Monday, January 4, 2016

Time: Friend or Foe?

A popular post from February 2011

by Annette Lyon

Recently on a forum, I saw a question from a struggling writer that amounted to, "How do I know if my writing is any good?"

The man had reread what he thought was good yesterday, and suddenly it didn't sound so good.

Was it good?

Was it garbage?

Several people gave great advice. Here's mine.

When you first draft something, it's "hot off the press" as they say. You're too close to the piece to view it objectively. It really might be atrocious. Or a diamond. But you can't tell. At least, not yet.

This is when time is your best friend. Keep writing, and when you've finished the draft, put it away. For some people, a week or so is enough. For others, it could be a month or months.

However it long it takes for you, let it cool off. Let yourself forget parts, including that paragraph you slaved over and the one you thought was sheer brilliance.

When it's cooled off and you open the file again, you'll be reading it with completely new eyes, almost as if someone else had written the piece. This is one part of writing I love: inevitably, I do find parts I forgot I'd written (but there they are!) and I might even love them.

And sure, I'll find glaring problems as well: clunky prose, lame character motivations, sagging conflict, and more. But because I'm no longer so emotionally tied to the work, two great things happen:

1) I can see clearly where it needs improvement.

2) I can make big revisions without wanting to sit in a corner and cry while eating a dozen chocolate-chip cookies.

What do you do while a piece is resting, cooling off? You write something else.

After you've come back to the old piece and made whatever revisions you can, you're still not done. Send it out to other people, trusted beta readers who will see more ways to change (and improve!) your work.

Time is certainly a frustrating element of being a writer. During the submission process we wait for rejections and requests. If we're lucky, we wait on a contract and editorial notes. We wait on press dates and more.

Don't let all of that make you rush things. Take your time early on. Create a fantastic piece.

If you rush things, you'll submit sub-par work. And the end result: you won't have the opportunity of pulling your hair out while waiting for your release date.

Time can most definitely be your friend.


Cynthia said...

That's excellent advice for ANY type of writing. Most of my writing these days is not of the creative variety (though I think there is an element of it if I do it well). I write grants. Grants that can be worth a lot of money to an organization if properly done, if all parameters are met and each detail is accounted for. Putting the thing aside for a bit is an excellent way to avoid making mistakes that can be VERY costly.

I try and start my grants well in advance of the deadline so I won't make dumb errors due to trying to make a deadline but I LIKE your suggestion of writing them then leaving them alone for a bit so I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Dark Angel said...

I totally agree. And I should have found a critique partner before submitting the first time.

Oh well, live and learn...

Sue said...

Good advice!


Krista said...

Good post. Setting a ms aside for a time let's you consider changes you want to make, solutions to parts you aren't sure about, and even be struck by inspiration about something you didn't know needed help. And YES, work on something else in the meantime!

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

Great advice! I've just started editing the book I wrote for nanowrimo. SCARY!

Myra said...

I have put away writing projects for months. When I removed them from the file, I didn't even recognize them. It seemed like I was editing someone else's work! That makes the writer be more objective.
I like your reminder of this idea.
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