite every other sign indicating otherwise, we were never meant to be writers in the first place. ;)

RIP . . . . it's not a very good acronym, is it?

I've been using "Currently Languishing In Post-Production" or CLIP since clipping stuff out seems to be most of what I do in revision. (And I couldn't come up with a good acronym for HATCHET JOB.)

This is very helpful. I'm procrastinating the revision of my next novel while I wait for the first one to come out, and I'm trying to get my nerve up. I love revising, when I'm doing it, but it's scary until I get into it. And I've had conflicting responses, so I need to get another read. Then do what has to be done. :/

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