The Five Stages, Or Facing Up to the Re-write

Hi there.

After completing the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge, I’ve been absent from this space for a while. I wrote twenty-five posts during the challenge, many of which were emotionally grueling. (Here’s a sample post, just about in the middle: Age Twelve: The Great Void.) I’m glad I finished, although I wish I’d done what a friend of mine did. She’s stretching her memoir posts (way to go, Lara!) out over a number of weeks. Smart blogger, that one.

Anyway, I’m back, and I hope maybe you missed me a bit.

I’ve been busy re-writing–for what I hope is the final time–a 300 page novel. The bones of the novel are strong, I think, but there is this one subplot, you see, that needed to be fleshed out. And flesh I did, for several hours every day for a week.

“Child Crying And Lying On Grass” by imagerymajestic
Image courtesy of

It occurred to me during this process that facing up to a major re-write is a little like Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. Let me explain:

First, Denial: There’s nothing wrong with this character. (Substitute subplot, setting, dialogue, structure . . .) It’s certainly not bad. Maybe it’ll squeak by if I’m lucky enough to have someone read it. Like an agent.

Then there’s Anger: How dare my readers suggest that the book needs more work! I poured my heart, my brain, my sweat and tears into it! I have carpal tunnel syndrome. I’ve had to get stronger glasses. I’ve sacrificed two years of my life! It’s done, and nobody can tell me otherwise!

Next? Bargaining: If I move this one scene about the preacher, then the problem with the flashback within the flashback within the flashback will surely go away. That’s fair, right?

Ah, Depression: “I can’t do this. I’ll never pick up a pen again. I’m worthless and stupid. Why did I ever think I could write a book? I can’t even put a decent sentence together. I can’t even spell. I don’t know a cliche from a bon mot.” Destroy the files. Shred the backup CDs. Go to bed with a bottle of wine and a good book. Somebody else’s book, of course.

Finally? Acceptance. I will go on. I’ll never be the same (poor little bruised writer-ego), but the work has to be done.

I would add a stage of my own, one I experienced over the last few weeks, and that’s Determination: I will tackle the problem, and over time, I’ll solve it. I’ll have a eureka in the middle of the night. I’ll dream the answer. I’ll write it over and over again until I get it right. Whatever it takes, I’ll get it done because it’s necessary. It’s what a writer does.

From helplessness to empowerment: yes, that’s the ticket!

Obviously, dealing with a re-write is nothing like dealing with real grief. We all know that. But in the moment, when all seems lost and the book (or story or poem or memoir) seems impossible to save, haven’t we all felt these emotions? Those who grieve eventually get on with life, and we’ll get on with the book. Won’t we!

How do you cope when you get discouraged with your writing? What or whom do you rely on to find the energy and the will to press on?

17 thoughts on “The Five Stages, Or Facing Up to the Re-write

  1. This was one of those posts that elicited such interesting comments; I have learnt just as much reading them as you. You have gathered a wonderful group around you. I have just taken that breath and launched into the rewrite on Corridor, and there are areas that most definitely need to be rewritten. Some (at this first stage) can just be MASSIVELY edited. But a whole book is SO BIG! This was a great post for me to read today! Thank you.. c


    • I’m glad the post was helpful! It came about because I had had a re-write resistance crisis recently, and it occurred to me that I had to go through “stages” before I could face up to it! You have a wonderful story in the works! Keep at it.


  2. I sit here at 1:27 on a gloomy afternoon, football game behind, a whir of noises and men’s grunting, throw in high pitched joy of broadcaster. I am in my summer nightgown, of palm trees, and my head is thatched; just finished 2 lessons for next week. My novel. Well Chapter One has been chewed on and revised. Not bad, considering 10 rewrites lay ahead. I am dormant, like Dora the Door mouse, whoever she is, and i don’t rewrite. Inside, stairs, circular or straight, like Kafka’s mind and chraracters have a wonderful time. Characters are auditioning to get in – in to my novel. but I have a problem. i’ve never really written a novel before. I don’t know how old to make em; em being my characters – what do they care; they’re swinging on the banisters, up to the chandeliers – disgusting. the character’s behaviro i mean; did i mention my waist is wide again?


    • Let those characters in and see where they go, what they say, what they do . . . I don’t work with an outline. I’m trying to learn to organize better as I start something new, and I generally have an idea of where it’ll end up. But in the process, that often changes. I do believe characters can take over the story (and usually for the better!). Keep at it, Esther!


  3. You really nailed it. Right now I’m in the “anxiety over a subplot” stage and haven’t jumped in the way you did. The novel is just sitting there, glaring at me, defying me to fix it. And the universe is throwing giant boulders along my path to completion. But it will get done. I am determined. Thank you for this. It was a needed push.


  4. This is very well put Gerry. I’m very aware of the five stages each time and in practically everything I go thru. I can almost point to the chart and say, “here comes this one!” Very often my highly evolved brain will bipass the first three and go straight to depression. How I cope is talking things out with my shrink, mostly on a weekly basis. She never would criticise, not like others in my life, so I feel safe. It short-cuts the depression stage, which, in me, can last a very, very long time and isn’t healthy for anyone around me.


    • There’s another important stage left out, I think, akin to depression, and that’s anxiety. I battle that. I tried to take a lighter turn on this topic, but for all of us who are seriously writing and striving, the insecurities are a real issue. I get such peaks and valleys with my work. One day, I’m feeling pretty confident. The next, I can be ready to give up. And yet I keep doing it! In the blood, I guess. Thanks for the comment, Veronica, and hugs to you.


  5. I’m back in school, and I swear every piece throws a tantrum when it’s time to rewrite. I love getting feedback and being able to improve, but the work itself doesn’t want to change.


    “C’mon, it’ll be great!”


    “Don’t you want to be better?”


    “But you can be published!”


    When I finally force it to undergo the edit, it turns out worse just to spite me. Then I’m disappointed, so I step away and give it a time out. Eventually I sequester myself somewhere with a strong wi-fi connection and get it done, but if I don’t get it all done at once (which I rarely do) I’ll have to go through the whole process again when I tackle the next piece of editing.

    Currently I’m working on an essay that my professor wants me to stretch from 3 to 5 pages. It’s throwing a nasty tantrum.


  6. What a great metaphor. My wip has been stalled for months. I think I skipped a few steps and just got stuck in depression. I’m hoping the time away from it will help me, but it’s also nice to hear about other people’s struggles too.


  7. You’re both great writers and I enjoy all of your writings, Lara and Gerry. I will admit to not reading all 25 of the memoir pieces… yet. I bookmarked this page for the next time a needed re-write starts kicking and screaming back at me like the photo you chose. Ha!. Thanks!


  8. Wonderful post, Gerry. I’m sure many of the NaNoWriMo-ers are experiencing all five stages each hour of the day. And smart, moi? I just realized that for my own sanity and that of my readers, it would be best to put that material into the mix like a well-balanced diet. Otherwise I would have swooned from the memoir version of a diabetic coma. You are definitely one of my inspirations. So glad to see your post in the inbox.


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