Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sisyphus And Me (An IWSG Post)

It's the first Wednesday of the month, which means it's time for another installment of the Insecure Writers Support Group.

I am assuming that anyone checking out this post today is already well-versed with the IWSG, but in the event that it's new to you, and you'd like to know more, please click on the above link for more information, as well as a complete list of participants.

This month's co-hosts are C. Lee Mackenzie, Rachel Pattinson, Elizabeth Seckman, Stephanie Faris, Lori L MacLaughlin, and Elsie Amata.

This month's question asks, "How do you find time to write in your busy day?"

But I'm taking a pass on the question this month because I am decidedly un-busy. I'm fortunate enough to have no job outside of writing. My only children are two (admittedly) high-maintenance dogs and one attention-hungry cat, but it's not like I have four kids who need to be at four different events in four different corners of town every afternoon. My family and friends are 2000 miles away. I eat, sleep, and breathe writing. And as an insomniac, most of the time, I don't even sleep. I'm not busy.

So, instead, I shall talk about the myth of Sisyphus.

Have you ever heard the Greek myth of Sisyphus? You probably have, but in case you haven't...

The super, incredibly pared-down version of the story is that this guy, Sisyphus, managed to irritate the ever-living daylights out of Zeus and was condemned to spend all of eternity rolling a stone to the top of a hill. Every time Sisyphus would get that stone to the top of that hill, the damn thing would roll back down, forcing him to start all over again. Over and over again. For all of eternity.


You're writers, so I'm sure you already can tell where I'm going with this, but...

I am Sisyphus, and my current WIP is the stone.

The hill is editing.

Every time I think I've figured the story out, ironed out the wrinkles, put commas in remotely correct places (or at least near them...), or whatever else, it's only a matter of time until I find out otherwise. I find more things with which I am unhappy.

The stone rolls back down the hill, and I have to start all over again.

This latest edit has been particularly brutal. I've taken to calling it the Slash-And-Burn Edit because I'm slashing huge chunks of story (in theory to be replaced by better-written chunks of story), and talking myself out of burning the rest.

Seriously, it's like I have forgotten how to properly construct a sentence. I don't know—maybe I've never known how to do that, but I at least thought I did. (And delusions are half the battle, right?)

I don't think that anymore.

I don't know what it is about this story. I don't know why I thought it was okay in May when I sent it to the beta readers, only to end up hating so much of it now. But I do. I really, really do. And I don't know how the one beta who actually made it through the story found anything good to say about it. (But, bless him, he did.)

(UPDATE: Just heard from Beta #2. She also had good things to say about it. She doesn't seem to think it's a molten mess of terrible wordsmithing. What is happening here?)

I don't know how to change that. There's many a day these days when I worry that I'm not smart enough to write this novel I set out to write. That the idea was too ambitious for me to actually pull off. And the only way I know how to change that is to actually pull it off.

So the bottom line is, I have to figure out how to fix this story. I hate that it's taking this long, and that I'm so far behind the goals I set at the start of the year. I'm frustrated that I haven't been able to get it right, that I'm still pushing this stupid rock up this stupid hill.

But if it takes twenty more rewrites to get it right, then I'll do twenty more rewrites.

I really hope it doesn't take twenty more rewrites, though. I desperately want to get to the top of that hill once and for all.

I hear the view is pretty great...

Better get movin'.

Ever find yourself trapped in a vicious editing loop? How did you break free? 

Thanks for listening to me moan and groan today, y'all. I'll try to be cheerier the next time!


  1. Sisyphus and I are on first-name basis, too. My last novel (unpublished) took seventeen edits/re-writes. I am on my fourth with my current project, and that's before I've let anyone see it. Wishing you continued commitment and determination.

  2. Have you thought about the possibility that the hill is NOT editing, but that one, stubborn problem that you haven't seen yet, and can't see as long as you're working on it because you don't have the objectivity and distance?
    I think I'd put the WIP down, and go find something else to do for a while.

  3. It's IWSG Day - you're allowed to moan and groan! :)

    You will get to the top of that hill. You will push that boulder over and watch it roll down the other side, cackling gleefully and rubbing your hands together as it does.

    Of course, there's always another hill, another challenge, but let's save that for another time.... :)

  4. Keep on pushing! You'll get there eventually. Just don't listen to the lizard in the mailbox. He doesn't know what he's talking about.

  5. You need a smaller stone...
    Maybe a break from the stone would be better?

  6. LOL at Alex's comment. I agree about setting the work aside. You may be too close to it right now. Work on something else. Free write--love that concept. Write whatever enters your mind and keep writing for (set a timer) an hour or half hour. It's a lot like this group. Throw your insecurities and worries on that page of free writing. Vent. Whatever. In a few weeks, come back to that WIP. Maybe you'll see it in a different light. Good luck.

  7. Thanks for the mythology lesson! I think all writers are like Sisyphus. I'm so sorry that you feel this way about your WIP. Don't give up on it. I think Diane's advice is excellent. Step away from it. Work on something else. Anything else. Perhaps a story for the IWSG contest. Then go back to it and know you'll make it better one sentence at a time.

  8. You know what? I completely REWROTE my last book. Twice. Yes, completely. Marissa Meyer? Author of the Lunar Chronicles? She throws her first draft away and starts over. That's her process. I think sometimes it's necessary. BUT, that said, I'm sure you have a much better story than you think. You're just stuck in the middle and can't see the whole from the trenches. You're making progress. It's getting better. You're almost there. Just keep going!

  9. I love Greek myths, my favourite! I agree with everyone else who has said to take a break from it; put it down for a couple of weeks, maybe work on some other things, and then go back to it with a refreshed mind. Hopefully then you'll have gained some distance from it, and will be able to see the good in it again :)

  10. When a project really matters to you, it can be hard to get to a point where you can declare it done. Like they say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And you probably want it to be perfect (I know I always do). But then, there are probably other things you want to work on, too.

    Lots of others have already suggested that you give yourself some space, and from what you said here, I think they are probably right. You don't want to slash and burn things that could be pruned or built up into something beautiful. Best of luck finding a balance that feels right for you!

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  11. It's so hard to get stuck in the editing Sisyphus loop. I don't know how anyone liked my first book. I thought I had edited it - and it's been re-edited since the first publication. Oddly, some of my first readers loved it and then they were disappointed in the second book which had good editing and sentence structure. Somehow, my content was interesting enough to pull through all the mess of my writing in the first book, and I took a risk in some of my content in the second book.
    So, the story is what matters - not how pretty the sentence structure is. I'm sure you have the story because you are an amazing writer and because you're passionate about your work!

  12. I have to agree with those who have suggested taking a break from that story. That level of frustration can't be productive. If you can work on something else for a month, then when all your beta readers have replied, you can look at it again with fresh eyes and a better perspective. Don't give up on it, just give it a little space.
    IWSG Co-host at

  13. You need a break.

    I'm not editing, but I'm still pushing that rock trying to finish writing the last story in my book.

  14. It sounds like you need a break from the story, and sometimes we are our own worst critics too. :)

    Good luck!

  15. All editing feels like vicious editing loops. Maybe because you never know when you're going to be really done with it. Good luck. I know you can get there.

  16. I've heard some really famous writers say they do that many rewrites but maybe you should believe your beta readers that it's not so bad.

  17. I'm not sure if I'm talented enough for writing either and I don't do epic fantasies like you. Sounds like your in that moment of a writer's life where you think everything you write sucks and omg why are you doing this??????? Knock it off! You're a good writer and can fix this story.

  18. I still remember the agonies of the first book. And yet, you managed to tackle that beast. You'll get this one done too. It'll take as long as it needs to take.

    I'm having similar issues with my novel. I thought this was going to be the last pass, but my writers group has started asking questions that should have been answered chapters ago. Deep sigh.

    You're not alone.

  19. I am Sisyphus, too. I don't even get my rock up to the top before it's already rolling back down the hill. I'm the chronic un-finisher of all things long-fiction. Will I ever actually finish writing a book? Will man one day colonize Mars? We just can't be so sure about these things.

  20. I am also Sisyphus where one particular book is concerned. I'm never satisfied with all the editing and tweaking I do with and to it. My advice is to keep the book aside for a few days and then read it again. It will do both you and the manuscript a world of writing good.

  21. I cracked up at Alex's comment. Of course, just get a smaller stone, geez. ;)
    Sadly I'm sure we have all felt like Sisyphus more than once. You'll get to the top though. Good luck!!

  22. That's me and editing. I hope you don't have to do 20 rewrites. Or even 2. Good luck!

  23. I've been editing the same short story all week - I was down to the moving comma phase until I decided to just submit it anyway. I know it's not quite the same with a novel, I hope you feel better after hearing from your betas.

  24. At the moment the rock rolled down the hill and landed on top of me:) But I will get that jerk rolling soon enough. You can do this M.J. Seriously. I think you need a little distance from that beast. Maybe binge watch your favorite series, or two. Try to get this book out of your head for a while and then tackle it like it stole something. You are smart enough and you have the potential.

  25. I mentioned rewriting one my stories to my friend and he sent me this link telling me to follow rule #3.

    I hope you find a happy point with your story again, because I'm looking forward to reading it someday.