Sometimes (way too often) I end up working with writers who have spent twenty years trying to get published, listening to agents tell them that there’s this problem with the book, and editors or writing group members suggesting to change it this way or that way, and they’ve done cartwheels and handstands and gone backward and forward and no matter what advice I try to offer, they’ve already tried it and it didn’t work.
In this situation, I end up giving this advice—start over from scratch. If you still love this book and its characters and the situations in it, start up a new document and use all new words to describe it. Let go of the phrases that trigger other people’s voices in your mind. You will learn to find your own voice again, after it’s been squashed down by too many critiques. I admit, it’s mostly women writers I see this in, but it happens to those of us who are so eager to please and are willing to change every last little thing until a book isn’t ours anymore.
My job as a writing mentor is to teach you how to find your voice again. I can’t give you your voice. But I can point out that you’re writing by committee and that never works well. And I can tell you to stop listening to the voices in your head that tell you every sentence you write isn’t “good enough” and that you’re “never going to get there” after 20-50 years of trying to break into publication.
Listen to yourself. Learn to hear the voice that says “No way in hell” when someone makes a suggestion that is completely wrong. Learn also to hear the voice that says “Oh, that’s how I always wanted this book to be” or “That doesn’t come through? I need to make that come through.” But mostly, I want you to learn to be your own mentor, to walk yourself through the dark times. So you don’t need me anymore, and you can go mentor other people.