Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Overlooked Writing Advice: The Cool Down Period

Most writing advice is concerned with getting you from Point A to Point B on your project. Mentors will talk about plot twists and characterization, while writer's groups will focus on tone and description. Magazines talk about inclusiveness and representation, and blogs promise to share the secrets of the perfect chapter opener. And while all of that is good advice, and covers a huge variety of topics every writer needs to pay attention to in order to produce quality work, there's one message that gets lost in all the breathless discussions and shouted advice.

When you've finished your rough draft... stop. Take a breath. Cool down.

Have some hot chocolate. Seriously, you earned it.
As I mentioned in my previous post The Five Types of Beta Readers Every Writer Should Have, completing a project is a lot like giving birth. It's harder than it looks, and it can eat up huge amounts of your time, energy, and attention. Not only that, but when you finally finish the process, you've been so completely focused on it that you have no perspective regarding what you're looking at. Your baby is going to be perfect to you, even if it's covered in dangling plot threads, malnourished in places, and bellowing exposition at the top of its voice.

That's why, before you do anything else, you need to save your rough draft, make a backup of that save, and then shut it in a drawer for a while. Don't dwell on it, don't look at it, and don't go on to other people about it. You just spent a huge amount of time turning this thing from an idea into words, and now you need to rest before the next step.

Come Back With Fresh Eyes

How long you wait before moving on to the next step will vary by writer, the size of the project, and how long it took to complete. For example, if you took a few hours to research and write up a blog entry or a basic article, then when you're done with it you should walk away for a little bit. Make a sandwich, have some chips, or check your mail. Then, once you've had a chance to take a breather, come back, pick up the red pen, and get back to work.

Holy shit, what was I drinking when I wrote this intro?
The bigger the project, and the more time you've spent submerged in it, the more time you should take between when you finish the rough draft, and when you start the edits. If you spent a few days, or a few weeks, hammering out a short story, then you should take a few days to recuperate. If you've just finished a novel, then chances are you've been submerged in that world for between a season, and a year or two. Take a few weeks. You just incrementally pulled a hundred thousand words (or more) out of your guts. Take a drink, and collapse for a bit.

Also, if you've finished a bigger piece of work, you should consider doing something else in between the end of your first draft, and editing. If you just finished an epic space opera with ancient villains in star-destroying ships, maybe write a short horror story about two kids who go into a haunted house on a dare and get more than they bargained for. If you just finished writing a short story for an anthology about robots, then start another one about an Afghanistan war veteran dealing with feelings of existential dread. By submerging yourself into a different world, you pull out of the one you previously spent so much time in. The result is that when you come across a sentence the seems out of place, you're more likely to catch it, and fix it.

If you've pulled completely out of that world (or as completely as you can), then you come at your rough draft as a reader, instead of the creator. Which, trust me, is a godsend for sanding off the burrs and tightening up your narrative.

While you might be tempted to just skim the work, and ship it off to an anthology call, an agent, or a publisher (or just put it up under your self-published works), you really want to take a moment. You're drunk off the creative process... sober up before you decide to show off your latest creation to the world at large.

As always, thanks for stopping in to hear what I've got to say. If you want to keep up-to-date on my latest posts, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Also, if you're in a giving mood this holiday, there's a special gift awaiting anyone who becomes a patron of mine before the new year. Just go to my Patreon page, sign up, and receive two free ebooks, along with my thanks!

1 comment:

  1. As often happens, what seems to be obvious is actually right-right. We all *KNOW* that large writing projects pull us in and require a level of dedication. Sometimes its tough to get to sleep after we decide to end a (day or) nights efforts-- its because our brains won't let loose of the ideas we've focused on.

    My route has always been to put a distance from project, usually by writing sports blogs or something topical for LI. Yeah, might want to shovel a work on to potential publisher, but double yeah, its more than a little difficult to say, "Geez, what was I thinking about XYZ?" I'm with you Neal, maybe its an extension of "all good things in time," but not returning to scene of crime for a while is legit.