Saturday, November 21, 2009

Let it BREATHE...

I'm sure you've heard this advice before: "At some point in the writing process, put the manuscript aside and let it breathe. Leave it alone for a few days, even a few weeks, and come back to it with a fresh, more objective eye."

I've taught this to my students for years, and have always believed in its core value: that distancing yourself from your own (very subjective) work can help you see things in it later on that you wouldn't normally see. The distance provides a small amount of objectivity.

I've never before experienced this "truth" to such a great degree as I'm experiencing it right now. A bit of background info: Last summer, I spent 6 glorious, difficult, intense weeks writing the first draft of a new novel. I wrote about 10 pages a day (sometimes more) - every single day - in order to complete the manuscript before my first faculty meetings began. I knew that once the semester started, I wouldn't have the time to finish the novel. I would have to work it in between meetings and lesson plans and essay-grading and classes. Nope, I'd rather "rush" to finish it, all in one gulp.

Well, because of that rushed timeframe, I wasn't able to do what I usually do with a first draft - each day, I normally get my bearings by reading over the pages I'd written the day before, then write fresh pages. But, this time, I only read maybe the last couple of paragraphs and then dove in to write the new pages. Thus, much of this new novel had been written, but never reviewed.

So, now, as I'm editing the manuscript four months later, having let the material "breathe," something amazing is happening. There are entire passages, even entire chapters, that I barely recall writing. It's like looking at someone else's book -- which is exactly the point. Fresh eyes! I'm seeing not only the strengths in the writing, but the glaring flaws and inconsistencies, too. Things I might not've been able to see so well, if I'd "known" the material from many read-throughs.

Another good reason to let the material breathe is that sometimes we can grow tired of our own work. We get a sort of manuscript-fatigue if we work on something too hard, too long. It's almost like friends who see each other too often. If they take a break, the next time they see each other, there's more to talk about - the relationship has been refreshed.

And I must say, I'm enjoying reacquainting myself with this new novel, revisiting characters I'd only just met a few months before. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

1 comment:

  1. Great approach.....that 'second look' may reap
    many rewards.