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How to Survive the Writing Divorce Zone (Something I never talk about. So here goes…)

What to do when you want to kick your work out the door and file papers. Consider it couples counseling for you and your project.

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The Writing Divorce  Zone (Don’t Fall in!)

This is something I hardly ever talk about.

We all talk about getting words on the page, addressing our blasted internal critics and completing that crazy difficult first draft. But, we hardly ever talk about what it takes to get a truly professional piece of work out there. We hardly ever talk about the difference between good and great works of art.

Here is what I see all too often:

A writer completes a piece of writing. They polish and spell-check and shine it up. They send it out and get a middling response; some parts of it are good and some parts are not-so-good. After a little grumbling, they head off and do a rewrite. Spell-check, shine it up, send it out again. Now, the response is better, but many times there are still issues. So, they do another blasted rewrite. Closer (but still issues). And this time, they were expecting perfection. After all, they completed a first draft and did a few rewrites. Shouldn’t that be enough?

You want the truth?

No. It’s not enough. And this is the zone where I see most writers give up. This is where most manuscripts get placed in drawers never to be seen from again.    

Most writers decide that it is time for a divorce, after all, you tried and tried and tried and it just doesn’t seem to be working, right? 

How do you know if you are in (or getting dangerously close to) the Divorce Zone?

  1. You can barely look at your piece of writing.
  2. You want to throw it against the wall. Then set it on fire.
  3. Every other idea you are having right now sounds better. (More marketable, easier to write, more fun, etc.)
  4. You are convinced that this idea is fatally flawed.
  5. You are justifying to yourself why it’s better to just “let this one go” and start fresh with a new one.

Ironically, for the writers that hang in there—for the writers that stick to it despite traveling through all the anger and fear and frustration—there is a reward. It’s the difference between good and great writing.

How to keep going when you are in the Divorce Zone:

  1. Take a break (you need it, the piece needs it).
  2. Don’t make the break too long. No more than three weeks or a month. Set a firm date when you will begin to re-engage with the piece.
  3. Be strategic about what is not working and what is working. Take ego and emotions out of it. 
  4. Make a list of the BIG items that are not working. It may look something like this:
    • Main character is coming off as flat, not as lively as surrounding characters.
    • Mystery of the piece is not holding together, needs to be more clever.
    • The stakes for the final battle need to be higher.
  1. Create a plan of attack. Different issues require different approaches. For example, finding the voice of a character is a different process than working out a mystery. So, you will need an approach for each issue. Decide which issue you are going to tackle first. Let’s say you decide to tackle the main character’s voice first. Give yourself two to three weeks to brainstorm. Create the most positive, nurturing environment you can during this period. Place your writing cheerleaders around you.  
  2. Tackle each issue one by one. (Work with a writing coach or writing group if you are really struggling.)
  3. Give yourself time to follow the threads. If you change your main character’s voice this will impact the piece throughout. So give yourself time to walk through each moment where the new voice will need to be installed.
  4. Reward every small step you make. This process can be hard—but it is the process that every professional writer has taken. I promise. You are not alone.
  5. Give yourself time to smooth out the rough patches. Laying in new threads can be a clunky writing experience. Give yourself time to smooth them out.
  6. Most of all, don’t give up. See this rewriting-even-when-you-thought-you-were-done as just part of the process.

Allow yourself the time it may take. I know, we all want to be done yesterday, but what if giving yourself time is what the project needs? What if giving yourself time is actually healthy? What if giving yourself time provides you with essential life lessons? The answers are there. You are smart enough and your piece deserves it. You deserve it. (And it’s a ton of fun to receive the accolades from a great piece.)

The funny thing is that new writers will read your work and think it just poured out of you effortlessly from beginning to end—and wonder why they are having so much trouble making their writing work.  Ah, beginning writers…

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