Thursday, August 4, 2011

One More Writing Tip--Just Walk Away

At the beginning of the week, I talked about resting--for our creative mind, our bodies, our spirits.

But one of the best writing tips I ever received was when I was done writing my manuscript--when I’d finally typed those wonderful words of “The End”--that the next step was to let my manuscript rest.

Just walk away.

Now that is a hard thing for me because I’m a perpetual editor. I could probably edit my book until the cows come home and beyond. But you know what? When I let my manuscript rest for a day, a week, or even a month, I am a better editor when I come back to it.

You see, when you’ve taken a step back, you can return with fresh eyes. You see mistakes and plot holes much easier. You can start those revisions without hating the characters or story because you haven’t seen them for a while and you missed them.

But the best perk of all to letting your manuscript rest for a bit? When you read it again, you realize, hey, this is pretty good stuff! I don’t suck as a writer after all!

So, even though it’s hard, let it rest. You won’t be sorry.


Debra Erfert said...

Congratulations! :)

Melanie Goldmund said...

Just wanted to nod in agreement and say, "Yup, yup, yup."

Anonymous said...

"Fresh Eyes" is the phrase we all use to describe the problem with short term memory interfering with our writing, but a little neurophysiology may cast some light on what’s going on when you "walk away" from your manuscript for a while.

When you write, you're translating thoughts from your brain onto the page. In your brain, the characterization is fully formed, the setting is rich with colors and smells and cultural artifacts, and your story is complete right down to the miniscule details of plot. The written page, however, is more like the green screen behind a weatherman in a TV studio—it’s missing a lot of detail. And if you don't give your brain time to forget those details before rewriting, your brain will continue acting like the TV production crew projecting weather patterns onto the green screen. Like the weatherman who would looks rather silly pointing at nothing but empty green space while explaining the high pressure cell moving across the state, your manuscript will make you look silly if you don’t find and fill the holes in your manuscript.

Whatever details don't make it from your brain to the page end up being filled-in by your short term memory when you re-read your work immediately after writing it. You need to give yourself enough time to forget the details. Not the big picture which is likely embedded in your long term memory, but those wonderful, rich details of your story that must be forgotten in order to be remembered in order for you to make sure they’re not left out of your story.

No matter how many times you go back and re-read a newly-written piece of work you’ll likely miss a number of holes in characterization, description, plot, story, or a thousand important technical aspects. Your brain can’t “see” the hole because it already has a complete picture locked and loaded. Your brain sees the fully formed characterizations, descriptions, and story the TV projection production crew is projecting onto your page. So take a break like Julie advises. Put it on the shelf. And when you come back to it, you'll see the holes, the inaccuracy, the missing details of plot, the poorly written description, the weak point of view, and the incoherent dialogue that no one either of us know would actually speak on this planet.

Shelving your work for a day or a week or a month, however, will not make you a better writer. You will not be better able to write from a point of view, see problems with voice and know how to correct them, or understand how to creative more effective dialogue better after you walk away from your manuscript than when you left it. That kind of improvement comes from learning from other authors and editors. And once you’ve “learned” those technical aspects you still have to follow the advice of your mother after she paid for those piano lessons: Practice! Practice! Practice! But you will at least have rid your short term memory from its "green screen" projections onto your manuscript and you'll "see with fresh eyes".

Valentine said...

I like the green screen analogy, Anonymous.Very good. I'd add that a second or third pair of "fresh eyes" is important as well. It really helps to have someone else read your writing and give feedback along the way--someone who doesn't have your production crew on board and has to rely solely on the words you've put down on paper. But beware!Love is blind. You don't want someone who simply pats you on the back and says "WONDERFUL! WONDERFUL!". Friends don't let friends write sloppy. Honest, constructive feedback only stings for a minute but blesses your writing for a long, long time.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Valentine, someone needs to cross-stitch a pillow with that on it--Friends don't let friends write sloppy. Brilliant! :)

Thanks for your comments everyone. :)