One of the most common bits of writing advice is to set aside a manuscript for at least a couple of weeks (or months) before you go back to work on it so that you can see it more clearly and be less attached to the process of writing it, but I’m not sure how many people actually do it. We end a book with great enthusiasm and can’t wait to get it revised and finished, or else we’re impatient about being able to submit or publish it, or we’re on deadline and don’t have the time to wait.
I will confess to being guilty of all of the above. I seldom have the luxury of being able to let a draft sit, and even when I do, I usually feel like I already have a good sense of the problems and know how to fix them.
Without really planning to, I ended up taking a more than two-week break over the holidays when I was in the middle of a revision round, right at the point where things needed to be fixed, and I have to say, it made a big difference. I’ve been able to see a lot more clearly where the plot problems were, and it’s been relatively easy to see how to fix them. Some of that may be because I’ve had time to mull it over, but I think a lot of it has to do with being hazy on remembering exactly why I wrote things the way I did in the first place. When you know why you wrote something, you’re more resistant to changing it because you can justify it to yourself. Once that memory becomes fuzzy, you’re just reading what’s on the page, as though you’re a reader or editor, and if what’s on the page doesn’t work, you know you need to fix it. There’s no arguing with yourself or rationalizing.
That’s especially valuable with humor, where the joke that might have made sense while you were writing it because you understood where you were going with it no longer works without whatever was going on in your head at the time, and that means readers won’t get it. You know it has to go.
Really, as much as I hate it, giving myself more time and slowing down really does make books better. I trained as a journalist, so I’m very deadline focused. Worse, I worked in TV news, so our deadline was absolute. We had a newscast going on at six, whether or not we were ready, so we had to be ready. In that world, being able to work quickly was valuable. I had a reputation for being able to sketch out a story in the car on the way back to the station, so I could get the script written and get it to the editor to cut together the story right away. They’d send me on the late-afternoon stories because they knew I could get back to the station after five and still have something ready to go on the air at six. When I was working in PR, my boss used to brag about me being able to “turn on a dime and give change” because they could throw an urgent assignment at me and have something written within an hour or so.
That can be helpful when writing novels because it means I hit my deadlines, but that sense of rush, rush, rush isn’t always for the best. I’m so focused on getting it done quickly that I may not be doing it as well as I should. I can still write quickly, but giving it a bit of time between phases would probably improve the finished product.
Since I’m developing a new series, I’m writing the first few books before I publish anything, and that should give me some time. After this draft, I’m going to write the next couple of books before I go back and do another draft on the first book. That way I know I’ll be setting up anything I need for the first few books, but I also will have plenty of time to let the first book rest so I can really revise it and make it shine. After all, I’m hoping this book will suck people so deeply into this world and these characters that it will make them eager to keep reading the series.