Monday, August 5, 2013

Rule # 238: Don't Judge While Writing. Get Fresh Eyes.

I've been writing seriously (read: aiming for professional status) for about four years now, and I've discovered a pattern that seems to ring true (for me, at least) at every stage of the writing process:

I can't judge the merit of a scene while I'm writing it.

It's happened again and again. I'm on a roll, working my way through a scene or chapter, and I'm feeling good. The words are flowing, the characters are open books, and I'm feeling like this scene is probably some of the best work I've ever done.


I'm working hard. The words aren't coming. I'm delving into my thesaurus way too often. I can't see more than a couple paragraphs ahead. And my characters are tight-lipped, not offering any help at all. Every word on the page is torn bodily from my brain, leaving a letter-shaped hole behind. I'm certain the work I'm doing is virtually worthless and only continue typing to get the crap out so I can go back and turn it into something with merit later.

In both cases, I shut the laptop lid, sure I know I've left behind.

And in both cases, I'm often wrong. Because when I go back and read it later I discover that the pulled-like-nails scene is actually lyrical and flows well. The dialogue dances. And that chapter I wrote on a roll? Well... *cough* Not my best work.

See, this is where the advice from an author I respect greatly comes in mighty handy. I'd only been writing for a few months when she told me:

"Just write. Get it out. Get it down. Then put it in a drawer for at least six weeks and work on something else. When you come back to it, you'll see it with fresh eyes."

Man, oh, man is she right!

Part of my problem is that I don't like working on more than one book simultaneously (though I do it, under duress). So the idea of walking away from that story smarts. Let it sit there? Don't deal with those characters? WHAT?!

But when I manage to sit on my hands (or get them busy on something else), I always find when I read back later, I'm able to see the prose as a reader would, rather than the writer behind the story.

Don't forget, when we see our own worlds we see them in color and depth and with history. We know things about our characters and our stories that no one else will ever know. We understand every motivation and intent. We know every upcoming twist.

The trick to coming at a manuscript with fresh eyes, is that your brain has stopped anticipating. It's stopped looking for what's coming, and approaches the story at a much more basic level.

As writers our job isn't just to write what we know of the story, it's to write it in a way that lets the reader understand as much of what we know as possible.

And the only way to even get close to accurately judging how well you're doing is to read your manuscript with fresh eyes.

Trust me. It works.

Your Turn: Do you put your stories away for a time and read them later? How do you get "fresh eyes" on your books-in-the-making?  

1 comment:

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