Monday, June 13, 2011

The Hardest Writing Lesson to Learn

Of all the things that make up a good book - active dialogue, believable and empathetic characters, kick-ass plot, strong narrative structure, increasing conflict, external and internal goals, etc. etc. (put the next hundred important things in writing a book here ___) one of the most important is probably one of the simplest - yet hardest - to do.

Putting the book aside after you've drafted it and waiting.

I think waiting, and all its subtle torments, is especially hard for writers (see my older posts tagged 'waiting' and my own struggles with that elusive virtue). But, like the proverb says, good things do come to those who wait. Especially when you've finished your first draft or when you're about to tackle an editor's or agent's revision letter. I know, I know. It's so, so tempting to send the thing out there once you've drafted it. You can feel it. It's so close to perfect! You feel the passion of that book. You want it to be read! Why wait to revise after you've already spent months working on it? What more could you possibly do to those thousands of words? Well, in the immortal words of Yoda (who never said this but totally could have!) "Oh, young Skywalker. More you can do, yes."

Would you advocate your son or daughter marrying someone after only two or three dates? Heck, even two or three months worth of dates? No, you say. Of course not. To know someone - really know someone - takes time. How can you learn all the nuances of this complex person in such a short time? You only begin to understand someone through exploring their layers: first the superficial - the looks, the sound of the voice, the physical mannerisms. Then, after a time comes the deep conversations, the surprise revelations, the knowledge that there is good and maybe not so good in this book - I mean person! Anyway, you get my meaning, I hope? Time and distance can make you see a person more clearly. The same thing applies to a book.

I'm thinking about this now because I'm about to enter into my editor's revision for The Break. Since submitting and receiving word that it was accepted for publication I have not opened it. Not once. In 9 months. Because I knew that the time away from it would make me see it more clearly. So now I can look upon it with a slight detachment that will make it easier to make choices about it. That will, hopefully, make me fall in love with it again.

And as for the WIP I finished a couple of weeks ago? We're on a break right now for a couple of months. My WIP understands. It knows how important it is to explore other novels for a time. That way when we start seeing each other again, I'll know it's the one for me and what we have to in order to make the relationship work.

So, what about you? Do you take a break from your draft? And for how long?


  1. So true! I just received my first ed letter and will have a chance to open my ms for the first time in three months. You must have steely resolve to stay away from yours for nine months! Best of luck with your revisions.

    BTW, the background photo for your site is so stunning I did a double take when I clicked onto your page.

  2. Hi Jeanne! It was tough to stay away but I knew if I opened it I'd want to start tinkering. Much luck with your revisions, too!

    And I'm glad you like the background. I was thinking of changing it but I find it very soothing somehow (I love green!)

  3. Amen! I just got my first edit letter, and am about dive into revisions myself. I purposely didn't look at the ms while I was waiting for edits, because I know distance lends a MUCH clearer focus.

  4. Hi Linda: We seem to be following the same path on our books. Hope your revision goes smashingly well, m'dear!

  5. You're so wise, Nelsa! Waiting is sooooo important. And it's sooooo hard!

  6. I totally agree Nelsa. The longer you can put your work away for, the better. Though I have to tell you, I married someone I'd only know for 3 months ... and we're still together after xx years.

    Good luck with your revisions!

  7. Hi Bev! I'll never quite get the hang of it - it's an urge that is very hard to quell!

    Hi Jocelyn! WoW! You must have had quite the instant karma with your husband! Congrats!!