Getting Back to Work is Hard to Do

Why is it that good habits are so much easier to break than bad ones?

Let me lay it out for you.

My pattern is this:1.) Get into a good writing habit. 2.) Stop to revise. 3.) Really, really stop to revise. Farewell, new words. 4.)  Fail to make revision a measurable part of my routine. 5.) Try to figure out what happened to the good habit just broke into a million pieces.

Get into a good writing habit. I’m actually pretty good at that. When I’m working on those first-draft word counts, I’ll hit a thousand words or more a day. That’s a lot. In the course of a year, it can add up to more than a quarter of a million words.

Stop to revise.  Well… that seems pretty necessary. Especially for someone who’s been known to cram twenty-seven murder scenes or  five versions of the same proposal into one book.

Really, really stop to revise.  This is where things start going wrong. The word count drops off, and I don’t really land in the next project with any kind of wits about me.

And then… well, just exactly how do you measure revision goals? What do you do to make sure you do enough? And how do you keep track?  Pretty soon, I’m not writing new words, and I’m not revising, either. I don’t switch back and forth all that well.

And that’s it. Progress is slow–or maybe just not noticeable enough–and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

Right now, I’m in the revision stage. I would like to finish my novel. Finish-finish. High-shine polish finished. Elegance and refinement finished.

I keep looking for that perfect balance.

Maybe the short stories I’ve promised to write are it. Something I can finish in an afternoon when I’m not revising.

Maybe short stories will be just enough to prime the pump.

We’ll see.

Suggestions and advice welcome.


  1. Reply

    My advice, and I can’t say I have any real experience or knowledge to back me up, this is just what I do, and I find it works: punch out the first draft at whatever speed you feel is good, don’t stop to rewrite/revise/edit, don’t stop for anything, just get that first draft done.
    Once that draft is done, think about how much of that draft you could reasonably rewrite/revise in a day and then mark off that section (I change the font colour so I know how close I am to achieving my goal) and work through it.

    I find it best to work through each stage of a book in turn.

    • Reply

      I love the idea of blocking off chunks of the manuscript. That sounds like something that might really work for me, at least in the more linear parts of the story. I’m a big fan of color coding, too.

      Am I hearing you right, though? You break it into pieces in advance? When you print the manuscript, instead of actually on the day you’re doing the revising?

  2. Reply

    Usually when revising I commit to one hour a day on the work, but I’m always committed to writing at least 100 completely new words every day. Short stories–especially if they’re connected to the book you’re working on–are a great thing to work on while revising because at least you feel like you accomplished something.

    • Reply

      I’m happy to hear you say that something as small as 100 words works for you. I hope it works for me, too.

  3. Reply

    The first draft of a book tells the author what the story is. Revision is when we sculpt that into the “reader’s cut,” if you will. Two problems tend to arise with this step:
    1. Deciding what exactly to keep and cut for the best “reader’s” version.
    2. The desire to keep fiddling and creating makes it hard to stop and call a piece “finished.”

    If either of these are issues for you, even an established revision schedule will be tough to keep.

    If you’re having trouble figuring out what to cut/keep, consider beta readers or a critique group. If the second is more your struggle, the answer might be for you to try the following.

    Finish your draft and stick it aside. Don’t peek at it for a few weeks or so. While it’s cooling off, jump immediately into planning/drafting the next book. The reason for this is that it will satisfy some of the creative excitement that might otherwise tempt you to “stir the pot” needlessly on the first book. Once you’re ready to dive into edits, hopefully you’ll be less inclined to twiddle with things that don’t really need it because you thought of something cool. Sure, if the cool thing NEEDS to be there to fill a plot hole, add it. But I think a lot of revisions get made because we’re wanting to fulfill a need to create, so we get caught between the practical and fun side of writing. By having another project in the works, you might find you’re better able to look at your manuscript (more) objectively and handle what needs to be done without getting too fancy.

    With time allotted for creative and editorial aspects that don’t all hinge on a single project, you’ll hopefully find you can make a revision schedule that you can stick to. Good luck!

    • Reply

      Thank you! Wow, there’s a lot to think about here. I appreciate you taking the time to tell me

      I think 1 and 2 are both issues for me, but at different points in my revision, if that makes sense. There’s a point where I hit #2 and devolve into writing sorta… well, almost fanfic for my own work. You know… entertaining and useless what ifs that might not even really be in character for my characters. #2 is the place where I could get lost forever and never, ever make it back out.

      #1 absolutely terrifies me, because I always wonder if “they” would have liked the “other” version better. I’m never even sure if I like the other version better.

      It’s a little like all the possible timelines keep existing for me, but for my readers… that thing never happened.

  4. Reply

    I don’t think I have any good advice for you, but I feel your pain! I also first draft at 1k to 2k words a day and find writing (pretty much) every day no problem.

    Then it comes to revision. I always have a number of structural issues, including some I don’t know how to fix. I step back and try to figure out all the big picture changes I have to make.

    While I’m doing this it’s really hard to stay on track. I just spent an hour thinking about something with no concrete progress. It’s not like first drafting when at the end of the day I have a word count. The next day maybe I spend half an hour thinking about the problem, the following day 10 minutes. Eventually, after maybe a week of seemingly making zero progress, I have a brainwave and solve one plot problem.

    If only progress during revision were more easily quantifiable.

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