Posted by: Betsy Devany | November 5, 2009

What is CWORS?

CWORS

abbr. 

1. Children’s Writer Obsessive Revision Syndrome

This is the place where a children’s writer is stuck. On one page. One paragraph. One sentence. And while meticulous revision is necessary, there is a point when you cross over into CWORS. How do you know when you have left your editorial mind behind and fallen victim to the critical voice?

1. Your eyes are glazed over. 

2. You have spent the last three hours or worse, three days, reshaping a single page–or three pages, if you are preparing a submission for the Rutgers One-on-One Conference.

3. You have sent your critique partner, or whoever might read your work, twelve different versions of the one page. In one afternoon. Of course, with multiple thank-yous generated across the body of the e-mail.

4. Your reader has stopped responding through e-mail. You dial the phone and get a busy signal. You come to the realization that they may have taken the phone off the hook to save themself from your babbling.

5. You close the file and decide to fold the laundry.

6. You fold one shirt, and then open up the document again.

7. You read your one page and sincerely think you know the answer to the problem, but you can’t truly identify the problem.

8. You spend another two hours, swapping words and phrases, and in the end, you revert back to the original, which hopefully you have saved as a separate document.

9. Except for an empty box, you have no concept of how many crackers or cookies you’ve nibbled on for the better part of the day.

10. You curse at the empty coffee canister.

In my case, when I first noticed the symptoms, but didn’t recognize their meaning, I called my father. He has been a writer for over fifty years and since I have embraced writing for children, he has offered me words of wisdom. Sparingly. One of his favorite phrases is: Dangerous Mind. The mind you slip into when CWORS takes over. In a sense, you become dangerous to your manuscript, and more importantly, to your characters.

I had slipped into a state of obsessive revision without knowing why or how I had gotten there. And when I tried to share with my father, one of the twelve newer versions, he stopped me. “Whatever you do, don’t read another word,” he said, “You are a danger to your work in this frame of mind.”

“What frame of mind?”

“The place where you are right now. Revising over and over,” he told me. And then, he offered me five words. “Back away from your manuscript.” Nothing else.

On that day, I learned how to recognize the symptoms of CWORS. They do not often appear, but when they do, I now know how to react accordingly. Along with the date on which CWORS began to take over on a particular piece of writing, I write myself a note and promise that the work will remain untouched for a period of time. In general, two weeks.

And then, I back away from the manuscript, call my dad, who is my sponsor for CWORA (children’s writer obsessive revision anonymous) and thank him.


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