Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad Aftertaste

I’ve heard it called many things: percolation, marination, steeping, aging, letting it rest, stuffing it in a drawer, putting it out back under the woodpile so critters can gnaw it to shreds. (Okay, I made the last one up.)

No, I’m not talking about any process to enhance the taste of food or wine. I’m talking about what to do with a first draft before you begin rewriting it.

For many, the temptation to begin revising five minutes after typing “THE END” is strong (of course, others want to find the nearest paper shredder), but I urge you to wait a while before diving in.

I like to think of my brain as a multi-tasking computer (albeit much slower and much more error-prone), processing things in the background. While I sleep, while I do my mundane chores, while I sit in traffic jams, the semi-conscious part of my brain is thinking about how to improve my story. How can my protagonist be more proactive? What cool plot twist can I incorporate into the third act? Why is my character eating Froot Loops and not Cheerios?

Waiting gives me a fresh perspective. After I’ve just spent several months writing about a certain cast of characters, I’m too close to them (and the story) to see the soft spots. (Of course, it helps to have a spotty memory—after only a few days, it seems like I’m reading an entirely new manuscript!)

What about you? Do you wait before revising, or do you dive right in? And if you wait, how long do you sit on your hands?



Anonymous said...

Alan - You asked a very - er - timely question. I'm getting ready to revise the first half of my WIP and I'm trying to decide exactly that: how long do I wait before I come back to it? I'm probably going to wait at least a few days for just the reason you outlined. But then my pesky conscience keeps coming back, yelling at me to get busy and fix everything. And sometimes it gets loud. Very loud.

Beth Groundwater said...

Back when I was a software engineer, we called it "software rot," when errors magically appeared in code after it was left on the shelf for awhile. :) I try to wait at least 2-4 weeks between writing the first draft of a manuscript and diving in with revisions.

Hart Johnson said...

I agree with you so much. It can be hard under a deadline--have to finish with that fermenting period built in, but it is necessary. I am currently under deadline and think I managed to trick myself into thinking it was more time (forcing a separation) by critiquing two works for writer friends in between... Mud wrestling with THEIR characters for a few weeks has made coming back easier than I think it might have been with 3 weeks WITHOUT that.

Alan Orloff said...

Margot - Do what I do when my conscience bugs me. Shove a sock in its mouth.

Beth - Any tips for eradicating manuscript rot?

Hart - Nice strategy, critiquing your friends' work to "distract" you. Unfortunately, I do not have any friends.

Anne Gallagher said...

I always think it's better to wait at least a month but I'm going to break my own rule this time. I'm on a self-imposed deadline of Oct. 1 to revise the first act so as soon as I finish writing the last act, I will dive right in.