I had submitted a revised draft of a novel to my editor, with the understanding that it would be a few weeks—at the earliest—when I received a response, and critique. That said, I was fairly sure the major work had been done and, other than minor revisions, the work was good. Most important of all, I was satisfied with my work.
As I happened, for a variety of reasons, the editor’s response took longer than anticipated. Thus, after perhaps a month of disengagement, I picked up the manuscript and read it.
I was horrified.
So many weak sentences. Word repetitions. Even some plot potholes and contradictions. Weak character motivations.
This was bad work.
An emergency email to my editor. “Stop! I need to do some serious revisions.”
“Okay. Sure. But the deadline remains …..”
Back to work.
But—what had happened? Why, at one time was I “satisfied with my work” and a month later “this was bad work”?
What happened was time and distance.
There is a great contradiction in the writing process, at least for me. While writing, I wish to be thoroughly engaged, immersed one hundred percent in my characters, while maintaining the momentum of moving the plot forward. All in all, proceeding as fast as I can. On the other hand, being thoroughly engaged, immersed one hundred percent, maintaining the momentum, and proceeding as fast as I can, is all about subjectivity. But doing nothing—stepping back from my work for a decent period of time, gives me distance, objectivity.
I recall Natalie Babbitt once telling me that there comes a time, when working on a manuscript, that you are only adjusting the commas, changing a word or two. “That,” she said, “is the time to watch baseball.” The truth is, however, it is very hard to do nothing. It is harder when payment for the book (paying the mortgage) is wrapped up in the true completion of a book. But doing nothing is, I think, a key part of the process.
I like to cook, which in my case is not being inventive, but following a good recipe. And when I make a good stew—perfect for Colorado’s mountain winters—quite often the recipe suggests, “Better the day after you make it.”
That’s true for writing as well. Time can often be the best editor.