Fresh Eyes

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So the other day, this happened on Twitter:

Visit her on Twitter to say congrats. This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill novel. I won’t talk about what it’s about because that’s Rebecca’s job, but it is a massive undertaking, with beautifully real characters, a story I know will strike at something true while honoring the sacrifices people made in the past to bring about an important step in history (or herstory).

Rebecca and I became friends years ago during National Novel Writing Month, when getting out 50k words seemed, at times, an unsurmountable challenge. Her draft for what will be her debut novel clocks in at about 140k words, which is about 466 pages of a novel, if we presume 300 words/page. Even if Rebecca were not a close friend, I would encourage you to visit her Twitter and say congrats, because that is a massive undertaking.

Length was a concern of hers, and still is as she thinks about her second draft, an upcoming effort that could prove as monumental as the first draft (I have her permission to share this with you). The reason I’m sharing it is that I want to talk about the importance of entering editing and revisions with fresh eyes.

Take a Break

I will never pass up an opportunity to include songs from Hamilton: An American Musical. The basic gist of this song is that Hamilton fought a war and now he’s fighting a congressional battle to get his federal bank, and Jefferson is giving him a run for his money. He’s working constantly, and his wife and sister-in-law want him to relax for the summer.

He’s resistant, because he just has so much work to do. Well, Rebecca and I might as well have sung this song the other day on the phone because I was urging her to consider putting her manuscript (MS) down for a little while so that she could approach editing and revising with fresh eyes.

We didn’t sing the song, sadly, though we both know the musical and probably could have if we wanted.

That’s beside the point though. Today’s writing craft discussion is all about the importance of taking a break from your fiction.

Hemingway said:

After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love, and I was sure this was a very good story although I would not know truly how good until I read it over the next day.

He wasn’t even talking about editing and revising–he wouldn’t even read what he’d written until the next day. Hemingway was known also for not starting and finishing a story in one day. Though his reasoning was that he wanted to leave something to start with for the next day, he was still effectively taking a break.

Stephen King said:

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.

That shift in perspective doesn’t happen instantly. There’s no switch to go from writing a novel to editing and revising a novel that’s going to change the way you see your manuscript from one moment to the next. You need time. You need to let it sit.

My mom is an excellent cook. Sometimes, she’ll put things half-finished into the fridge for awhile and say the flavors need to “fall in love.” She’s letting it sit because it will make it better. The same is true for writing, and the longer the work, the longer you’ve spent on it, the longer it may take in order to let the ideas fall in love, to gain the perspective you need to do your story justice in the editing and revising stages.

Staying In Your World

Are you on board yet? I hope so. I know from my own experience that when I let stories sit, I get new ideas and I think of ways to revise them that I might never have tried if I tried to switch rapidly from one task to the next (this is why my WattPad stories only update once a week instead of every day–it’s not that writing 1000-1500 words takes so long).

That said, you can still continue to work. With Rebecca’s MS, she did a fair amount of research and then drafted it, planning to fill gaps in her research between the first and second drafts. So while she plans not to touch her MS again for about another month or so, she will be working on collecting the research to fill those gaps.

Don’t Forget

Whether you’re a writer or reader, I hope you understand how big of a deal it is to complete the first draft of a historical novel. This genre is special because of the amount of research required, and the world building in a world that real people lived in, a world that influenced the one we live in today.

That’s why I’ve made it super easy to say congrats to my friend–all you have to do is click to tweet!