Doing what Works

So I just finished revising a chapter after two days of inactivity.

I looked at all of these articles in my Tumblr feed about writing and overcoming procrastination and perfectionism, both of which I have a very high statistical likelihood of enacting. This one in particular was very useful, and there was one piece of advice that resonated with me: start small, because you need to build back up. And I remembered that incident with me doing my workouts after like a month and a half of no physical activity and then feeling like I was going to cry, vomit and die for the next quarter of an hour while sitting in a near-unconscious heap in the shower. And remembering that I vowed to take better care of myself, specifically so that this sort of thing would not happen again. Because it’s not worth it, no matter how much of a rush your inner critic – which is still a part of you – gets out of berating your shortcomings.

So I decided, instead of doing my intended three chapters of revision, instead of even one chapter of revision, I would start small.

I would make one note.

I would open the document, and the first note that I made would be my entire workload. And that would be that.

An hour or two later, and that one note was followed by a whole lot of extra-curricular notes, and the chapter has been critiqued. As fate would have it, it was a fantastically rewarding chapter to critique and read, because it presented me with a scenario that I have come across in too many texts to count: seeing what the main character should be like and enjoying that version of them so much that the one presented on the page feels disingenuous. And it’s almost always that the character on the page is being presented as a Goodie, when the more satisfying version of them is, in fact, a bit of a tool.

Or, in Tallulah’s case, in this chapter, a huge bag of tools.

And I loved it. I loved discovering this side of her, discovering that I liked it as much as I did, that I was able to identify it in something that I myself wrote and not just in things that other people have written, because it made me feel … not unbiased, but it framed my bias differently to how I’d been thinking about it beforehand. I had always wanted Tallulah to be a ‘grey’ character, and this chapter has given me enough motivation to write a whole other story if I want to. But I want to write this one, and if this version of Tallulah, interesting and viscerally gratifying as she is to imagine, does not work in it, then I will not try to shoehorn her into it. I hope.

But the best thing about this toolbag character I discovered was that it made so much sense. It’s like watching Disney films as an adult, seeing all of the confrontational and messy directions that they hint at but never follow through; they just feel so right. (Especially Beauty and the Beast.) Or imagining what Twilight could have been if the characters were actually meant to be horrible toxic people and Meyer had followed through with it. I think that story, while depressing, would have been freaking awesome. And in Tallulah’s case, it sets her up so nicely for a huge cathartic redemption story, if I can do it right. Which I can. Perhaps not on the first try, but this set-up is so wonderful that I won’t be able to live with myself if I can’t find an equally wonderful payoff. It’ll be worth taking the time to get it right.

So I like this new strategy for now, because I am so very, very out of shape as a reviser right now: just do one note. That’s it. I found tonight, and starting at like 1am, that I couldn’t bear to leave it at just one note, but it took the pressure off, and I just did the rest of it because, for one thing, the chapter was awesome to read through and analyse, and for another, it was that whole ‘well, so long as I’m here’ thing. And if I had only done that one note and then stopped, that’s one more note that I can tick off the list.

Not that there is a list. I imagine that would be a horrible way to revise.

And the moral of the story is: do what works for you. Because then whatever you do will always work.

Knowledge-bomb deployed.

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