I am operating from deep within the Revision Cave, with four deadlines fast approaching for four different projects, and so I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about a problem I often encounter within myself when Revision Time rolls around, and that is my precondition toward laziness.
It’s actually really fascinating to me, as ‘lazy’ is not a word anyone would typically use to describe me when it comes to any other area of my life. I get up most mornings (when my toddler allows me) somewhere between 4:30-5:00 a.m., and I typically don’t stop working in some capacity or another until 9:00-10:00 pm. (my fellow moms and workaholics will know what I’m talking about). But there’s something about getting into the murky middle of the revision process that always brings out the Lazy Beast lying dormant within me.
It happened to me just the other day, actually, as I was working on a scene in my second YA novel, REMEMBER ME (due out from Feiwel and Friends in Spring 2019!!!! AHHHH!!!!) that I knew wasn’t working for multiple reasons, and yet, because I’d been trudging through the murky middle of this revision for so long that I’d begun to feel utterly lost among the plot threads and tangles of the story—the kind of lost that only a trusty explorer with a machete to cut down said maniacal plot threads could rescue me from—the last thing I wanted to do was completely rewrite yet another scene, even though I knew it was necessary. The Lazy Beast reared up within me and started whispering things in my ear. Things like, “It’s good enough. You can make it work. It’s certainly not the worst thing ever. Just let it be. You’ve done enough work on this thing already.”
But ‘good enough’ is the enemy of great, and while it’s a mistake for anyone to strive for the unattainable goal of perfection in any area of life, especially in writing, excellence in our craft is something we should all be striving for on a consistent, daily basis. But excellence doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t even happen after one or two, or even ten books. It is something that you are going to be cultivating throughout your entire career through studying your craft, putting in the writing hours, and, most importantly, choosing hard work over laziness whenever the going gets tough.
For you, maybe the first draft is the part where laziness rears its ugly head, or maybe it begins before that, in the outlining/brainstorming/plotting stages (I have trouble in this stage, too, mostly because I want to be an intense outliner and yet the ‘pantser’ inside of me kicks and screams the whole way through). Or, maybe you’re like me, and you often find yourself just wanting to be done with a project and calling it ‘good enough’ once it’s in its umpteenth revision. This is probably the point in the project where other shiny ideas seem more fascinating and way more enjoyable.
IGNORE. THESE. FEELINGS.
The only reason a new idea seems easier or more fascinating is because you haven’t had the chance to mess it up yet. It will inevitably get just as murky as the project you’re currently working on, so stick to the task at hand, and deal with Shiny New Idea’s Murky Middle when its glorious time in the Desert of the Lost comes.
So, how do we work past our laziness? We have to make the active choice that we won’t decide something is ‘good enough’ when we know it’s not working. We have to recognize that sometimes rewriting a scene, or a section, or even your entire book more times than you can count is a very typical part of the process. Just as there are multiple layers to a painting—layers that those who are viewing the painting will never see, but that needed to exist to take the painting from mediocrity to excellence—so must we add and strip away layers to our stories, writing countless scenes the world will never see, spending hours of our lives agonizing over our work in a way no one will ever be able to truly witness (aside from our poor families) as we try to solve the intricate puzzles of our books. But when readers hold that finished product in their hands, they will see a work of art*, because when that scene wasn’t working, you chose to delete it all and start again instead of taking the easy way out.
Because you chose greatness over ‘good enough.’
Because you chose excellence over laziness.
*Of course, writing is horribly subjective, so they may just as easily see a piece of dirty rotten water trash when they look at your book, but at least you will know you made your book the best it could possibly be, and in so doing, your book will find its audience, the people who will see the excellence in it. Even Harry Potter gets horrible reviews, and yet I think it’s the most excellent series ever written, and you know J.K. Rowling never took the easy way out.
Be like J.K.
Write your book.
And choose Excellence.