Sunday, April 26, 2015

Editing, Writing, and Anxiety - Tips

If you haven't yet, please read my blog post entitled "Mental Disorder Series - Anxiety." This is a great resource if you don't know what the difference between common anxiety and an anxiety disorder is. It also provides a bit of background with my anxiety experience for those of you interested.

This post, however, is not about the generals of anxiety. No. Instead it is about how Authors can manage to revise and edit their own books, even through suffering from anxiety attacks, avoidance, and other anxiety disorder related problems.

This subject was brought up to me by this twitter comment by user @hannahswiderski:
This was after I posted my tweet about dealing with my anxiety while editing my upcoming book, Wings. Because guys, editing is hard. Writing is hard. Doing them with anxiety? Even harder.

So when an author writes a book, they sit down and basically put their soul on paper. (Or into a word/scrivener/etc document.) The process begins with an idea, moves into the writing part, includes some pre-emptive editing, maybe some outlining... Honestly it depends on the author.

Anxiety can strike at any time during the writing process, but it most commonly seems to strike while editing. The reason for this has to do with the fact that, hey, we just spilled our guts out and now we have to go back, re-read it, and change it.

Big problem number one: Re-Reading what we just wrote. Why is this a problem? Simple. "What if it's terrible? Why am I such a bad writer? How did I forget this comma? Why should I have to edit this?" And then of course there's the fear of just plain reading what you wrote. Yes, it's normal to be scared of what you've just written. Even moreso if you have an anxiety or avoidance issue.

Big problem number two: CHANGING what you just wrote. Hun, this is my pure emotion in word format for you and you think it needs to be edited? Changed? Re-arranged? This is my baby!

And then of course there are other issues too such as compulsive editing and not being sure if your editing is good enough.

(Some of you will note that you can hire out an editor to edit your work for you but I must remind you that in the end the choice of what to do with your book is ultimately yours. Every change is your choice whether to accept or deny.)

Here are some tips for all of you:

  1. Take a deep breath - Hyperventilating isn't going to make your job any easier. No you can't avoid it. You wrote this, you want to edit it. Take many deep breaths and ground yourself and get to it.
  2. Get a warm drink - Whether it's tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or something else, the warmth will help calm you down and let you relax. That's really what you need to do first. Relax.
  3. Ground yourself - Meditate, prey, go for a walk, whatever your method of grounding yourself is: Do it. If you aren't grounded you won't be able to concentrate on your work.
  4. Re-read your story - This may feel scary at first, but read the whole thing. Many of you have let the story sit for at least a month (as suggested for anyone editing their own book!) You need to get acquainted with this piece before you can change it. One cannot edit what one does not know.
  5. Edit a section once and move on - Yes, you can come back to it later, but just change it once and come back to it after you've gone through the rest of the story. This helps with compulsive editing. If you edit one part too many times, it might stop fitting with the rest of your story and then you've begun creating a completely different book entirely.
  6. Don't edit your story in the original document. - Whether you paste the whole thing in a different document, print it out and edit it, re-write parts on paper, just don't edit the original document. You may need it for reference. You'll need it for a backup. And all that stuff is just distracting.
  7. Don't try to edit the whole thing in one day. - Editing is a process. You'll have to go over it multiple times, look for different things, and honestly you're stressing yourself out by trying to change 10,000+ words in 24 hours.
  8. Take breaks. - Constantly re-editing? Take a break. Stuck on one part? Take a break. Out of coffee? Take a break. Breaks will allow you to re-focus later.
  9. Have someone else look it over. - They don't have to do a full edit, not even a proofread. They just need to read it and give you a semi-detailed opinion on your book. That way, you have something to go off of as you edit. Do this before and then after you edit. If someone looks at your edited version and says "hey, I like this" then you can feel okay going on to publish it.
  10. Remember, you're not the only one with anxiety. Scott Stossel, the author of "My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind" is an editor at Atlantic. He suffers from anxiety and nobody even knew until he published this book. In fact, it's really sad that more authors and editors don't come out and talk about their anxiety. It would really help the rest of us. Of which there are many.
  11. Don't Procrastinate. - The hardest part of finishing is getting started. Get started now. Read your book, figure out what tools you're going to use to edit it, and start.
  12. Go paragraph by paragraph. - First, this gives us the 'one step at a time' mentality, which is comforting. Secondly, it helps separate this section from the rest of the book which allows us to focus.
  13. Read it out loud. - Sometimes our brains aren't working right when we edit, so we need to calibrate them. Read the part that you're working on out loud. It exposes a lot of errors you may not have been able to previously catch.
  14. Remember this book is YOUR baby. Because it is your baby and you care about it, you need to remember that it deserves a lot of your respect and attention. You wrote this and you should feel proud. It's your love, your work, and it's marvelous. Be sure to cherish it for what it is.
  15. I said, this book is your BABY. That's right, it's a baby. It is your child. It's your job to help this baby grow into a wonderful piece of work. Use this editing session to teach your baby new things. One day it will be able to go out into the world on it's own. You'll be such a proud parent.
I hope these steps have helped you out. Another thing that helped me out recently was being told that the rough draft of your book is you telling the story to yourself. That means that after you write it, your job is to add more details so other people can understand as much about your book as you.

Editing is and always has been a difficult job. If you have anxiety, your job is to remain calm, take breaks, and go at it bit by bit. 

With all that being said, I need to get back to editing wings.
Happy Writing!