by Claire Youmans
There’s power in distance. There’s power in time. Your writing will improve if you step away from it for a while and let it rest, let it cure, let it rise.
When I get going, finally, after months of research and in-my-head outlines, scene structure and character development, I rip right on through, nearly 24/7, for as long as it takes. I take minor breaks for the absolute necessities of life but I leave my brain fully engaged in writer mode. I am not happy when anyone tries to interrupt me. I cannot do ANYTHING else because it will interrupt my train of thought, and that will set me back about a day, sometimes two or three, for every hour stolen from my writing at this time. So, just NO. Go away until I call you and I’m not going to be nice about it. But at last…
Step One: I’m done! I finished the draft! I think it’s great! Woo-hoo! A copy edit and it’s publish-city, right? Wrong.
Step Two: I put it away for a week, sometimes longer. I do something else. Sometimes it’s another project, sometimes it’s a trip. Sometimes it’s the normal life stuff I have let slide. I set a return date, and refuse to look at the manuscript before then. When I come back to the manuscript, I want to have fresh eyes. I want to see the things I’ve left out, the things I’ve put in twice. Or thrice. The words I’ve doubled. The character names I’ve changed midstream. The repetitive words and actions I’ve used to annoying extremes. I want to read like a reader. I don’t make notes and I don’t correct anything but minor typos. Not now. I just pay attention. This read can take several days to a week, depending on how long the book is, but then I’m done, right? A few corrections and it’s ready? Nope.
Step Three: I let it sit another week, maybe two. This is really hard. I’m on a roll! I can’t stop now! But I must if I want a better book.
Step Four: I read again, but this time, I will address the things I noticed before, the little obvious things. During the second break, my brain will cogitate over the big manuscript picture I finally saw, for the first time, on that first, fresh-eyes, read. There will be lists, sometimes in written form, of the things I want to look for. Of things I want to address. I’ll get rid of those repetitive word choices, actions and expressions! This narration needs to come out. That concept needs explaining. This needs to happen before That, not after. A character’s arc needs greater definition. This area needs more emphasis. I need to see where the longer series arc is going. What are the characters telling me? What am I setting up? Where are my loose ends? Do I tie them up now, or is that for the next book? How do I fix these over-arcing problems?
This takes longer, and I still can’t take breaks. I need to keep the whole book in the front part of my brain. This is a novel we’re talking about. That’s a lot of material. There are a lot of characters and each of them has his or her own story. I must keep all of this clear. So don’t bug me. Aren't I done yet? No!
Step Five: I leave it the heck alone for another while. As long as I can keep my hands off it. I’m not good at that.
Step Six: I reread. I tweak. I do another batch of corrections and edits, sometimes fairly major ones. Finally, it’s as good as I can get it...
Step Seven: …for now. Now, it's time for serious feedback from my wonderful coterie of beta readers. While they are reading, I get some serious distance. I have to use severe discipline to keep from bugging them. It’s a good time to go out of town.
Step Eight: When I get their comments in, I’ll do another read, and will most likely see they are absolutely right. They’ve seen things I haven’t; often they all see the same things. I see new things myself. I see directions for the next book I didn’t even know were there. This absolutely vital step gives me not only fresh eyes, but others’ eyes. This is where good turns to really good. By the time I finish this step, I have a much better book than I started with at the end of Step 1. Only now is it ready to go to my editor for her uncannily accurate feedback. And there’s still more to come in the writing/waiting game before the book at last comes out.
Time and distance are your friends. They give you the power and the vision to make your work much better than it might otherwise be. Be strong, be disciplined and wait before rushing off to press. Let that manuscript cure. Let it rest. Let it rise. Your book, and you as a writer, will be better for it.
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