Writer's Block: Can Existential Dread Accumulate in Chapter 1?

The Magic of Revising in Reverse

Writing a novel is stressful.  Querying a novel is stressful toofrankly, rejection in all shapes and sizes is super stressful.  And this weekend, I learned that all that accumulated stress, all that pent up self-doubt, and all those recurring thoughts of "not good enough" had taken up residence in the opening paragraphs of "chapter 1."

The last time I'd looked at my manuscript was August. The creative well had run dry and I'd needed to switch gears for a bit in order to recharge. So for three months I binge-built cosplay (from the game Destiny: Rise of Iron) while streaming Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: Voyager on Netflix.

Nova WritesIt was glorious.  And decidedly not scary.  

Then a random Facebook post caught my eye, advertising a Nova Scotia-based writing competition where each submission would receive tailored feedback. I didn't want to pass up an opportunity for unbiased advice... trouble was, the deadline was only a few days away. In my way of thinking, if I was going to get the most value from this event, then the obsessive perfectionist side of me wanted to do another review of my manuscript before submitting. The break I'd enjoyed was bound to find a few things I'd want to tweak.

So I completed the two pending graphics orders I had waiting for me, finished up an urgent report that was needed for my 9-5, and then settled in at my laptop to get down to work with a nice peppermint coffee mocha in hand. I launched Scrivener and waited for the manuscript to load. The file opened at the end of the book so I clicked dutifully back to the first chapter to start what seemed like the umpteen-thousandth review of those fateful opening pages.  

As soon as those first few paragraphs flashed onto the screen, a wave of anxiety kicked me square in the gut.

The moment those first few paragraphs flashed onto the screen, a wave of anxiety kicked me square in the gut. I found myself literally cowering at my desk: shoulders hunched over, head turned to the side, and eyes shut tight. I sat there useless, rocking back and forth, unable to make eye contact with an inanimate object.

I closed the file and the dread faded.

Re-launching the manuscript produced the same results. It was like I'd divided my awareness into two halves: one was curled in the fetal position in my chair, and the other was weighing my reactions and thinking "what the f&*#?!"

I went to bed, defeated.

Next morning, I hesitated as I loaded the file into Scrivener.  I didn't immediately click back to chapter 1 That Which Could Not Be Faced and the final chapter remained on the screen instead. And lo and behold, these words weren't scary! In fact, glancing across them, I realized I was actually quite interested to read more!  

THESE words hadn't been agonized over (and tweaked and doubted and re-thought) time and time again. THESE words hadn't been rejected by countless agents, or misunderstood by potential critique partners. THESE words didn't bear the cumulative weight of the rest of the novel behind them. This was the end. This was when all the story lines wove neatly together and the plot "clicked" into satisfying place. 

So I started my revision with chapter 28, then chapter 27, and so on. Beyond being something I could actually accomplish (and what a bonus THAT was!), doing my revision in reverse gave me a fresh perspective that actually caught a few minor inconsistencies I'd missed before. It made each chapter its own entity: self-contained, separate, and far easier to confront. And when I eventually got back to chapter 1, the rest of the manuscript had already been reviewed, so the added stress of "all that was yet to come" had already been eliminated.  

In the end, I got my submission into the Nova Writes event, but only by the skin of my teeth. In fact, depending on how they interpret their rules, I may have been too late by the time my payment was processed through PayPal, etc. But even if my submission is ultimately disqualified, I'm happy with the outcome. I found a way to get back into the saddle again, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Keep Going

[NOTE: background image above taken from]



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