Fiction Fridays: 5 Tips for Scaling the Editing Wall and Dealing with Overwhelm #writetips

Image from

Image from

A friend of mine called me the other night because she’d hit her editing wall. A new writer, she’s been editing the first draft of her manuscript and reading lots of books on writing and editing.

Sure enough, she found herself staring into the long, dark abyss of overwhelm.

I’m no stranger to overwhelm. I’m pretty sure everyone who’s ever written knows the feeling. Can’t think straight, locked up because you’re afraid to make the wrong move. And your manuscript is looking more like a Jenga game than a finished work, where you’re afraid if you take out one more thing, the whole story will collapse. Then you begin to doubt you can even fix all those mistakes you’re finding and you begin to dread that maybe, just maybe, your work is beyond repair.

Sound familiar?

There’s nothing like pushing through the editing process of a book to bring out these feelings. This is especially true if it’s your first book, or the first time you’ve edited, or if you’re a pantser and now have to apply story structure to that stream of consciousness staring back at you from the page.

Here are my five tips for scaling the editing wall:

1. Do not read too many editing books while you are editing.

First of all, I have to say, that books helped me. When I was doing the first round of edits for The Watcher, I used Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and it was fantastic. It truly helped me to pare down the unruly forest that was my first draft. But my friend was already reading this.

She was also reading Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. This  is like a Bible for authors. Especially first-time authors who want to knock their first book out of the park. Donald Mass is brilliant and his book is excellent, but reading it while you are editing will put the pressure on. It makes you really want to do the writing equivalent of hitting that home run in the bottom of the 9th–in the World Series.

Imagine learning baseball and expecting that kind of performance. But really, wouldn’t you have to learn to play baseball first? That might mean hitting a lot of flyballs.

Truth is, there are tons of great books on editing, tons of websites giving advice. If you want to read them, do, but take it in small doses. Read one chapter or maybe two, and do a round of edits. Then rest and read some more.

2. Give your manuscript time to breathe.

I rushed through my edits and pushed myself until I got so OCD that my friends threatened to disown me if I didn’t shut up about my book.

I was going too hard.

One of the first pieces of advice I got was to wait at least a week before reading the manuscript. I waited a day. As a result, I had no objectivity and overwhelm came in pretty quick. You have to give your manuscript time, which means slowing down.

3. Switch to a different tactile sensation.

Lots of us spend time in front of our computers. Too much time. Take time away. Print your MS on paper and read it. Make notes in the margins. Use colored pens. Then read it again. This time, make chapter scene notes on index cards (it keeps you brief). Write it on colored paper, with colored pens. Then you can arrange things and see if the order needs changing. I don’t have the science behind it, but it seems to bring about a kinesthetic approach, which is good for adult learning, and opens up new ways of thinking.

4. Take time off and be physical.

Go for a walk. Go do some yoga. Go for a run or to the gym, or even get a pedicure or massage. Letting off some steam not only helps you deal with stress, but it will pull you into a different state of mind, one that will process your story differently and give you more perspective. I also find that doing something physical reminds me of the world around me, which we forget when we’re in the minds of our characters. But if we don’t experience the world, we can’t experience it for them.

Seriously, live a little. It’s good for you.

5. Put your unconscious mind to work.

You know the old expression, “sleep on it”? Apparently, it really works. I read somewhere once about a study showing that people make better decisions if they meditate or sleep on something.  Take a nap, a hot bath, or meditate. There’s a great article on how meditation increases creativity here.

Final note:

Above all, the best way to avoid overwhelm is to trust yourself and your process. if you are creating or doing things that are new to you, it will be uncomfortable at first, but that’s all part of learning how you work. You are the best at figuring out what works for you. It’s an ongoing thing.


Thanks for visiting today! If you have have tried any of these tips and they’ve worked for you, please share in the comments below. Or, if you have worked through editing overwhelm in a different way, please let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my own process.


15 thoughts on “Fiction Fridays: 5 Tips for Scaling the Editing Wall and Dealing with Overwhelm #writetips

  1. Stephanie Keyes says:

    Great post, Lisa. As I am in the final stages of editing my third book, this is coming at a great time! Thanks very much. 🙂

  2. Suzanne Aucoin says:

    These are great things to do when you’re scaling any wall – editing or life in general. You have a gift of making the obvious beautifully simple and doable – thanks!
    I am really enjoying your posts (and I’m not a writer!!)

    • Dame Gussie says:

      Come sit by me and walk me through those steps, please. lol I’m at that place where my first book editing is very overwhelming; everyone has put in there thoughts; I started making those changes; it didn’t feel like the right corrections for the flavor of the book. I just printed it out the original, before any edits, and now starting from scratch. We will see how it goes. Thank for the tips.

      • lvoisin says:

        Hi Dame! I’ve so been there! I received so much feedback for The Watcher, that I didn’t know which end was up. What really got me was deep-down I didn’t know what advice to take and what to leave. I was also really afraid that I couldn’t do it, that I’d break what was working well, by making ‘corrections’. It’s still something I face, but I’m a bit less afraid now. I’m still working on it. I think just doing it and seeing where it takes me was the best advice (oh and backing up my past versions so nothing was truly lost). Best of luck to you!

        • Dame Gussie says:

          Thank you. I have back ups to all my version which confused me until I started naming them Draft 1,2 3, etc. I scratched them all and started from the beginning. Today I made a trip to Pioneer Village 1630 in Salem, Ma. It gave me the confidence to continue with my edits. I will make the last ones based on what I feel is correct. The beta readers can comment after that. I will cross reference their comments and see what happens. My subjective historical novel is about the arrival of the Arbella, the flagship of the Winthrop Fleet, that carried Isaac and Mary Stearns to the Bay Colony in 1630. I am writing it as a diary for Isaac and Mary giving two points of view of their decisions to come, the voyage and the first year in the Bay. I’m not sure if I will go until Isaac death or not. which was my first thought when I wrote it. It is subjective because there are no diaries by them. It is a correlation of reading others diaries at the time and historical facts. Fingers crossed. Thank you for the feedback.

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