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May 5, 2015

What Should We Do If We’re Sick of Our Story?

Sign with a question mark and text: Is It a Bad Sign to Be Sick of Our Story?

When we first start writing our story, we’re filled with passion for the idea. We’re excited to explore the intricacies of our plot and eager to discover the depths of our characters. If we write by the seat of our pants, we might even be curious about how our story will unfold.

But at some point, that excitement, eagerness, and curiosity might (and probably will) diminish. In fact, we might dread working on our story.

This past weekend, I posted a simple update on Facebook:

“I am now at the stage of being sick of reading my own story.
That means I’m almost done, right? 🙂 “

That update hit a nerve, with over 140 Likes and 30 comments. I think we’ve all experienced the disappointment or frustration of working on a story we no longer love.

Is that a warning sign? Should we plow forward anyway? Let’s take a look…

Where Are We in the Writing Process?

There are a lot of steps to writing, editing and publishing a book. Being sick of our story might mean different things depending on what step we’re on.

All of that is normal. Really.

Being Sick of Our Story: Drafting Stage

If we listen to other authors, we’ll soon hear that some of their books flow easily and some of their books are like pulling teeth. Every author I’ve heard share this truth also says the same thing:

The difficulties they encountered while drafting
did not reflect the quality of the finished story.

What does this mean for us? This means that no matter how much we hate or are sick of our story while drafting, it’s extremely hard to judge whether or not the story is so bad that we should toss it under a metaphorical bed (or into a trash can).

When I wear my developmental editor hat, I say that stories can always be salvaged. The only question is whether we’re willing to put in the work in revisions.

As an author, I almost always reach a point in my stories where I get stuck, don’t know where the story should go next, think I’ve gone in the wrong direction, etc. After finishing several stories, I’ve learned that it’s best (for me) to force myself forward and work on fixing the issues in revisions.

For me, the adage “you can’t edit a blank page” applies perfectly. Yes, I might be screwing everything up, but I can’t fix it until I have a starting point.

We could also take a break from writing that story to see if we can discover other solutions. Or we might brainstorm with a writing buddy. Or we might take notes on the issues we see and move forward anyway.

The point is that being sick of—or outright hating—our story is normal. And most importantly, while those awful feelings might indicate problems in our story, they might also just be a reflection of our self-doubt or short attention span. Hating our story does not mean it’s doomed. *smile*

Being Sick of Our Story: Editing Stage

This stage usually kicks in when we need to do a big revision or edit. We look through those notes we took during drafting or comments from our beta readers, critique partners, or editors, and we see a long, dark tunnel between where we are and where we want to be.

We might be faced with having to rip our story to shreds to reassemble it in a better shape. Or maybe we have to rethink a whole plot, character, or worldbuilding element. We might have to cut, change, or add thousands of words.

When faced with that situation, we’ll often go through a whole grief process, from denial to acceptance, as we try to figure out how to fix our story and realize how much work it’s going to take.

Again, all of this is normal. As author Natalie Whipple has said, sometimes we have to reach the point of hating our story to be willing to rip, cut, and shred. Sometimes when we “fall out of love” with our story, we can be more ruthlessly objective and do what it takes to fix issues.

So as Natalie mentioned, when we hate our story in the editing process, that’s exactly when we have to push through. By no means should being sick of our story during the revision process signal that we should give up. We should push on, even if it’s tortuously difficult. *smile*

Being Sick of Our Story: Publishing Stage

This was the stage I’d reached this past weekend. I was struggling through a proofread of the formatted version of a story and needed to express my frustration.

I’ve read through this story so many times in the past month that no matter how much I love it, I also kind of hate it. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read through the story post-line edits and pre-copyedits, again post-copyedits and pre-formatting, and one last time post-formatting.

No matter how much we love a TV show, movie, or book, it’s normal to get sick of a story after many repeats in a short period of time. And during the publishing process, we have to read through our story at each editing and formatting stage. When we self-publish, those stages might happen within a couple of weeks of each other, so there’s definitely an opportunity for burnout.

So again, being sick of our story during the publishing stage is completely normal. And once again, that’s not a sign that our story is doomed or utter crap. (Notice a theme yet? *smile*)

Story Burnout Is a Real Issue

The replies to my Facebook post were helpful in two ways. First, it’s always nice to know we’re not alone:

  • Vicki Bartz Williamson: “I swear I think the same thing!”
  • Peg Valenti Cochran: “I know what you mean! I’m in the final review before turning in the manuscript (tomorow! yikes!) and I HATE IT!”
  • Angela Quarles: “Yep! And that you think it’s beyond crappy and who in the world will want to read it. I can get literally sick to my stomach.”

Ugh. Been there, done that. And that’s the worst feeling because a final read-through is not the time for us to make major changes to “fix” what we think must be broken.

That brings us to the second point. These last minute hate-fests often have nothing to do with our story. It’s not “broken” at all.

Instead, our negative impression is simply a sign of burnout, and on the Facebook post, some of us compared notes on what happens when we get sick of our story. It’s good to recognize when “It’s not you (our story)—it’s me.”

We don’t want to get frustrated with a story, toss it in a drawer, or think it’s crap, if the problem is really just that we’re burnt out on it. We wouldn’t want to get to this point and do the storytelling equivalent of chopping off all our hair. *smile*

Recognize the Signs of Story Burnout

I’ve noticed that when I’m burnt out on a story, I tend to think all the sentences, paragraphs, or scenes are crap—even though I haven’t changed most of them since I last read through it and didn’t think it was crap.

If we just got feedback from an editor or beta reader who gave us a different perspective or taught us something new to look out for, sure, we might suddenly see our story through different eyes. But if we don’t have a trigger? No, that’s just our self-doubt and burnout talking.

Our stories don’t suddenly become awful from one day or week to the next. So if we see our impression change—without a reason—there’s a good chance we’re just burnt out.

In other words, if we haven’t changed our writing, don’t believe a sudden change in our impression such as:

  • Every sentence sounds dead and choppy.
  • It feels like there’s no emotion.
  • A joke no longer seems funny. (from Kevin J. Coolidge)
  • The writing feels forced. (also from Kevin)
  • Dialogue seems unnatural.
  • Sentences don’t flow.

Of course it’s possible our writing might have those issues—but it’s not likely that our story would suddenly have those issues now when it didn’t have them on our last read through. Let’s go out on a limb and recognize that little gremlins probably didn’t paint our stories with infectious crap between then and now. *smile*

There are many reasons why we might get sick of—or even hate—our story, but that doesn’t mean we should give up drafting, editing, or publishing. Many times, our negative impression has more to do with us and our worries or self-doubt than with our story.

Hating a story isn’t automatically a sign that it will turn out to be crap, or that it can’t be salvaged, or even that it’s bad at all. Many times the best answer is to push through despite that feeling.

If we’re ever not sure, the writing community will be there to give perspective. And sometimes, seeing that we’re not alone when facing these doubts is the best way to help our sanity. *smile*

Have you ever been sick of a story? What stage in the process did that feeling hit you? Did it indicate problems, or was it more about your mood? Do you have suggestions for how to overcome or avoid that feeling? Can you think of other signs of story burnout?

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Angela Quarles

Great idea to split this into the different stages because how we should react to that feeling is totally dependent on the stage. I once had that burn-out feeling during revisions (the kind normally you get when gearing up for publishing) and was ready to tear out whole subplots, and I dropped that sucker out of my hands once I realized what I was about to do all because I was sick of it, not because something in the story needed to have that happen. I opened it up for a Beta round at that point just to get other eyes on it and give myself the distance I so obviously needed, and that worked. But yeah, when gearing up for publishing, that’s the worst time to fix subjective stuff as none of it reads fresh anymore.

Unfortunately when I posted a similar hey-am-I-the-only-one status in a forum, it also included wondering whether it got better with more books under your belt (not having that sick to the stomach feeling) and veterans of 10 and 20+ books said nope, same thing every time…

Kim

Oh! This post is so welcome today! I’ve been working on a non-fiction book for years, and I’m at the point where I can’t even stand to look at it. I’m almost done and yet I can barely work on it for one hour. I’m in the final editing phase and I think it’s crap. Total crap. Other people keep telling me it’s not, but of course, I don’t believe them. 😉

I like that you broke the hatred into different stages. I’m definitely in burn-out. The only solution I can think of is to push through! I am rewriting some stuff that I think is boring and I’m adding a few more extras that one of my readers loved, but I’m afraid I’ll keep doing this forever and not ever feel like it’s good enough to publish. ::Sigh::

Sharla Rae

I always become sick of my story on about the 3rd pass for final edits. I don’t even trust myself to make unnecessary edits by then. Thank God for crit groups.

Kerry Gans

I hit that hating stage with my non-fiction self-pubbed genealogy book. I had a freaky formatting issue where the file conversion left weird spaces WITHIN words. So I literally had to read the entire book word by word. And then manually fix the errors. And I ended up having to go through the formatted book SIX times before I felt that I had gotten all (or high 90s%) of the errant spaces. Talk about being sick of that book!

Sophie
Sophie

There is a big reason I get nothing finished–and usually what happens is I think the thing I’ve been writing is crap and should be dumped. That is always in the drafting stage. Always.

Since, as you know, I am a fanfic writer, I don’t have to worry about publishing, but I don’t think I’ve reached the editing stage ever because of above issue. Now I know what to do (hopefully)!

I do kinda edit-as-I-go, which probably doesn’t help…

Karen McFarland

Boy, wasn’t this an interesting post on FB? I started to chuckle when I saw it come down my feed Jami. It made me think, “Am I sick of my story?” Um no. I’m more frustrated more than anything else. I’ve been working on it for four years now. Yes, it’s my first novel. But I’ve had so many crazy things happen in my life over the same period of time, that it’s caused me to have to pull off of it a lot. And now the move, You know I live in Phoenix now, right? Yet, I do identify with this post. I want to finish this book so I can continue writing my second story that I started over the same time also. I just hope it’s still in my little noodle, ya know? Anyway, thanks for the encouragement! 🙂

Glynis Jolly

As I work through this 1st draft, I have visions of being sick of my story. It’s more like a nightmare. So far, it hasn’t happened. I’m not forcing myself to write any more than 3 hours each day. This doesn’t mean that that’s all I write most days though. On those days when writing is such a struggle, pushing and pulling for 3 hours is enough. This way the likelihood of my motivation disappearing for the next day or more is severely limited and I’m more likely to write for 5 or 6 hours that next day.

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[…] Sometimes it’s the beginning that does us in, sometimes later stages. Jody Hedlund shows us how to deal with paralyzing first chapter fears, while Jami Gold explores what to do if we’re sick of our story. […]

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[…] What Should We Do If We’re Sick of Our Story by Jami Gold. Awesome advice! This hits us all at some point. 🙂 […]

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