Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Last week I talked about recognizing the need to edit your work. This week I will talk about how to begin.

You’ve finished your first draft (at least you typed “The End”). Now comes the important second step:  letting the work sit for a while. I call this percolating, or maybe stewing, or maybe even agonizing. But it’s an important step, even if you only have a day or two to step away. There are a couple of reasons to let the manuscript sit. First, you are too close to the work. You have lived with the characters and the story for so long that it’s hard to separate what you know internally from what you’ve actually gotten onto the page. Sure, you’ve thought of several things you forgot to include, or you’ve thought of a nice little twist you can add. Take notes about these. But give yourself a chance to forget what you think you know, so you can go back to the work with a fresh eye. You need to be able to approximate the experience a reader will have when she reads the book for the first time.

Second, you need to give yourself a chance to celebrate and rejuvenate. Celebrate the fact that you have managed what millions or people dream of doing and never get around to—you’ve finished a book. I remember a bookseller once giving a talk in which he said, “It’s hard to write a book—even a bad book.” His point was that people should be kind to writers. My point is to be kind to yourself. You know there are some awful lines in your first draft. You know there are characters that haven’t come alive, there are scenes that don’t quite work, research you need to do to make sure you’ve got something right, and descriptions you have to include. But you have written a whole lot of words, and some of them are good ones. Celebrate!

As for the rejuvenation part, studies have shown that taking time off is good for people’s work. Their products get better, they come back with renewed vigor, and the end result is better.

During this time you don’t have to forget about the book. Things will pop into your head that you know you meant to include, new ideas will pop up, and you will question whether you actually wrote something that you thought you wrote. Take notes. Do a little research if you must. But don’t obsess about it. Let yourself have time to take a deep breath. Start notes for a new project. Take a real day off—go to a museum, or go shopping or to the beach, or to lunch with a friend. This will prepare you to soar when you jump off the cliff into the editing process.

Book Recommendation:  On the advice of fellow author Tim Hallinan, I read Dead is Better, by Jo Perry. What a wonderful book! It’s witty and wise, and sometimes poignant. It’s one of those rare books that made me think, “How in the world did she think up something like that!” As one of her quotes in the books says, “Even in the grave, all is not lost.”—Edgar Allan Poe

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