Pep Talk from Nora Zelevansky

Dear Writers,

There is a long-standing debate among us about which is more daunting: a blank page or a rough draft. Historically, I consider myself a stalwart of the former camp; something seems preferable to nothing. At least, I thought I felt that way until I recently finished the first draft of a new manuscript, stared into the editing abyss, and promptly developed a case of vertigo.

In 2009, I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. Along with thousands of others, I aimed to write 1,667 words every day for a month in hopes of manifesting an honest-to-goodness book. I hemmed and hawed with the best of them, but ultimately relished the process of letting my imagination steer.

That year, when I finished the original manuscript, I started editing right away. As a journalist, editing is second nature to me: you write, you chop, you edit, you polish. That’s how it works. And I was fortunate: in December of the next year, St. Martin’s Press offered to publish the book. And in July 2012, my novel hit bookstores.

This past fall, the hoopla quieted. The time had come to sit down and write another book during November. This time, writing the first draft was a little more strenuous. Expectations and self-imposed pressure loomed large, but I kept reminding myself that I could always rewrite. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Once I finished the first draft and had to begin the edit, I felt more overwhelmed than ever. I realized, no matter where you are in your journey as a writer, the editing and notes process remains arduous and stressful. It will always test you.

I am currently awaiting notes. And I am terrified. I know that I’ll likely be facing down some overarching issues without easy fixes. But I want to rewrite and take notes because I want my book to be as good as possible. We all feel that way, of course. Still, “daunting” doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of staring at a document that you created, wondering how the hell you’re going to take it to a final draft.

Be kind to yourself. As hard as it is, try to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even award-winning authors have to rewrite. A first draft is never the final product. Don’t give up.

Ultimately, rewriting is hard. Maybe even harder than staring at a blank page. So I say, applaud yourself for the effort and enjoy the miraculous moments when an edit works and the language begins to click. And I will try to do the same. After all, there are few things as satisfying as that.


Read more revision pep talks.