What you may not know about me is that I have a PhD in literature. Writing the dissertation came after I did all my coursework and then took and passed my comprehensive exams. By the time I got to my dissertation, I had an idea what I wanted to write about, but I didn’t have any of the research or the writing done. It was liking being a mouse and staring up at an Everest-sized pile of cheese. Where to start? What to do first? Panic set in and I froze like a deer in the headlights.
Eventually I figured out I just had to start. The whole mountain had to get eaten and I had to do it. There was no right place to begin, so I just had to pick a place and go and see where the research took me. Same with the writing. Once I had reached a tipping point on the research, where I felt like I knew enough to actually say something, I had to go about writing in the same way. Find a place to start and spiderweb out from there and eventually find a form and shape for the dissertation. Eventually I finished it and graduated (you can read the whole thing if you want. It’s on my website).
I discovered that starting a book is much the same process–no surprise there. But what did surprise me was that embarking on revision is much the same. I just got notes back from my agent (the fabulous Lucienne Diver) on my 4th Horngate book and it’s got some problems. I knew this on some level, so I’m not entirely surprised. But the revisions are pretty major–and this is before I hear from my editor. But it’s got to be done. And the process is about the same. I do have a starting point in that the book already has shape and structure, but now I have to improve on it
It’s going to involve some significant new words, a fair bit of cutting, some reorganization and rethinking. So it’s a big project. Cue deer in headlights and panic. But this is the process of writing. It’s nothing new. But it’s funny how the revision can be as terrifying as the starting. I guess I start to question whether I can pull it off. Whether I can capture what I want to in the text, or if I can fix what’s bent in the book.
Here’s the trick. You eat the mountain one bite at a time. One moment at a time. One day at a time. You stay focused on each little bit that you’re doing and not on the mountain. That’s crucial. Don’t ever look at the mountain.