Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.


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I’m revising my novella and it’s going nowhere. I feel like I’m reading the same sentences over and over and just moving commas around. But I know it needs work. Is this a sign that it’s hopeless?

You may have come to a standstill in the revision process, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Perhaps you need to step back and focus your attention elsewhere for a while. When you sit down to write, work on a new story. Draw your energy and imagination away from the novella. This will give you some distance from it and this distance will help you to gain some objectivity. When you return to the novella, you’ll see it anew. Problem areas will be more apparent and a way forward may be clearer. You’re bound to return to it with rejuvenated energy and enthusiasm.

You may also find it helpful to share the novella with a trusted reader. Sometimes a great reader’s questions and insights can help you enter the story in a different way. That new perspective can thrust the revision process out of a rut. This is especially true if you’re struggling with major concerns, like character development or story arc.

Some writers find reading other books an act of procrastination as points like this. However, indulging in a great book might give you the boost you need to reinvigorate your own. Sometimes this is simply a matter of encouragement—a positive reading experience can spark a strong desire to create one for others. Other times, it’s a matter of refueling by observing language, choices, and imagery from another’s imagination and letting that settle into your understanding of what makes fiction work.

Certainly there are times when stories don’t get finished. The writer loses interest in shaping it before it’s at a point where it is fully realized. These moments can be disappointing, but they are not without value. Every time you engage in the work of writing, you are developing your craft. If you give yourself the time, distance, and outside perspective, but you’re still not able to accomplish much in revision, it might be time to move on. Chalk it up to a meaningful learning experience and let that underpin the writing of the next novella.