Sunday, May 30, 2010

Give it a Rest

I finished my epic fantasy, In the Seventeenth Year, over eighteen months ago. A small publisher requested the full manuscript, asked for edits, and then held onto the revised manuscript for almost a year. When they finally got back to me, they passed on the manuscript, but they provided a (much appreciated) list of things their editors did and did not like about the manuscript.

While I was waiting to hear back about Seventeenth Year, I wrote my paranormal romance, Killing Kessler. Now that Killing Kessler is almost ready for the query stage, I'm beginning another revision of Seventeenth Year. When I wrote Seventeenth Year, I really thought I'd done the best job I could possibly do. Now, looking at it over a year later, I'm amazed at what I'm finding, especially the extensive use of passive tense. Maybe I've just grown as a writer (which would not have happened had I not spent that year writing Killing Kessler), but I really do believe the year I took off from Seventeenth Year has allowed me to look at it with a critical eye I never would have had before. Though I had routinely set Seventeenth Year aside for a couple of weeks between revisions, I never noticed the overuse of "was" and "were" until I'd let the book rest for a year.

First Draft in Thirty Days by Karen Wiesner (one of my all-time favorite writing reference books - if you're an outliner, I highly recommend it) advises setting a manuscript aside for a few weeks or even months after finishing the outline, after completing the first draft, and after final editing and polishing. With all this setting the book aside, sometimes it seems I'll never actually get to the query stage. But if I'm completing other steps of the process for other books along the way, soon I'll have several books ready for submission.

That's great, but as I go through this revision of Seventeenth Year, I'm discovering that's not the biggest advantage. Giving a manuscript a lengthy cooling off period really does allow me to come back to it with a completely fresh eye, seeing things I'd missed time and time again on my earlier edits. Yes, all this waiting does take an extraordinary amount of patience, but it doesn't seem so long when I'm working on another stage of another project in the meantime. Besides, we're writers, we know all about waiting, right? :)

What about you? Do you work on more than one project at a time? Do you give your manuscripts rest periods at various stages? If so, how long?

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

46 comments:

Kelly@ JustWrite said...

Rest periods are crucial to the writing process. I try and give it a few weeks and work on something else. I've never gone back after a year, but I can imagine how rewarding that would be. Both to find errors and to appreciate the good! But you're right, we DO know all about waiting!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

It's always hard to do the long waits when you're excited to start querying. Fortunately I'm passed that stage. I have a wip that's almost ready to start querying, but I'm going to wait until the fall. What can I say? I'm in no rush for the rejections, and I know when I go through the ms again, the break will have done me good.

I'm almost finished outlining one wip and have another outline ready to go. I'll start one project this summer, and edit it until I'm bored of it, then will work on the other one. Plus, I have an idea for an new book that's waiting for me to give it life. Yep, I'll definitely be busy for awhile. :D

Susan Fields said...

Kelly - I always knew letting the book rest was a good idea, but not until I came back to this one after a year did it really hit home how crucial it is. And you're absolutely right about finding the good, as well. I'm rediscovering now how much I love this manuscript. :)

Stina - Wow, you are going to be busy for a while! And you're an outliner, like me. :) Though I'm always itching to start writing the book, I do enjoy the outlining stage, also. And I also have a new book that's waiting for me to give it life - I absolutely love that feeling!

Piedmont Writer said...

I found one of my original ms. that I let go about 2 years ago. Oh. My. God. You're absolutely right, what a year can do. I know I've grown as a writer -- as I reread the ms. yesterday I thought to myself, I like the story, and the plot, but the writing is soooo bad! So I'm going to clean it up, and hopefully get it ready for query by the end of the summer. Great post.

Susan Fields said...

Anne - Isn't it amazing? I've heard I need to let manuscripts rest, but not until I came back to this one after a year did I realize what a huge difference it makes. Best of luck with your rediscovered ms!

Christi Goddard said...

I write in spurts. I'll write a lot, then nothing for a while. Before I start again, I reread what I wrote before to get back in the groove and also to fix what I'd not seen before. These breaks are essential to my writing.

Lynn said...

I write short, essay, but even those I like to step back from for at least a week. And longer if I can. When stepping back, it is hiding them in a drawer so I'm not tempted to take a peak. I'm learning the writing process takes as long as it takes, maybe even years, and that's okay!

Aubrie said...

Passive voice is the bane of my existence! My first noel, which is an epic fantasy as well didn't get published until this year, three years after I finished it. So when I went back to do edits it was horrendous! My writing had changed so much that I wanted to rewrite the whole thing! I totally get what you're going through.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think the longest I put 'Gretchen Grey' on the backburner was six months and when I did my rapid readthrough I finally admitted it was time for a serious rewrite. I chopped off the first three chapters and rewrote several passages, not to mention editing out the overused words like crazy. I still don't think its ready. Ugh! I hate editing. With a passion...

Susan Fields said...

Christi - So you know what I'm talking about, those breaks are invaluable, aren't they? And congrats on your 106 followers and contest!

Lynn - Yes, sometimes the process takes years. It drives me crazy sometimes, but I suppose it's teaching me patience. :)

Aubrie - I'd already started revising Seventeenth Year when I read your post about getting your epic fantasy published, but your story was so inspiring for me. It's so nice to hear that someone else has been through this same process and found success!

CQG - Chopped off three chapters! Yikes - that sounds painful. But I suppose that's another thing (besides waiting) we writers need to get used to. And I have such a problem with overused words, I really need to make a list. Not just "was" and "were", but other not-so-bad words that I just take a liking to and go crazy with.

Shelley Sly said...

You make some great points here, Susan! I'm right there with you -- I definitely have to give manuscripts time to rest. After I finished my very first book, I dived right into editing and then querying, and it was the dumbest mistake. I wrote another book and came back to that one months later, and then I finally saw it with fresh eyes.

While I'm only writing one MS right now, I do have another in the editing stage and yet another in the outlining stage. When I'm finished with my current WIP, I plan on letting it rest and working on one of my other projects.

Susan Fields said...

Shelley - You make such a great point about having projects at various stages of development. I almost delved into the benefits of that in this post, but it was getting too long. I love having projects at various stages of development. Whenever I get tired of one activity (plotting, editing, whatever), I can switch projects and do something completely different. That in itself is a huge benefit!

Jen said...

Thanks for the writing reference book!!! Sounds like a great one.

I give my book a rest, it wasn't my original plan but that seems to be now what it is happening. I've actually had a great idea for a story so I'm running with that and working on getting back to revisions soon.

Velva said...

Writing a book, no doubt is like life itself. Hindsight in a different frame of mind always provides a different perspective. You grow and change everyday, and your work reflects that continous evolving process.

Robby said...

I usually only work on one thing at a time, but I frequently give myself reprieves from writing in general. Time passes and we grow as people and writers and imagine how crazy it will be when we are all published!

Bossy Betty said...

I am a single-minded person. I can only work on one thing at a time and then I am like a kid and don't to give it a rest even though that's the best thing for it.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I loved this post Susan, it's so true! I also had the same experience. I think the longer the better for cooling off. And of course, keep writing more stuff. Your writing only improves!
So wonderful that you got a detailed crit back! That will go a long way to helping improve!

Tess said...

It is such a process, isn't it? And, how neat that you have that objectivity to take your novel to the next level. Good work!

Old Kitty said...

Happy Memorial day to you too!

And well done for having the Seventeenth Year requested! And it's so good that the editor has provided some very useful feedback for you! I wish you well and all the luck with this re-drafting!!

You know it's very strange about resting and waiting times for stories. When I finish a short story, it stays finished. But then I constantly return to them every so often and see now what I know I should have done with them to make them better. I wouldn't have seen these edits at that time!

I have recently returned to my first ever, my first full MS I wrote in 2005-2007 at a whopping 130,000 words. At that point it had quite good feedback and even won a critique from a Random House editor. He advised that my type of story was not very marketable and said to try another genre. So I left it. And wrote another (69,000). This one I passworded and couldn't find the password to. While trying to unscramble the password, I came across my first 130,000 ms. I've just re-read it and by got I love it. It's raw and amateurish and hysterical as in some bits are so OTT I'm blushing! I didn't see these then but I do now. And you know what? I'm ignoring the random house editor and am re-drafting this ms. But I'm glad he stepped in and stopped me even if it was for other reasons. Because now I know I can improve this ms and having ignored it for 3 years and reading it with fresh jaded but up to my ears in writing courses eyes, I can really see how to improve it.

So I guess my answer to your question would be I don't rest my stories deliberately but I'm glad I do! Because time and more learning really pays off! And it shows just how much learning and writing skill polishing there are to absorb until you find your true voice and allow it to shine through in the best way possible!

take care
x

Sandy Shin said...

I am still at the drafting stage, but thank you for this post! I definitely find many weaknesses in my works after I have put them aside for a long period of time. It requires patience, but I believe it's worth it. :)

And thank you for the mention of the writing book. I will definitely have to find a copy of it.

Talli Roland said...

Happy Memorial Day!

I do what you did - I write a first draft quickly, then set it aside for a month or more and write another novel. Then I go back to the first one and edit that!

Joanne said...

I do let my work sit and stew for awhile, it is so amazing how this helps our critical eye to iron out wrinkles in the work when we return. I don't have a set procedure, but during that waiting time, I either keep busy with smaller projects, or clean out my Word files, some type of busy work while the simmering is happening.

sarahjayne smythe said...

I try to work on more than one thing at a time. Right now it's short stories over the WIP as I am totally spazzing about that. We'll see what happens. :)

Lola Sharp said...

I definitely let them marinate. In fact, I have yet to query any of my ms's, because I always find things I want to change.

Great post, Susan. :)

Lydia Kang said...

I had a similar experience with my first novel. It took writing a second one to realize how imperfect the first one was. I'm not going back to it right now. I'm going to wait a while and see if I can get the second one published. But it's amazing how much our writing improves over just a year. Makes a huge difference!

Susan Fields said...

Jen - When an idea hits, I say go with it! I've got one that's trying to get out right now. I really need to sit down and write all the ideas down before I forget them. And if you're an outliner, I'd definitely recommend you get that book. It should actually be called "Outline in Thirty Days" though, but their point is that the outline you make with the book is so thorough that it's like a first draft.

Velva - Great point! I hadn't thought of it quite like that, but you're absolutely right. Things do seem clearer when you come back and look at them in hindsight, don't they?

Robby - I can't wait until we all get published! What an amazing thought. :)

Susan Fields said...

Betty - You're more focused than I am, I guess - I like switching around to different projects. Plus I get to switch to different types of writing - after I've spent months on a revision, I'm usually eager to plot something new or work on a first draft again.

Terry - Yes, the detailed crit was invaluable. Even though they held my ms for a year, I wasn't mad when I saw their great comments (disappointed, yes, but not mad). And I learned something from the experience - that taking a year off a ms makes a huge difference!

Tess - Thank you! I hope I'm objective enough now to really give this ms the shaping up it needs. :)

Myrna Foster said...

I have to let my stuff rest for a while too. I'm trying to do that right now, but it's not working very well. Maybe one more draft and then a rest.

I'm excited to hear that you're working on your fantasy again.

And thanks for the book recommendation!

Susan Fields said...

Old Kitty - I've been wondering what happened with your password-coded manuscript. Were you ever able to access it? And how wonderful that you found your first novel again! It sounds like you had an experience a lot like mine - finding out by accident what a huge difference it makes when you let your ms rest for a year (or three). I'm excited to hear that you're re-drafting your ms - good luck! And I also agree that you should go ahead and write that story even though the editor told you not to. Seventeenth Year was kind of like that for me - even without much hope of a market, it bugged me for years until I finally had to write it. Having that passion goes a long way to making a story exceptional.

Susan Fields said...

Sandy - If you like to outline, I really do recommend that book, but it wouldn't work for someone who doesn't outline. It should really be called "Outline in Thirty Days", but their point is that your outline is so complete it's like a first draft. I definitely find it much easier to write with a super detailed outline, so that book really works for me.

Talli - I like your system! I try to keep projects at various stages so I can move from editing to plotting to first-drafting, otherwise I get sick of doing the same thing all the time - especially the first-drafting, that seems the hardest to me. And when I spend too much time plotting, I'm dying to get back to the writing. Luckily I do enjoy all the various stages, just not too much at a time. :)

Susan Fields said...

Joanne - I love when I finish a project and have time to catch up on all the little things I've been neglecting while I was so caught up in the writing. And my story's simmering at the same time, so it's a win-win. :)

Sarahjayne - I admire that you write both novels and short stories. I do write the occasional short story, but I don't think I'm very good at it. That's great that you can do both!

Lola - Don't you hate when you think you're done with a ms, and then you go back and find all these things you want to change? Usually when I can get through one complete read-through with only changing an occasional word here and there, I know I'm ready to query. It's still not perfect, but it's as close as I'm going to get it (without letting it sit and stew for another year.) :)

Lydia - Yes, that's exactly what happened to me. It's funny how I thought the first one was the best it could possibly be, and then when I came back I couldn't believe I didn't notice the passive tense all over the place. What was I thinking? :)

Susan Fields said...

Myrna - I've found the best way to let something rest is to start another project. Ideally, have several different projects in various stages going on at once. I think that makes it a lot easier to make it through the rest periods. And you're welcome for the book recommendation - I'm big in outlining, so that book works really well for me.

KarenG said...

Rest periods are crucial. How else can you go back in and see it with fresh eyes? That's so cool that the publisher, although keeping it for a year then passing :(, still gave you editorial tips. You have a really great attitude about it.

Susan Fields said...

Karen - It was disappointing when the publisher passed, but they'd been through some upheaval (hence the long wait time), so I wasn't so sure that was the best place for my beloved manuscript anyway. And I truly did appreciate that they'd taken the time to read my entire ms and provide feedback (twice). And now, since I waited so long, I'm sure my ms will be much better for it, so I'm grateful for that, too. :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Susan--I hope this means you're going to do some revisions and then get this beautiful story out there to more houses/agents...It's a wonderful story and (in my opinion) beautifully written. I can't wait to see a final copy on a shelf at B & N.

Susan Fields said...

Sharon - Thank you! I can't wait either. :)

stu said...

Since the day job currently involves writing, there's generally not much room for too many projects. What I really regret is that short stories tend to stop while I'm writing longer stuff.

Margo Berendsen said...

I think that's the smartest thing you can do, start another writing project while you let the other rest.

Stephen Tremp said...

I have to let my work simmer on the back burner from time to time. Three days to two weeks is the norm for me. A break is good to give the brain time to rejuvinate.

Stephen Tremp

Kimberly Franklin said...

I have that book and love it, even though I never follow it exactly; it's a great reference guide. And I do believe in WIP breaks, but not for too long because then you risk never picking it back up again. :)

Susan Fields said...

Stu - I hope you're able to get back to writing the shorter stuff soon! It sounds like you miss it.

Margo - I always knew that was a good idea, but this experience taught me just how valuable it is. And when it's a long wait time, it's almost like someone else wrote the previous draft.

Stephen - Yes, my brain needs that time to rejuvenate, too. Otherwise I'm so close to it I barely even have to read the words to know what it says...not so good for revising.

Kimberly - That did actually happen to me when I tried to go back and revise my very first novel, a mid-grade ghost mystery story. I think actually what happened was that my tastes changed so much in that time that I was no longer even that interested in the story. So I agree, if you wait too long, you may never go back - good point!

Nicole Murray said...

I also like to leave a WIP sit for a bit while I do other writing or presently, jewelry design. Getting back to it later does two things for me. Knocks me down a notch to see my work wasnt as good as it could be when I last left it and makes me proud and excited that I have grown enough in that time to see that fact. We need to step away to see how much we have grown.

And I have been recently told my writing leans towards Paranormal Romance. What can you tell me about this genre or where to look for others who are into this genre?

Susan Fields said...

Nicole - That's an excellent point about needing to step away to see how much we've grown. I think that's one of the biggest things I learned from this experience, that even though I thought I had that book as good as I could get it, now a year later, I'm seeing it in a whole new light - which is exciting! I'm learning something! :) I'll email you about your other questions - too long to go into here.

Nicole Murray said...

It does feel great to know you're getting better with time and practice. And thank you for any info you can send my way! I would love to know more.

Dawn Simon said...

Excellent post! It's great that you worked on a new ms while waiting. I do the same thing. Getting a new ms into your head and heart gives you a fresh take on the old one. Plus, it puts an extra healthy distance between you and your work when responses start coming in. At least that's my opinion. Yay for the feedback and the fact that you see growth in your work! :)

notesfromnadir said...

In retrospect I'm sure you see the advantages rather than the disadvantages [waiting]. At least the editors provided you with a list of what they liked & didn't like so you can use that to help you. Plus, the perspective of being away from it for an entire year & concentrating on another book gives you an even stronger ability to make revisions.

Best of luck with both your manuscripts. I have a feeling you're super busy right now!