Writing Excuses 10.44: How Do I Fix What is Broken?

November is “Revision” month here in the Writing Excuses Season 10 Master Class, so while many of you may be tempted by NaNoWriMo, there’s a different kind of work to be done… Delia Sherman joins us again, this time for a frank talk about the tools and techniques we use during our revisions.


This episode was engineered aboard The Independence of the Seas by Bert Grimm, and mastered in a cloud fortress above Lake Michigan by Alex Jackson.


Print your manuscript, and with six colors of highlighter, mark it up. Assign one color to each of the five senses, and assign a sixth color to movement.

Off To Be The Wizard, by Scott Meyer, narrated by Luke Daniels

13 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.44: How Do I Fix What is Broken?”

  1. It was very validating to hear Mary’s strategy because I do something almost identical, except I deal with them in numerical order (and number them directly for the brain rewards). I also feel like rereading the book in its entirety is super helpful since it helps me see where things do and do not connect throughout the novel.

  2. What do I do if I just generally hate every word I write just because I wrote it?

    I will start editing, but that “this is boring and broken” feeling will come up after the first word and just increase until I’m fuming in rage and self hatred before the sentence is over. I will completely throw out whole books I wrote and start over again because I felt my basic knowledge of language just makes me spew out trash.

    Do you have a way for me to get over this other than “believe you’re awesome” platitudes? I’m tired of not producing anything.

    Thank you.

  3. Although I realise the sequence is a little out for the project this year, this is a very timely episode for me at least.

    I think what I have most taken away from this is that actually, the reviewing process is quite personal to individuals, and what may work for one person won’t necessarily work for another. It does encourage me to think more carefully and deeply about the ‘default’ process I tend to fall back on, and whether it is actually the best fit for what I’m trying to achieve.

    Something to mull over, definitely.


  4. No resounding cries of “Luxury!” Oh, well. It’s time for revision! Yes, suppose your tale of wonder isn’t quite as wonderful as it might be, how do you fix it? The fantastic four plus Delia Sherman and the Writing Excuses cruise folks were adrift at the time, but they still managed to talk about quite a few interesting points. And now you can read all about it, in the archives or over here:


    And remember, even if it’s borken, it can be fixed! Err… BROKEN! In revision!

  5. FYI, as of 11/3, this episode still hasn’t made it up on iTunes. Just letting you know in case there’s a technical problem.

  6. Sorry for the delay, folks. I FINALLY figured out what was wrong with the feed. Simple data-entry error on my part. I populated the wrong field with the podcast URL.

    Hopefully we’ll have this up on iTunes soon.

  7. @ Paul Winchel

    It’s really hard. I know a lot of authors tend to go through the ups and downs cycle of believing what they’ve written is gold alternating with hating it. Being stuck in the hating it zone is hard to pull out of. A few things you might try:

    1) Posting to sites like the Online Writing Workshop, Critters or even writing some fanfic and posting it with the exclusive aim of just seeing that other people don’t think your stuff is entirely rubbish (you’ll discover that it isn’t complete rubbish, believe me).

    2) Giving yourself the job of identifying ten things you like in a story. Ten is a lot. You’ll actually find it pretty hard, but forcing yourself to focus on the good stuff may be helpful depending on what ways your thoughts are undermining you.

    3) Reflecting on how a lot of stuff that is published isn’t actually all that good and many authors who end up amazing start out so-so. Ever read any of Shakespeare’s early plays? No? They’re pretty terrible. Also, one short story collection that helped me a lot in this regard was The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) be Le Guin. Le Guin presented the stories chronologically in order of publication and included almost everything she’d published to date, including the stories she was no longer was very proud of. It provided me with an amazing insight. You get to see an author go from being merely ok to amazing in the course of her writing. That absolutely made me feel like, alright, it’s ok to be ok to start with. Look at Le Guin. Her work started out that way, but improved. That’s fine. It’s a matter of improving over time.

    4) Reflect on how it’s not your job to reject your stories. There is an anecdote about some SF editor… I don’t actually recall who, might have been Damon Knight? Someone else might know. Anyway, the gist of the story is that the editor was talking to an would-be author at a convention and the author said they had a story ready but it wasn’t really good enough for the editor’s publication. The editor responded with “How dare you do my job for me? It’s your job to write the story. It’s my job to decide if it is publishable. You job is not to reject a story before it even gets to me.” (I paraphrase from memory here…) This anecdote did encourage me to send out work. I did think, you know, actually, it isn’t really my job to reject my own work. Maybe something will never sell? What do I care? I might as well have given it a shot and if someone else likes it enough to buy it, then that says something, right?

    5) Try to identify why you care, and work on that. Are you worried people will judge you? Are you protecting yourself from the possibility of failure by nixing stories before they even go to a publisher? Are you unrealistically comparing yourself to really great authors at the top of their careers? Do you look for faults in other parts of your life? Whatever the underlying reason, there probably is a reason, and you may need to address that. It might not even be a big reason. Once you face it, you might discover that it’s actually always looked bigger than it is, and you can deal with it fully knowing what you’re dealing with.

    In the end, if you’ve been writing lots of material, novels, short stories, and if you’ve been doing it for years, you’re probably pretty good at writing now. You might not be able to see it, but you probably are. Start firing some stuff out there. The worst that can happen is a given story will either never be published or sink into obscurity, and every author has a period in which they are drowning in rejection and obscure beyond obscure. It’s just part of the process.

    I guess I should be honest though, and say that, yes, I also have difficulty following through on the submission side of things. I find it easier to submit short stories than novels, and I’ve been putting some stuff up through ebooks (slowly, slowly) not because I expect them to do well, but because I’m looking to get some reinforcement that total strangers might not think the work is terrible.

    So, yeah. It’s not easy, but a part of writing is putting it in front of other eyeballs eventually. If you want your writing to be public, that is if you don’t want to end up as Emily Dickinson, then you need to get it out there one way or another.

    Hope some of that helps,


  8. I thought Chris’s thoughts were excellent. I would add that his point 2 is applicable to more than just a budding author’s writing; it brings great benefits when applied to everything else too. Similarly, try googling for “cognitive behavioural therapy”.

Comments are closed.