My fifth grader is that funny age between grammar school and middle school but he still lets me read to him every night. So, the other night as he wound down, I grabbed a book and went into his room, side-stepping around the detritus of a 10-year-old boy. I tiptoed between legos, a guitar, and dropped towels. And, just before making it to his bed, I tripped over a humidifier and landed hard on a paint set. Then, I kind of lost it.
I surveyed his room, every inch jam-packed: piles of books, a keyboard, three lamps, a lizard, playing cards, two bean bag chairs, crumpled sweatshirts, and video games. Each object delighted and entertained him. Me? I had a headache.
So, I Did What I Normally Do …
I ignored it. The problem was, no matter where I started, organizing his room was going to be a major undertaking loaded with emotional attachment. Every step would lead to another and then another; even the humidifier couldn’t simply be put away … it had to be taken downstairs, cleaned with a vinegar solution, disassembled, air-dried, and then put in the closet. It felt like there were 40 or 50 tasks that needed to be completed before his room would feel organized. And since I didn’t have time for all of them, I did none of them.
Hmmm, Feels Familiar …
My memoir manuscript, it turns out, is the literary equivalent to my son’s room. I spent a year in the Memoir Incubator mining memories, collecting scenes, and writing the beats. Now that I’m in Book Revision Lab, I recognize that my first draft needs a major overhaul. But each individual edit feels like it will lead to so many other changes that I become paralyzed. I feel stuck.
Cue Anne Lamott …
When I set out to write this manuscript, I wondered, “How can I possibly write a whole book?” The answer, Anne Lamott’s oft-repeated advice, is bird by bird. Revision is a one-step-at-a-time process as well.
I received feedback from five readers, thanks to my writing community. I also learned plenty of tips, including one fellow writer’s suggestion to make a list of what needs to be done and rank the tasks by level of complexity. If I have a half hour, I can do a simpler task like a word-use frequency search. If I have a large chunk of time, I can begin a reverse outline. We’d discussed a range of techniques to find a way into the work.
My favorite bit of advice? Every time you touch the manuscript, make it better. One step at a time. Like dealing with a messy room. I just have to find a way in.