Writing for Children

Seeing Your Shadow: Letting Go During Revision

Yesterday was Groundhog Day!

Punxsutawney Phil, photo courtesy of Allessandro M, Flickr

And of course, Punxsutawney Phil quickly let us know that winter was here to stay. Phil’s an expert at predictions based on one simple thing: seeing his shadow. Apparently, he’s scared of the blackish-gray blob that appears on the snow. When he sees it, he scurries back to his burrow as fast as his short, chubby legs can carry him. But I think Phil is onto something here. Something we writers can learn from.

How often do you see your shadow when revising? The familiar black blob that creeps over your computer screen and won’t let you get rid of all the unnecessary bulk in your manuscript. You know, the one who says, “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written. You can’t change THAT!”

Or how about when you know a character just isn’t pulling her weight and needs to go. Your shadow says, “But I LOVE her! The story can’t live if she dies!”

And there’s the one I really struggle wtih: the shadow of self-doubt. I’m sure you know her. She’s the shadow of the writer you were last year, a month ago, yesterday. Her favorite saying is, “All your best writing days are behind you. Why even BOTHER trying to make this story better. It’s TOTALLY yesterday’s news.”

As in the case of our favorite weather-predicting rodent, shadows can tell us things we need to know. They’re how our ancestors used to tell time. Shadows warn of us danger and bring us comfort as evening turns to night. But shadows can be a real nuisance to the revising process.

So don’t let your shadows scare you! Your best writing days aren’t behind you. If that character is dragging your story down give her a serious facelift or let her go. And if you think you need to slash 1000 words from your MS, you probably need to get rid of even more. Be honest with yourself. Send those shadows packing and bring your story into the light of day where it can really shine!


Sensibility- A shadow can be a friend or a foe. Let yours guide you in the revision process rather than slow you down.

Sense- As an exercise, remove as many words from your current manuscript as possible. When you think you’re done, take out 1000 more. For picture book writers, trim your manuscript to no more than 500 words. Then see if you can eliminate a 100 more.


What is the most difficult shadow you fight when revising?

4 thoughts on “Seeing Your Shadow: Letting Go During Revision”

  1. Self-doubt is by far my worst shadowy enemy, along with a sense of impatience, wanting a scene or chapter to write itself, a feeling of wanting to move ahead quickly when slowing down is the only solution.

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