Green Fingernails

I discovered something about myself:

I in fact do NOT enjoy revisions more than first drafts.

I thought I did. I thought it would be easier, for one thing, going back through what I had done, falling in love with my story all over again, making it better.

It turns out that revising a novel-length story is hell. Illustration: Here is something I wrote while in the throes of revision.

I’m lying on a little sofa in a too-cold room trying to decide whether to meditate, create something, or click aimlessly around the Internet.


Feeling insecure.


Wanting to curl up in a ball under the covers and go to sleep because that’s what I do when I’ve convinced myself I’m not good enough not good enough not good enough.


My novel sucks. Maybe all my novels will suck. I’m scared I can’t make money at it. Scared life will always be hard hard hard.


I’m tired, too.


Life is always hard, isn’t it? Does it ever get better? Somebody tell me it gets better because I haven’t seen it in a long long time.


I want to send my novel draft to someone who will KNOW and who will be BRUTALLY HONEST: Will it work? Will it sell? Will it be awesome?


And I don’t want to do that. What if they say no, it’s not awesome. What if it’s ordinary, run-of-the-mill. What if it is? What if I can never ever make a living that way?


What would I do? What would I do if my novel career could never ever work. What would I do?


I want to build something make something create something that no one has ever created before.


Maybe it would be good to start taking my meds again*.

Told ya. Hell. Today I started drafting again. Same work in progress, just the section that’s never had a first draft, the denouement. So I’m actually writing, not revising. And here is what that feels like:


Remember how I used to write in this blog every single day? And then it got slower and slower and slower? Notice how the slower portions correlate to times when I’m revising, versus drafting? Notice how there just aren’t as many resources out there to help authors with the revision process? Even the Stephen Kings & the Anne Lamotts & those other bright and shining angels don’t talk as much about it.


I think there must be some sort of brain sciency thing that goes on. It’s a different place to be, mentally. It’s hard to create when you’re so busy tearing down and rearranging.

And it’s creating that gives you the high. That gives me the high, anyway.

Anyway. Today I wrote a new chapter, the denouement for Semantha. And it’s pretty cool. If I do say so myself. It sets her and her counterpart–the general–up for the next book, while simultaneously creating a satisfying ending for her in this book. And it’s neat because something new happens, something unexpected and yet organic to the characters & the plot. It even surprised me.

Heather with green fingernails

She said: Do you want something pale, something neutral? I said: Green, please.

On a related note, last night I read the first several chapters of my book to the kids. They’ve been begging for it, and I’ve been unable to comply, too caught up in revisions to want to think about reading any of it aloud. The first four chapters they had heard before, in rough draft version. But the fifth–featuring Semantha–was new to them.

They said they love Semantha best. Maybe because she’s more like them–an ordinary kid with an ordinary family and an ordinary teen’s “as if” attitude. Maybe because Semantha’s the only character who is making her own things happen, instead of things happening to which she has to react. An agent of her own change.

Maybe just because it’s a fresh chapter, a new take on a character, something they hadn’t read before.

And maybe that’s why writing is so much more fun than revising. I like Semantha best today too.

P.S. I got a manicure yesterday (for, let’s see, the second time in my life). This fact, and the picture of me looking horrified (because green fingernails: Who does that?) has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with this story. But I can force it to, if you like. It’s symbolic. Of something. Me learning to have fun? Taking life less seriously? Taking care of myself? I love my green fingernails. Love them. They make me smile. Sort of like writing does. But not revising. Revising does not make me smile. Green fingernails do. Connection. See?

*I don’t actually take any meds. Maybe I should.

One thought on “Green Fingernails

  1. My toenails are green.

    My last novel dying made me start taking meds.

    “I want to send my novel draft to someone who will know and who will be brutally honest.”

    I used to think that, but what you really want is someone who gets it. Sometimes the most brutally honest thing you can do is to recognize that your brutal honesty will not help the other person at all and shut up. Oh, I did that annoying thing where I both disagreed with your statement and then agreed and built on it. Sigh. What I’m saying is, screw brutality. We hate brutal honesty not because it contradicts what we think but because the person might have packaged it more nicely but didn’t care enough to take the time to. (I did it again.) I’ve been burned by a writing group, so I’m strangely and strongly and nitpickingly opinionated about this. Two things:

    (1) It takes more time to give a thoughtful, tailored, careful critique, but that’s what you should give, every time, or you should shut up and say nothing because someone’s artistic ambition is more important than your oh-so-important insight.

    (2) If you’re really open to new ideas and changing your story for the better, criticism does not ever need to sting. It might sting on the back end, on the revision end, but the actual reading and receiving of criticism, if that stings? The person gave it to you wrong. Their ideas might still be good, but it’s okay to openly say, “S/he was a jerk about this.”

    There’s so much talk about how the writer should not be overly protective and not enough talk about how the critiquer should leave his or her ego at the door as well.

    And if you’re going to say, “This isn’t what I normally read, but…” NO NO NO. Stop talking. Go away.

    End rant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>