I’m Not Afraid of my Big Bad Manuscript

…so what the hell’s wrong then?

I have been thinking a lot about fear the last week or so. I’ve been trying to understand why I can’t begin the second draft of my novel. I assumed I was afraid, after all, it’s fear* that usually roots me to the spot and renders me incapable of forward momentum. When I burrowed under ‘fear’ to try and find out exactly what it was that was holding me back, I came up with nothing. (And no, honestly, I wasn’t deluding myself!)


Confused, I started to look at the problem from a different angle. I know a lot of what I wrote is last November is crap, but I also know there are some awesome gems in there, I know the story absolutely has legs and I know you have to start somewhere. I know the manuscript is riddled with plot holes and half-baked characters but I know with time, research and patience, I’ll work out how to fill the holes and round out the characters. In summation I know its going to require a lot of work to get it up to speed. I also know I have done it before and I will do it again.


When I read through Dalhousie, the first thought was: oh shit I’ve done it again. Thrown words at the page in record time and now I have to make sense of it. Just as I did with Elyora. Sheesh, you don’t learn, woman! Six drafts is what it took to get Elyora up to standard. The idea of six drafts of a 80K length novel is absolutely daunting.

The moral of the story, which I pointed out to myself, is: I’m not lacking in a track record or the skills. I did it with Elyora and followed it up with Post Marked:Piper’s Reach. I have no doubts whatsoever the PMPR manuscript got at least six passes over it. Yet it never felt difficult, or arduous or consuming. I always came out of an editing session filled up, rather than emptied out. It came out better for all the rewriting.

So honestly, what the hell is my problem?


Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 7.05.32 PMI’m overwhelmed (not scared) of what awaits me. There’s 79K crappy words and just me to get it tidied into a solid second draft. No one has my back. There will be no kooky Skype sessions. No-one but me will leave humourous or insightful comments in margin bubbles. While I have friends like Rob Cook to assist in untangling things, it’s just me and the manuscript right now.

I want to work smarter, not harder this time. I don’t want to have to do six drafts (but you know, if that’s what it ends up taking, so be it!) For a start, I want to somehow have it all straight in my head when I sit down to do this next draft to expedite the process; understand the characters and their motivations intimately, know how the clockwork mechanisms and the house works. I don’t want any more huge gaping structural holes at the end of this draft.

Consequently I’ve been kind of floundering. And as I’ve floundered I’ve let myself drift into any form of procrastination that will keep me safe from having to front up and sort out the mess. I’ve blamed it on fear, but fear has a new name. It has the correct name: overwhelming.


What does this change? I’m still overwhelmed. A novel is big, really bloody big and I might not be able to fix everything right now. But… I can incrementally stick plot holes and characters in my head and mentally masticate them into shape.

Indries Shah’s said: Enlightenment must come little by little – otherwise it would overwhelm. Oh damn, don’t I know it! So I welcome enlightenment to come slowly and I’ll be ready for all it drops.

Then there was the wisdom of a midwife friend almost ten years ago: How do you eat an elephant?

I can take small, mindful bites at the manuscript. Not choke, trying to force more than I can cope with down my throat. I will do what I can, something small every day, until the momentum picks me up, my home life settles and my confidence bolsters. I’ll be the consummate nibbler and know, sooner rather than later, the second draft flow will be upon me, replacing this horrible sense of being buried alive by my own words! Then nothing will stop me.

*Thank you Adam for your article today, prodding me to articulate what was swirling in my head!


We almost had sex.
Almost broke the lounge
as ‘Blue Velvet’ played to itself on the TV.
The gas radiator filled the room with heat
augmented by our lust.
When you slipped out into the cold night air
your calling card was my body,
almost covered in carpet burn.

I almost fell for you.
The man who parked his car a block away
so the cleaner from work,
who lived around the corner,
had no chance to put two and two together.
But still you huddled into my door,
knocking with an urgency
I mistook for me.

You, who moved your girlfriend in
so you could pretend to be
almost faithful.
You, who hissed, ‘Not here’
when I said ‘hello’ in the bread aisle
and later turned up to seduce me
while you were almost getting ice cream
for the girlfriend-now-fiance.

I almost cried that afternoon
as you drove off without saying goodbye.
When I was almost no longer there
and you had already moved on.
It was easy to regret everything,
rewrite it in the diesel fumes,
when I was almost at the town limits
but still so far away
from arriving.

Reconsidering a Parent’s Role in Education

A Reflection on Stepping Up for Brilliant Young Minds

I was so excited when we opened the first unit of English in Term 4 last year and found it was poetry. Disillusionment set in rather quickly when I discovered all the exercises were centred on adaptation of existing poetry. It was only a few weeks after the allegations of plagiarism had been levelled at Graham Nunn and several other poets. It seemed to me that Ed Queensland were actually endorsing a process seen in other professional circles as the worst kind of creative theft.

While the poetry unit taught the nuances of rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhythm, students were given no freedom or opportunity to explore these parameters independently; to create their own original poems. There was also the issue of repetition. Across five weeks they were expected to complete five adaptations, the final one the assessment item.

I had to sell the final piece to my son as an opportunity to write a rap, to create some beats and perform it; it was the only way to engage him with the material and the process by that point. As to be expected, he rose to the challenge but then refused to submit his rapped poem as the assessment piece because he was afraid he would be failed for doing something different.


It’s hard not to be critical when you are the one on the ground delivering something you see as inherently defective, both as a creative individual and as someone who wields words for a living.

Anyone who is a Facebook friend or who follows me on Twitter will know I was very vocal and critical throughout the unit. This was very out of character for me. I am loath to be critical of anything I feel I am unable to offer an alternative for or to be an effective vehicle of change against.

I considered writing a letter to BDSE about the unit but was told they draw their material directly from the National Curriculum. All the angry letters in the world weren’t going to change it. All I could do was try and fill the gaps as best I could (which I was able to do because I was the home tutor!) and to let my friends who are writers and poets know what was going on at the grassroots level. To get them investigating how poetry and creative writing were being taught to their kids.


I believe whoever put together the Grade 3 poetry unit last year had no imagination, no passion or appreciate for poetry. Like much of mainstream schooling, it’s all about ticking a particular series of boxes. Unfortunately creativity is not considered a box important enough to include, let alone tick.

When I mentioned this to an old friend, who has been a teacher for almost 20 years, she said there is so much to get through in the curriculum and the pressure on teachers to get through it is so enormous there is no time for creativity. So I asked where kids get to explore creativity. At home, was the answer.

I was mortified.

What if you come from a household that, like the education system, doesn’t value creativity? Where do you get your exposure? Where do you get a chance to appreciate it, participate in and explore it?

Students are encouraged to excel in science, in sport, they can excel in any particular subject area, but few (and in many instances no) opportunities exist to excel in being creative. And no, being creative is not simply about opting to do art or drama or music.


Last week I had a long conversation on Twitter with Adam about the parental role in education. It was long and many faceted dissection of a complex interaction. Much of the responsibility to address issues faced by children and young people has been abdicated by parents and forced on teachers, in a parenting culture that, from an early age, outsources primary care of children beyond the family home.

I absolutely agree with Adam that teachers deserve more recognition, more respect and more support. And I agree parents need to step up, rather than step back and point. However the system negates much of the potential parents have to offer to participate in their children’s education beyond getting their kids to school, helping them with their homework, coming in to help with reading when students are young, do a ‘job talk’ and other auxiliary, but ‘parallel’ roles dictated by the P&C.

In short, parents are not seen as co-educators. Teachers are seen as the sole professionals in the area and parents to defer to them, rather than work in conjunction with them to achieve excellent educational outcomes. (Adam pointed out that this requires an entirely different and complete discussion as to how this came to be?)


I admit, I trusted the system to know what was best for my son. I was engaged as I could be: helped in tuckshop, did reading groups, did a class talk on publishing, sorted the class readers every week, attended parent teacher nights and went to parade as often as I could, sold sausages on election day, donated prizes each year for raffles, attended fundraisers, did everything short of attending P&C meetings (and that was a conscious decision after years of burn out in other volunteer capacities). The thing was, I was on the periphery of the every day function of the classroom. It was clearly delineated what the expectation of parents were and I did my best to step up.

That was until things fell apart and we needed help. Over 12 months the trust I had in the system, and a mainstream school’s ability to help, diminished until it was suggested that we leave, enroll in distance education while we sorted out our son’s issues. I was forced to step up and become responsible for my son’s education.

Once I was a home tutor, and charged with the responsibility of delivering the national curriculum, I had the chance to have an intimate relationship with the content. I got to finally set foot in ‘the classroom’. I got to review and form an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses. How it might work better in a classroom, rather than a kitchen table, and visa versa, how difficult teaching is. It was this chance to interface with the material that got me questioning and suggesting to other creatives that they too question how our children engage with English as future readers, writers, film makers, poets, critics and so forth. We need to step up and ask to be part of the process as professionals in this area, as well as parents.


It’s very different where my son goes to school now. It is a small community school of less than sixty kids. Parents aren’t just encouraged to be part of the every day school culture they are expected to be. One of the fathers take PE classes on a Friday afternoon, several of the mums do music and yoga lessons. In the morning there is always a parent in the room to help with the multi-age, multi-skill diversity of the class.

At the beginning of the year, my son’s teacher asked if I knew anything about poetry. While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve been penning a few poetic phrases of late and have a growing appreciation of the form. She asked if I would be interested in coming in once a week to teach poetry. I told her Stacey, whose daughter is in the same class, wrote more poetry than I did and she’d probably be keen to teach as well.

Two weeks ago Stacey went in and shared with them erasure poetry. She introduced it as “vandalising someone’s words” – a far more appropriate activity than misappropriating someone’s words through an adaptation in my opinion.


Tuesday I shared solage, a form Wiki refuses to acknowledge. It was how I opened my spiel to them, followed on by selling it as ‘detective poetry’ – each line was a clue as to what the final word was.

Some kids caught on quickly and were prolific. Other kids were slower to wrap their head around it and produce a solid poem. A few didn’t get it, but came up with some lovely rhyming lines and engaged in rather interesting discussions about words (particularly around flies and living in poo!). Solage is not a ‘simple form’ and I was impressed to see the tenacity with which they all attempted it.

Here are a few examples (these are for kids in Grade 3 – 7!)

While the cats away

The opposite of play

– pause

A good mark

Crawls on bark

– tic

A memory in the past

More recent than last

– new

Waits by the throne

Lighter than foam

– air

All those who completed a poem stood up to read their work to the class. It was something I am sure Cameron Semmens, as a performance poet, would have been proud of.


As a dyed-in-the-wool post-it note poet, I took in a stack of coloured squares and flowers and speech bubbles, invited the kids to transcribe their completed poems onto them. Then one of the girls suggested that they stick them up on the tree above their reading area.

And thus, we ended up with a solage tree. Not all the poems ended up on the wall, but a majority did. I’d love to think that over the next few weeks the tree might sprout more leaves until the glue gives way and the poems fall like autumn leaves.


I agree education is not entertainment. But I also believe education is not all hard work. Learning is a life long experience. Learning has at its heart passion, engagement and experimentation. Most school teachers believe this too, but the system and the administration of it, has lost sight of it, focused instead on letting bureaucrats over complicate things in the quest to create quantifiable output.

I don’t expect my son’s entire class to go on to write or read poetry as teenagers or adults. What is important to me is, for an hour or so, they were all engaged in the word play, in a way that stimulated independent thought and creative exploration. They weren’t appropriating someone else’s words or thoughts and trying to shoehorn them into own. They were able to give their ideas and words a chance to free-range. To shine!

If I can share just a little of my passion with young minds and hearts, and if just one, JUST ONE, of those kids is inspired to create or keep creating, then I have made an important contribution; an investment that will keep paying forward.

What would happen if the education system, as a whole, gave parents the chance to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem; if they gave parents the same opportunity I’ve had to participate and inspire, and students the chance to draw on the experience and talents of a wider community?

DISCLAIMER: In case it is not clear, I consider there to be a clear delineation between the eduction system and teachers, as I make the same delineation between nurses, doctors, auxiliary health processionals and the health system. This post IS NOT a brow beat of teachers, but a look at a system that has created artificial fractures between its ideological framework, teaching and axillary staff, parents and community… rather than fostering an inclusive and participatory attitude of partnership in learning.

From Short Story to Short Story Collection (and all stops between)

An interview with Dan Powell

I’ve known Dan Powell since mid-2009. We stumbled across each other between Constantine Markide’s Fourth Fiction and the inception of #fridayflash. We were both relatively new to writing and wrote shoulder-to-shoulder through much of the second half of 2009. I greatly admired the scope and versatility of Dan’s writing. There seemed to be no style or genre he couldn’t turn his hand to with style and efficacy. In time we fell into a critiquing partnership that has endured the birth of children, moving countries, breakdowns, work pressures, time pressures, and all other things life can, and does, throw your way.

DanAuthorPicI’ve had the honour to publish three of Dan’s stories (‘This Be The Verse’, ‘Driver and the Beautiful Highway’, ‘Perfect Light’). He is an editor’s dream. In 2012 I had the opportunity to adapt ‘Driver and the Beautiful Highway’ for a short film script.

Behind the scenes I’ve had the joy of watching so many of Dan’s story grow and evolve and go on to find homes in magazines, anthologies and on prize lists. I tell in my editing seminars, in the section on beta reading, how Dan once sent me a story which was just an opening and closing. In the middle was a note: [something goes here. Do you have any ideas what it might be?] Those days are long past for Dan!

Dan’s work is uncompromising and at times uncomfortable in its exploration of taboo subjects or hidden ‘domestic’ situations. I have been disturbed and delighted by the characters and stories Dan has penned. In 2010 I (jokingly!) said to Dan: no more shit stories. Read ‘Soiled’ and ‘Did You Pack This Bag Yourself’ and you’ll understand the comment in context of a stay-at-home Dad going through toilet training!

Dan is one of my writing heroes: his dedication to the writing communities he belongs to (in the early days of the Friday Flash community he read and commented on every story, even when the list blew out to 70 odd stories), his dedication to the craft (his commitment to the Short Story a Day challenge back in 2010 was one of the catalyst in the evolution of his stories IMO), his dedication to Flash Fiction as a form (he has reviewed and shared countless stories from sites such as Metazen) and his work ethic (write, sub, and keeping subbing).

Then there is the huge investment Dan has made my work over the years as my crit partner. He knows my work inside-out and has consistently challenged me to write learner, harder and deeper. His editorial stamp is on so many of my stories, including Elyora/River of Bones.

Today it’s my pleasure to look across my desk and see copies of Looking Out of Broken Windows sitting there… and to grill him about the process of creating a short story collection.

Lou Reed said: I can’t do anything I want to. I mean, I can’t have my own TV show. I can’t have my own movie. But within my little world, no body tells me what to put on the album. It made me think of how writing stories is not too different to writing songs.

bookondeskThat is exactly what I love about writing. I write exactly the stories that I would love to read. That level of control is unique to the prose writer. Every other type of story-telling requires collaboration and as such means you relinquish some of that control, some of that freedom. I’ve written comic scripts and I love collaborating with artists and watching the words come to life in a kinetic fashion, but you cannot beat the raw freedom you get faced with a blank page about to be filled with prose.

I am genuinely excited by what I am writing about at any given time. You can’t beat that feeling of writing exactly what you want to write. Seeing that work go on to be accepted for publication and enjoyed by readers is particularly thrilling. It justifies all those choices, both conscious and unconscious, that you make during the crafting of the piece.

David Byrne said that sometimes there is an unconscious thread that runs through the songs on an album. The same could be said about writing short stories; that as writers we are drawn to tell certain types of stories and or give voice to certain types of characters. How indicative is Looking out of Broken Windows of the types of stories/characters you are drawn to and how did those stories influence the inception of the collection?

This collection is absolutely indicative of the kinds of stories and characters I was interested in exploring over the last four or five years.

I am drawn to the broken and damaged parts of people. In those aspects of character lie the real stories. All of the characters in these stories are a little broken, a little damaged and struggling to deal with the events and actions that have made them that way. This thread emerged in an unconscious process. Once I began filtering the stories during selection, it was very clear that a certain core group would provide the spine of the collection.

Being broken is a major part of the human experience. If you’re lucky you pick yourself up and carry on, hopefully with the help of others. This collection explores that side of being a person.

From that inception point, what was the process of creating Looking Out of Broken Windows? What was the hardest part and what was the easiest part of the process?

The short stories are the backbone of the collection. Once I had that group it was a matter of selecting the flash fictions that best complimented the stories.

The hardest part of the process was realising that certain stories just wouldn’t make the cut for the collection. I knew early on that a good few stories that I really loved, that I thought were good enough to include, just didn’t fit the overall theme and feel of the collection.

Looking at the collection now I can see that I absolutely made the right choices over what to include. And of those that it really hurt to cut, a good two or three have a firm place in the next collection, which they are perfect for, so it all worked out. Conversely, the easiest part was probably the removal of those stories that weren’t quite good enough.

LOoBW has 27 stories in it. How many stories did you have the pool and how did you choose what went in and what was held over?

I pulled the very best stories from the last five years or so of my writing to make up the collection. From a total pool of around 26 stories and 32 flash fictions I ended up with the 27 pieces in the collection. So by that reckoning, I trimmed away just over half of the stories that might have earned a place.

Most of those were cut because they simply weren’t good enough. Others were kept back for my next collection as they simply did not fit the emerging theme of this collection.

The real turning point for selection came with the writing of the title story (which was the last story to be completed in the collection). I knew as soon as I typed the final words that the collection had a story that would act as its figurehead. Once I had that, I had a title for the collection and the rest slotted into place.

Many of the stories in LOoBW were published previously in journals, magazines and anthologies. How does including previously published stories impact on the logistics of putting a collection together?

LOOBW lower res coverThat side of things was all very simple. All the stories were published at least a year ago and therefore out of any exclusivity that their previous publications claimed. For all of them I have copyright so that side of things was not an issue.

All of the stories that appeared previously elsewhere are mentioned in the acknowledgements of the collection, along with my sincere thanks to all the editors who championed my work by putting it online and in print. Their support was a crucial stepping-stone to this collection being accepted for publication.

Do the previously published stories appear as the fans of your work will remember them? Or did some require re-working to fit the overall feel of the anthology?

All the stories appear pretty much as they were originally published. The exception is ‘Did You Pack This Bag Yourself?’ which you will remember appeared in Chinese Whisperings interconnected short story anthology The Yin and Yang Book as ‘This Be The Verse.’

It was a story I absolutely needed to include, as no character of mine is more broken than poor old Calvinsweetheart. The rewriting was not about making the story fit the theme in this case, but taking the story back to its core, removing the elements that tied it in to the world of the Yin and Yang books, so the story could stand on its own two feet amidst my other work.

In the past when I’ve configured anthology ToCs I’ve been very mindful to place each story so it’s position amplifies the narrative but also builds the stories around it. Who decided on the final ToC order and how do you think your stories are altered/experienced differently in having them together in a single collection?

The final order of stories was totally my own decision. Salt are happy to trust their authors to shape their books. I think they believe that no-one knows the book better than the author and as such they give you a great deal of freedom regarding which stories you include and in what order.

I think my stories all stand up as separate pieces of fiction but hopefully, when read together like this, the reader will see the connections and resonances between the many narratives squeezed between the covers.

Hip hop artist Mos Def says all his albums are snapshots of where he is artistically. How is Looking Out of Broken Windows a snap shot of you are both as an artist and a person?

It is definitely a snapshot of me as a writer between 2008 and 2013.

All of the stories were written during that period and as such can’t help but reflect where I was at that time both as a writer and a human being. Many of the stories focus on the domestic, which is probably a direct result of my being a househusband and full-time-father during that time. It’s why there are so many stories about pregnancy and babies in the book, why there are so many stories about marriages, so many stories about parent and child relationships.

Are there any hints at what might be in your next collection?

My next collection is already taking shape. I have five or six stories for it already. This one is going to be all about the idea of masculinity in the 21st century.

It’s creative process is quite different as I have a clear idea of the general feel of this collection from the off and I am consciously writing stories that have something to say about that idea. Hopefully this will mean that this one won’t take so long to complete. The first of these stories, ‘Rip Rap’, has just been short listed for the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize. With luck some of the others will start appearing in publications and prize shortlists very soon.

– – –

Dan Powell is a prize winning author whose short fiction has appeared in the pages of Carve, Paraxis, Fleeting and The Best British Short Stories 2012. His debut collection of short fiction, Looking Out Of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2013 and is published by Salt. He procrastinates at danpowellfiction.com and on Twitter as @danpowfiction.

Dan is giving away a signed copy of Looking Out of Broken Windows to one reader of the blog tour; he will post to anywhere in the world. To win just leave a comment on this post or any of the other LOoBW blog tour posts appearing across the internet during March 2014. The names of all commenters will be put in the hat for the draw, which will take place on April 6th.

Looking Out of Broken Windows (Salt Publishing) hits the shelves Saturday 15th March. You can pre-order at the following locations:

The Salt store
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository

‘Nothing New To Begin’ Published in Tincture

…proving, yet again, my blog is suspiciously similar to a bus station platform

My string of vignettes ‘Nothing New To Begin’ is available now in Tincture Journal, Issue Five. I share the ToC with two of my PINPS colleagues: Stacey has the short story ‘Diary of a Tree-Sitter’ and Sean has a poem ‘The King’.


I wrote this piece back in August 2012 while Adam and I were in the middle of writing Piper’s Reach. I wrote it partly as therapy, partly to see if I could pull off the concept: each section a stand alone vignette, a snap shot of a moment, an ambigious  space for the reader to fill and be no longer than 250 words.

Even though they were all intended as separate pieces, I wanted them to fit together to tell an ever evolving and deviating story. It was a piece that I put through the beta reading wringer. I got a number of non-writing friends to read and comment on it before I sent it off to Dan Powell who expertly cut 250 odd words from it. Adam and Stacey all had input at varying junctures.

Here is a taster…

The silence of the car trip followed them inside with the chill of night air. She paused in the doorway then backed away, staring at the queen-sized bed. “I’ll sleep in one of the other rooms.”

A single bed had less lonely space to fill.

“I wasn’t suggesting…” he said, and she forced a smile to stop him finishing the sentence.

“Are you okay?” The car trip haunted her. How the conversation had petered out with the suburbs, becoming polite inquiries about the next CD and the best rest stops once they hit the highway. If she’d known it would be like this, the melancholy clinging to them like the damp sea air, she’d have never suggested it.

“We should eat,” he said. “Something proper.”

She nodded and watched him put his bag down on the far side of the bed.

Thunder heaved and the first iron pings of rain began to fall. An overhanging tree branch clawed the guttering. The window lit up.

“A storm?” he said, looking surprised.

“Of course a storm,” she said and placed her bags carefully on the other side of the bed.

Want to know what it is all about, how it ends. Buy your copy here for just $8.

The Dark Night of the (editing) Soul

Or how I accidentally learned to negate the bullet of hating my manuscript

I am an uncompromising editor. I work predominately with new and emerging writers and I push them hard – really hard – to produce the best possible work. I always get a sense of when I’m reaching the limit of that shove though. When I ask them to do one more draft. It’s when I expect them to tell me to ‘piss off’.

Over time I’ve learned this is the time to pile on the praise: how hard they’ve work, how well the story has developed and how much the reader is going to enjoy it. Or anything else I can pull from my hat to ease the pain of ‘just one more draft’.


River_of_Bones2 reset

In the self-editing cycle there is just you, the page and all the broken words. No-one to champion you as writer, and your story; no-one to act as counter point to remind you of all the good in your manuscript and your capability as a writer.

When I was was working through Lesley’s structural edits on Elyora I reached the point of despair and I sat down and composed several emails to her that began: this has all been a terrible mistake.

I honestly believed the novella was shite and it would probably be best for all concerned if I pulled it.

It was Lesley’s first big editing gig and I felt it wasn’t my place to dump all of my self-doubt on her, to sift through then massage my ego.

After I deleted the third withdrawal letter in as many days, I dug deep inside to be my own editor-champion, as I had been for countless other writers. I told myself I was just looking at all the problems, all the things that didn’t work in the story and with my writing. Of course I was bound to be discouraged. Who wouldn’t be?


Last year when I wrote the booklet for my editing seminar, I included a section at the end of structural and line editing called ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. In there I talked about my own experiences and some suggestions to weather the temptation to just shelve the novel/novella/short story and keep working.

In digging myself out of the trough of self-doubt in 2012 I did several things:

  1. I forced myself to finish my revision (I was about 85% done).
  2. I was lucky enough to be reading Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine and no-one does internal monologue better than Kirstyn. I was able to see the internal monologue I had written into the latest draft was hideous. I wasn’t hating on the process or the narrative, what I was actually hating on was this new version of Jo.
  3. With that in mind, I read the manuscript aloud.

In reading the manuscript aloud I reconnected with it in a new way. It reinforced my suspicion the internal monologue was all wrong, and I went mad with my pink pen, striking it all out and adding in new suggestions. I made a bit of a game of redrafting the internal monologue. Many of the questions Lesley had about Jo’s dodgy motivations became Jo’s inner voice of reason: You really think it’s a good idea to let some strange man into the bathroom with you?

Dawn did come at the end of the very long night of self-doubt.

Not only did I survive the evil fourth draft, the fifth draft upon completion was structurally tight, the characters were all acting in authentic ways and I loved the manuscript again. Additionally, I was also relieved I had spared Lesley all my angst.


IMG_7549Talking on this topic last Saturday was a light bulb moment for one of the writers in my editing seminar. Delia Strange went on to write a blog post about it.

In it she goes deeper than me just pointing out that editing is a process of picking all the mistakes and how it will consume you by definition of its brief.

Delia’s take on it was that editing becomes the worst kind of negative literary self-talk.

When we are looking for the flaws in our work, we are looking at the flaws in ourselves, in our abilities as writers.  Of course that’s going to expunge our deepest, darkest fears to the surface where we’ll have to face down those ugly thoughts and squash them back in again.

She offers up this gem of advice:

So while I line edit, every sentence that doesn’t need changing or does its job, I’m going to tell myself: “Look at that!  It’s flawless!  It’s wonderful!  I did a good job there!”


I’m adding liberal doses of self-congratulation for the shiny bits to these other suggestions I put together as a mini survival guide in my seminar notes.

  1. Edit in steps – structural edits first, then line edits.
  2. Devise an editing schedule that maximises the time you have available and minimises the stress involved. Ensure you set aside days to rest and recharge.
  3. In that schedule specify milestones and celebrate each when it comes.
  4. Indulge in simple pleasures to offset the gruelling nature of editing. Write up a list as a ready reference in case your brain short-circuits.
  5. Be gentle with yourself when the darkness hits. It’s not the time to collude with the internal negative barrage.
  6. Burn essential oils, go for walks, use Rescue Remedy, write morning pages or anything else that brings you comfort and clarity.
  7. Have friends or colleagues who are willing to listen to you talk, rant, vent or cry if need be.
  8. Keep turning up to edit. If you feel you can’t, find a new way to engage with the process.
    • Work in a different place.
    • Ditch the isolation and organise editing sessions with another writer.
    • Change your writing soundtrack.
    • Read it aloud, or print it off, instead of struggling through it on the screen. This will let you mark up all the bits that are awesome as well as those that still need work.


Forewarned is forearmed to some extent. It still hard when you reach the dark point, but perhaps it’s not as hard as it might have been.

I think the dark night of the soul is a little like transition in labour. The bit where a woman screams: I. Can’t. Do. This.

The fact of the matter is: you are doing it. You are almost there. Take heart. The journey is almost over. Keeping going.

You will make it out the other side; relieved first, then happier about and more connected to the manuscript for your travel through the Underworld together.