We’ve all heard this advice before, right? Whatever piece of writing you’re working on—put it away somewhere, let some time pass, and then come back to it and see what you think. After putting a bit of distance between you and your writing, you’ll have fresh perspective on it, it will be much easier to edit, you’ll see plot holes you hadn’t noticed, etc.
Well, I never really thought I was capable of heeding this advice. First of all, I’m not known for my patience. Waiting a few weeks or more to start re-reading and editing… seriously? That sounded like an unbearably long delay.
Secondly, writing—in one form or another—has been a rather significant part of how I’ve earned my living over the past two decades or so. I’ve had to whip out all sorts of written materials under tight deadlines. So, I edited as I went along, maybe gave the work a quick once-over if there was extra time, and then off it went to some unsuspecting reader. (This goes for all the writing I did during my many years in school as well.) Good grades, positive feedback and continued employment all served to reinforce the idea that my first draft is usually fairly decent, so why put it away?
Well, now that I’ve started to indulge my long-held desire to write creatively for the enjoyment and entertainment of myself and (possibly, hopefully) others, I’ve come to the conclusion that even a journeyman writer like myself can benefit greatly from putting my so-called “finished” work into the (proverbial or actual) drawer for awhile. I’ve been amazed at what a few weeks or a couple of months can do to my perspective on my own writing. (The length of the “awhile” is a matter of personal preference—Stephen King, in On Writing, recommends putting a first draft of a story away for a minimum of six weeks before coming back for a re-write.)
First of all, after spending a bit of time away from my writing, I find that I can wield the good old red pen much more freely. I’m definitely guilty of being ‘precious’ about my creative writing endeavors. I tend to get caught up in all the effort that it took to get the words on the page—and therefore get very attached those words. However, letting some time pass between the writing and the editing makes the ‘slashing and burning’ process of editing much more palatable. I can view my own work more as a reader who is seeking to be entertained, and less as the poor schmuck who worked on those pages for many hours and days, and really does not want to part with any bit of it.
But even better—there are those amazing moments when you read something that you (you!) wrote in your not-too-distant past and you think, “Wowie! Did I really write that? I think I might be on to something here!” This is the real pleasure of coming back to your work—enjoying what you are reading! Then making it better! And wanting to write more.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—it’s too bad Adrienne did not put this blog post in a drawer for awhile before hitting the ‘publish’ button. I was just thinking the same thing. But this was one of those deadline situations…
Do you agree that it’s a good idea to put away your writing for awhile, and then come back to it for editing? How long is ‘awhile’ for you? I’m always interested in hearing how other writers work!