Your Next Best Work

“I read this 3 times and I just can’t follow. I feel like my head just went through a washing machine. Too many characters and first person isn’t working. You may want to try third person. I think everything needs to be much simpler.”

This was the feedback I received from my editor last week. After a stringing together four or five days of productive writing I was feeling particularly proud that I was meeting my deadlines and was on the downhill stretch. After submitting four chapters (of nine) I felt great and kept moving forward. And then I read her feedback.

When I asked if I should try and rework what I had done, she simply responded, “Start over.”

That meant over 10,000 words in the trash.

I knew the chapters were clunky and her feedback was spot on. But I just couldn’t get over that I had to toss out so much work. Because of that belief, I had the following thoughts:

  • I can’t believe I’m going to lose those chapters
  • I’m never going to finish on time
  • I don’t know what I’m writing

Guess what happened? For the next few days ALL of those thoughts were true! I barely found the time to write and then when I did, I didn’t like anything that I had written.

Gina’s Mind 1, New Writing 0!

And then I read an article in this month’s INC magazine on Venus Williams (one of her non-Tennis ventures is EleVen – an athletic apparel line) where after working months on her first collection, she decided to scrap it and completely start over. According to Williams, she hadn’t found her voice and it wasn’t original enough. “I wasn’t pushing myself enough,” she said.

Interestingly, from her vantage point in tennis, you can’t take back a bad serve or missed point. But in business, you can often retool when something isn’t working. She saw throwing out her collection as an opportunity to be better. And she did just that.

Just like my 10,000 words. They weren’t trashed – just the foundation for my next best work. Changing my mindset was the key to my writing.  Because sometimes even a coach needs a coach, I reached out to a colleague. Together we reworked my thoughts until they were serving me and the work I needed to do.

Within a few hours I was able to submit a new first chapter.

Reworking your thoughts is not the equivalent of inspirational quotes on post-its or posters (though I do like my inspirational quotes.) It is understanding that we often unintentionally tell our brain what it should look for (never going to finish, I can’t do this, this is hard, etc.) And, our brain, ever efficient and expedient, gathers the evidence to prove our thoughts.

Find yourself stuck? Set a time for 5 minutes and write out every crazy and non-crazy thought going through your brain. Then, review your list and rework your thoughts to something that is equally true but gets you to your goal more easily.

In my case, these were my new thoughts:

  • Those old chapters support a better Chapter 1
  • I have all the time I need
  • The story is waiting for you to tell it

Yesterday I received this response from my editor. “I like it. Keep going.”

And so I will.