Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to measure "letting it sit"

I really need a better plan for letting a revision go, putting it away, and then coming back to it with enough time for polishing.
I’m sure there’s a good question in there somewhere, I just don’t know how to articulate it.
Well, since I understand what you're asking I think you've articulated it just fine.

Our blog readers who write novels will have some opinions and advice on this, and I think they are the ones you should heed first.

My writing experience is limited to this blog, and pitch letters to editors. [And letters to queriers. It took me 10+ years to get the form letter I send to writers when I'm passing on their work. There were about 20 iterations.]

I know that the more days I have to tinker, the happier I am with the outcome.

Recently, a client and I went through 27+ drafts of a proposal over a year and half.
Another client and I did 19 rounds on his proposal, over the course of about six months.

The first couple revisions were getting all the furniture in the house, then we moved the furniture into the right rooms, then we got it in the right place in the rooms (that takes several passes as you well know if you've ever gotten a new couch)

Then we hung the pictures and plugged in the lamps.

In other words the big structural stuff first: all the pieces, in the right order.
You don't need as much lying fallow time here because the big structural stuff is more obvious.

To me, polishing is not getting the pieces in the right place, it's where to hang the pictures in the room, and where the lamps go.

I don't think there's a hard and fast rule for fallow time other than this: at least overnight. And two days is better than one.

Thus, you write and revise till you think it's done. Then you let it sit overnight. Then you go back and polish.

Using the flash fiction timeline: you write on Friday till you're done. Let it sit overnight. Revise on Saturday morning. Let it sit overnight. Polish on Sunday morning. Hit send before the deadline!

For a novel, I'd say let it sit one day for every five thousand words. 

But again, pay more attention to the comments. That's where the voice of experience will be found.


french sojourn said...

And most importantly, the painting...choosing innumerable variations of cottage white. (insert scene of Cary Grant and Myrna Loy meeting with the painters)

great post.

french sojourn said...

crab... in ,of course, Mr. Blandings builds his dreamhouse.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

As a short form nonfiction writer (newspaper column) if I know where I’m going I’m done in 45 minutes, let it sit an hour or so and boom, send. The quick ones are usually the best. The ones like yanking teeth take time to pull and time to heel. Polishing may come days later.
Long form fiction?
It not as much about time as it is about getting knee deep in something else. Then go back and read as if you’re reading for the first time. But what do I know? I’m spinning so many plates I can’t even focus on my hula hoop.

Here’s an OT question for the OP.
How did you focus to finish?

nightsmusic said...

I love Mr. Blandings Builds a Dream House! Great movie. The remake they did with Shelly Long and Tom Hanks was good, but not quite the same.

I've been letting my stuff stew now for about a year, not necessarily by choice, but because life has gotten in the way and since I work full time, that has to be my priority right now. I'm hoping that all changes at the end of the year. Prior to my going back to work, I would let my stuff sit for several weeks because I wanted 'fresh eyes' when I read it again. When I'm too close, I don't see some of the things I need to fix. Some people can fix things immediately. I'm not one of them. You have to find what works for you which does absolutely nothing to answer you, OP. Sorry.

Lucie Witt said...

Much like Janet described above, I think it helps to understand what type of revisions you're doing. After the first draft and any major revisions, I think it's important to let the draft sit at least a few weeks. If you're doing smaller revisions you sometimes don't need any down time at all. For example, near the end of editing I read my book out loud to myself and circled typos, made notes. I started fixing them the morning after I finished the read through, no down time needed.

AJ Blythe said...

I actually think 2Ns nailed it. Wait until you are completely distracted by something else so when you come back it's like reading it fresh. That might be a week or a year, depending on how distracted you get (starting something new works well for me).

OT I'm really excited because I bought myself a tablet. Now all those hours waiting while the Barbarians do their thing (sport/music/scouting) can be productive ones!

And yes, I know I could longhand it, but I'm just not as effective that way.

Cara M. said...

Yeah, I think that the ideal time to 'let something sit' is until you've leveled up. Write your big project--or get hugely stuck on your big project, but it aside, then pick something you had a hard time with. Plot, dialogue, description, whatever. Read a bunch about that topic and write short stories actively working on that topic until you think you've got it under control, and have a good short story. Then go back to the big project as a better writer, and see if it looks different to you.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

My wisdom? The lilacs sitting in the vase in front of me smell wonderful.

I'm working on my 2nd draft of my 1st story. Through studying the craft of writing, I learned I needed to cut some chapters. From my crit partners, I learned when my research for the historical parts were lecture-ish rather than organic to the story.

As I near the completion of my 2nd draft and prepare to print it out I've been pondering Opie's question (though I have more layering to do before I polish). So I'll be interested to hear from the voices of experience here too.

MB Owen said...

I always have two projects I'm working on. When I'm finished with one, I'll turn to the other. This gets my head (and heart) in another place, and another voice quicker than anything. The time between revisions varies, (few days, weeks, even months) but because I'm not stuck on the one project, it always has a freshness when I return. That's when the revisions are most valuable: when the heart isn't connected.

Jason Magnason said...


Is this the same process for all genres? Writing fantasy is a chore of great delight. I have had to go back and fix grammar, and change the way introductions happen, but big blocks are not what I thought I should be revising.

Should I be revising the core structure, or just what's obviously in need of revision?

When is done, done?

Writers are born not made; can someone bear me already! I am dying over here.

Lucie Witt said...

Things I do to distract myself between drafts: beta for someone else, write queries/write out ideas for my next novel (yes, I write the query first which I know is weird), work on short pieces (short story, blog post, essay), or work on a non writing creative project.

Best of luck to you, OP.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

With short stories, sometimes I send them to my first readers within a day of "finish". And by "finish" I mean I write it to The End, close the document, do other things for a day or so. Then read it again, see if I'm tinkering with it at all. If it's just commas and stuff, it's ready for those folks. Other times, I tinker longer; I've got two stories now that I'd love to have people read, but I also know they need a lot more in some places. I've got a lot shown, strung together with a bunch more told, and I need the ratio to be a bit better, I think.

With novels? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I've got that one R&R that I'm starting to think seriously about. But my road to The End with THE LAST SONG was different than it was with my other "most complete" novel, LEARN TO HOWL. With SONG, I wrote the bulk of it half and half across two Camp NaNoWriMo's (35k in April, 50k in July) and that was after having the bones of the story in a short story that I realized wanted/needed more room. And then once I was done, I left it alone to "cure" for a month.

I feel like a month is sometimes enough, sometimes I need longer, to get the distance needed to make sure everything is on the page, instead of still matching up with much-needed detail still in my head.

I think I went passes? Ten? By "passes" I mean that I cut and paste the entire novel to a new document, start reading again. There are other tinkey-y bits I might have done in the meanwhile, adjusting things like song titles or memories or monsters, adding a scene or something when inspiration struck me, and then in the next "pass", I'd smooth out that patch into the whole cloth.

With HOWL, I wrote it across about three consecutive months, in every spare moment I could steal. Again, I let it sit for a month, and then I was back at it again (I sent it in to Angry Robot Books' open door a few years back, but then they were going through their ownership changes and I got nervous about whether the book was as good as it could be and opted to withdraw). At this point, three? years later, I can see one big change I could do, which would cause adjustments throughout the text, to make the book better. So I guess it's a good thing I didn't write the whole trilogy yet, right?

Julie Weathers said...

For me, as soon as I finish a novel, I start back at the beginning and revise and edit. This is when I fiddle with words and descriptions. I'll dwell on something here and delete something there. I tend not to write a lot of description on the first draft unless a scene is particularly vivid in my mind. I'll listen to the novel read back to me. I may actually go over it several times.

When it's as good as I think I can get it, I shove it in a drawer for six weeks to two months.

You're a writer, you should already have a new novel forming while you're writing the one you're on. Setting the first one aside to rest shouldn't be hard. It's like whisky or sourdough, it needs that proofing time to be the best it can be.

Don't shortcut this step. I know some people are excited to finish their NaNo novel and just want to rush it off to the agents. Yes, we hear most agents say they don't get flooded with manuscripts in December, but I also watch the twitter feeds of the happy participants who say they are giving their masterpieces a quick once over and then they're going to start querying.

Rushing a manuscript out the door is just a bad idea.

Sometimes a bad idea is the best fun. Other times it's just a bad idea.

Colin Smith said...

Caveat to my advice: I've written a few novels, but I don't have an agent, so I may still be doing something wrong! :)

I would let it sit long enough so you can return to it with somewhat fresh eyes. That's the point. The more you read and re-read, the less vividly glaring problems stand out. So put the novel down. Read another novel or two. Work on something else. Try to get some distance between you and your novel so when you come back to it, it's almost like reading a new book. How long that takes depends on you. You'll know. For most it's certainly no quicker than a few weeks, and more like a month or so.

I did want to pick up on something Janet mentioned in the WiR which I found EXTREMELY useful and interesting... and it's somewhat related. I had noticed that debut novels often take years to write, polish, and get published. Second and third novels, not so much. Why is that? As Janet pointed out, for the first novel, you have to convince the agent that you have the chops to do the job, so your novel has to be as close to perfection as possible when you present it to her. That takes a lot of time, as you let it sit, come back to it, have it beta read, critiqued, etc. Once you have an agent, you don't suddenly become a better writer (though the process of writing the first novel has more than likely helped you grow a lot), but now the agent is more invested in you. Your agent is much more likely to spend time helping you move furniture (to use Janet's analogy), because she knows you are capable, and believes in you enough to represent you. And she also knows that the better your novel is, the better chance she'll have to sell it, and that's a win for you both. Hence, second, third, etc. novels may not take as long because a) you're a better writer, and b) you have the professional assistance of your agent as well as your regular team of betas and CPs.

Okay, I've vommented way more than my 100. Sorry! :)

SiSi said...

What 2Ns said. For me it's less the amount of time and more the amount of distraction. If I'm busy and focused on work, then sometimes just a few days will do it. If I'm not distracted by work, or another story, then it takes a few weeks to shut my brain down and not revise in my head. The key is to step away and "forget" what I've written. That takes different amounts of time depending on the situation.

Peter said...

I wrote a guest blog post on this subject for Elizabeth Dilemma's website:

Here's the salient point:

Let it sit. Untouched. Unread. Some will tell you to let it sit for a certain number of weeks or months. Let it sit. Ignore it. This is great advice. Unfortunately, the manuscript will keep calling to you: "Read Me!" So, my advice isn't so much a time frame as it is more 'attitude.' Let it sit just a little longer than is comfortable. Long enough so the passion starts coming back, until you’re dying to get back into the story

Julie Weathers said...

Re what to revise, it depends on what is wrong. With Far Rider I learned from an agent's minion and a beta reader I had some deep flaws in the story. It meant going back and completely gutting the story. I had to remove some characters and arcs and combine some characters and arcs to smooth it out. I had to start it in a different place. I didn't even know how I was going to do that. I spent five days in a complete daze. Then it came to me, how I could start shuffling things around.

The minion was wise enough to say, "Why don't you start it where the dead uncle arrives?"

I would have never thought of that, but it was the perfect opening.

I left around 60,000 words on the floor that will go into another book somewhere and added new words.

This is why you need honest beta readers who will tell you when something isn't working.

Jason, writers are not born. They work their asses off to make it look effortless.

It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.--Ernest Hemingway

Claudette Hoffmann said...

Carolynnwith2Ns-Default approach has been to press send minutes before deadline. Fear = focus.

Since house revision has been a necessary lifestyle (read frequent moves) Janet’s metaphor nailed (no pun intended) the problem of focusing on lamps & pictures before placing big furniture pieces. A fresh approach so greatly welcomed. Thank you!

The idea of harnessed distraction sounds most excellent. Two alternating projects with time distance away from each feels like a good fit for one easily diverted. Simultaneous spinning of 4 projects or unrelenting snowbound single task focus as portrayed in The Shining have definitely not worked.

And whenever Myrna Loy & Cary Grant talk on screen, I always listen.

OT-Just finishing Gary Corby's The Pericles Commission in preparation for reading The Singer from Memphis. Talk about history repeating itself. Corby's Book #1 in his Athenian mystery series reads like the in-depth behind the scenes analysis of what is going on in the world right now!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I wonder if there is a “right” answer for the OP. I am working on a rewrite that was spawned by waiting and letting my last revision sit for a time after an initial rejection. When I started reading over my so very finished manuscript, I realized that I had obsessed so much with structural elements – grammar, commas and more commas, word usage, and sentence structure that I had sucked the life out of the story. The voice was lost in my desire to not make any mistakes that might send your average grammar Nazi off screaming.

It was much like painting a room. I put on a coat of primer and fixed all the flaws in the walls during first draft, sanded the base boards, primed them, then there was the first, second, and tenth coat of paint along with cleaning up the edges, smoothing out the finish and discovering I have painted the damn thing two shades too dark. So now I must prime and repaint. It won’t be quite as intense as a full new draft, but it will take some doing. I am quite angry with myself right now – I sort of did that thing where I missed the forest for the trees.

I went wrong by getting in a hurry which actually slowed me down. I got to the point where I simply wanted to be finished so I stopped looking at the whole book and trusted editors and beta readers to find the flaws. The thing went from being creative to exactly correct. Boring.

I read a lot in my genre (in all genres really). I have recently been reading some older Robin Hobb’s titles (The Rain Wilds Chronicles). I am completely enraptured by the story and the characters. When I can pick up my book and it reads like that, then I know the book has sat long enough and is ready. If I come back to my book, like the last time, and shrug my shoulders and see myself glaring back at me, well, it still needs work.

DLM said...

EMG, there probably is a right answer for the OP, but it may not be my right answer or yours either. The central point is to give the dough time to rise.

Or even not to. It does happen. Sigh.

Julie, good readers are precious. One of the best days of my writing life was much as you're describing above, when I discovered that the story began with the death of the king, not at the prince's first battle. 60 pages or so gone, and I was honestly overjoyed; I still smile at the memory of my best reader ever being afraid to tell me that.

My WIP isn't even a draft yet, and it had a terribly long sit recently while I was ill and otherwise distracted by life. Fortunately, it seems to have found its way back *into* my life. Gratifying.

Rose Black said...

When I finish a project, I leave it until I have a new idea. The start of a new project is always the bit I enjoy most, so I can normally rely on that to keep me occupied for a few weeks at least. That way, when I do go back and re-read the other project, it's not what is front in my mind, so it feels different.

I do a personal structure check - what drag? Does anything lack / have too much explanation? Have I changed anything at any point that needs correcting in earlier chapters? (I try not to change character name / gender etc mid draft, but sometime they're quite vocal.)

Then it's off to beta readers and I go back to focusing on the current WIP.

Jason - with the one I'm querying at the moment, I had to make several big structural changes. The first act really dragged, so lots had to be cut out, while still keeping the early plot in tact. The story started in the wrong place, which took a lot of redrafting. And once I sent it off, the response from agents was really underwhelming. Lots of form rejections, and the handful of partials all came back "not engaging me like I thought it would." So I went back out to beta readers who suggested rewriting as YA. That took another major change, but now I'm getting full requests and "I'm very excited to read" messages.

Brigid said...

Jason, hell yes you should rearrange the furniture. I'm reading Save the Cat right now, and its plot beats are an excellent way to figure out if the furniture's in the right spot.

I have two active WIPs. The fairy tale's structure is pretty set, so it's the styling that makes it special. But the other--everybloodything changed. Had to start later (near the catalyst, skipping backstory), trade a fluffy couch for a hardbacked settee, figure out each character's motivation and agency and growth. The whole damn thing shifted on me. It's better now--it's more like itself than it was before.

In my experience, a story isn't handed down from God, complete and carved into tablets. It's more like He hands me a block of marble and tells me to dig out the statue myself. It's in there. There's something it's destined to be. But it'll be rough and ugly until I do a lot of work. The plan always changes, and the final is rarely quite what I expect.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Man, questions like this are tough. There isn't a 'right' answer, because everyone writes and edits differently.

Some people plot everything out and then edit as they write, so they may have to do fewer revisions and wait less time between those revisions.

Others (like me) don't plot ahead and edit sporadically as they go, which means they need to put the story away for a fair amount of time between edits, and probably edit quite a lot.

Jason: I'm with Julie on this one. Writers are not born or made; they make themselves. Training is nice, innate talent is useful, but skill and passion can carry you pretty far.

Also, as a fantasy writer (high-five!), I would say that fantasy typically needs more edits and a longer wait period. It's the nature of the beast. When you make up a world with its own rules, those rules may make perfect sense to you. But unless you look at your story with fresh eyes, you won't be able to see if they make sense to readers.

Brigid said...

I'm noticing a common theme of stories starting later than we expect. We're the mamas and papas, proud as punch that little Johnny Novel learned to crawl early and almost won a spelling bee in 5th grade. But Johnny's employers expect his resume to start with college, since he's grown.

Donnaeve said...

It's been different for each book. For the current WIP, it took me about ten months to start to finish, but, I also do some pretty heavy editing as I go along. I'll re-work a sentence ten times. I'll sit for minutes on end to find the right analogy.

What this means is...I haven't read it beginning to end since I started the story - out loud or otherwise. Before I do that, I'm currently doing what I call editing 101. (Taking out the writerly tics by eliminating or revising "x" uses of just, that, up, but, etc) After I do that clean up, I'll read it.

What this means will have been months since I read it as a cohesive beginning to end story.

Sherry Howard said...

The most important thing to remember is to keep writing. . . something. . . in the meantime. It's like having a palate cleanser between courses. If you turn your focus *completely* to another work it allows the tiny elves in the back of your subconscious brain to tinker away on your resting manuscript. When the elves force through an aha moment, scribble it down and throw it in the basket/drawer/shelf/hamper that houses your draft.

No two writers are alike. We do ourselves real harm when we try to fit a mold of what a writer should be, such as the amount of time a manuscript should rest. Do you. Learn what works for you, and don't try to fit some non-existent norm.

Dena Pawling said...

I wrote one WIP, then set it aside to write my second WIP. Once that was done, six months later, I went back to WIP one. I made two major discoveries - (1) I had forgotten a LOT of WIP#1, and (2) I loved the story again. I revised WIP#1 and sent it to CPs. When I went back to WIP#2, I found I was still tired of the story and didn't want to look at it again, so I started WIP#3. Every once in a while I decide to take a look at WIP#1 and WIP#2 again, but I'm still tired of them.

So I guess my process is I have to let the WIP sit long enough, and be distracted by another WIP for long enough, until I forget most of the WIP plus I'm excited about the story again. For me, this appears to require approximately six months. Fortunately I have lots of ideas/WIPS to fill that time.

I will mention that all throughout these years of "letting stuff sit and working on other stuff", I've been reading on craft plus reading lots in my genre and outside my genre. Also, WIP#1 needs tightening so each scene moves the story forward [I wrote it too episodic] and WIP#2 needs to be recast as YA, so those revisions are (1) major and (2) not the same type of revising. However, when I'm doing the fine-tune type of revising [polishing], I've noticed the same rules apply. If I'm tired of the story, I can't productively work on it.

Good luck, OP. You'll find what works for you.

Julie Weathers said...


"I still smile at the memory of my best reader ever being afraid to tell me that."

Lawsy, I wept for five days at the thought that the story didn't work in FR. I had no idea how to gut the thing and rewrite it. I am very thankful my beta reader was so honest, but it was heartbreaking.

I hope every writer, including the OP is reading. You have to constantly replenish the well. This is true not only while you write, but in between projects. It might be all right to let the project lie fallow, but never your mind.

DLM said...

Julie ... Oh, once I cut that first sixty pages, heading at the editing dragon with NO readers (she was publishing her own at that point) was like being armed with a butterknife in the lair of Smaug. It was a bad, bad year. Knowing where the story began was big, but all I knew after that was to cut more, more, more. I sliced down to 128K, which for my kind of histfic is not extreme in length.

Then I got the agent feedback, that I needed food in the kitchens and furniture in the rooms. So it was time to build it back up again.

One sees how it can take a good ten years to write a novel.

Craig said...

Bury it by the dark of the moon. Place it under the rock that looks like Trump's hairpiece( or a Shih Tzu in the right shadows) in your private Idaho. Let it sit until the second blue moon of the month of MAY in a presidential year. Sing and dance around it for a few hours and then edit it again.

So much depends on how and what you write. The reason there are so many conflicting books on how to write is because it is different for each writer and we can only tell you what we know from our own experience.

Our experience might be as wrong as a pink Phlogistan but it is what we know. Sometimes things are easier with practice. This is sometimes one of those things. The other times you end up even farther away from the one true point.

If you are done with the first draft take yourself out to dinner, get a massage, get laid, do something to replenish yourself and then tavkle it when you feel comfortable about it.

Julie Weathers said...


No two writers are alike--


Diana Gabaldon and one of my writing partners fiddle with their sentences endlessly before they move on. They don't get a lot of words per day, but they usually get pretty much "right" words.

Sometimes I play with something as I'm writing, but most of the time I just vomit words onto the page. As long as I know I have to go back later and clean up my mess, it's ok to make it.

There's no right way or wrong way to write. Don't let someone tell you there is. Figure out what works for you. What that is might even change from time to time. I'm not normally a chunk writer, but that's how Rain Crow is coming to me. I just have to trust it will all work out.

Julie Weathers said...


"Then I got the agent feedback, that I needed food in the kitchens and furniture in the rooms. So it was time to build it back up again."


That's why Far Rider is on the shelf. More world building, flash out more character arcs, build up your magic system, realize this is really a high fantasy YA, and divide it into two books. I don't know where to start, so it will gather dust while the boys in the back ponder it.

Colin Smith said...

On a meeting break. Skimmed comments. Lots of good ones. Will read properly later. UPDATE on my short story: I sent it to my wife last night. GOAL ACHIEVED!! I expect THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS to be waiting for me when I get home. A wonderful reward. :D

DeadSpiderEye said...

It's a tricky question, there is a certain advantage to be gained from the distance gained once your reading head is in gear. I think though, there's a danger of losing some of the subtlety that your writing head came up with, if you leave it for too long. One way of getting round that, is to carefully annotate your drafts, things like: [switch to passed tense here]. Again though, that can put a crimp on spontaneity, which is what initial drafts are about.

Elissa M said...

Jason--heed Bethany Elizabeth (she beat me to it).

I, too, am a fantasy writer. Everything in your head is clear to you, but I guarantee not everything on the page is clear to the reader. Not only do you need to let the novel sit, you need knowledgeable beta readers who will read the entire thing and give feedback regarding the big picture. This is most especially important if the novel in question is epic fantasy with multiple characters and plot lines.

When you say, "Should I be revising the core structure, or just what's obviously in need of revision?" I have to scratch my head. You don't revise just for the sake of revision. This is why beta readers are vitally important. They have the distance to see the forest while you're still wandering in the trees. If this is your first completed novel, it more than likely needs more revision than fixing introductions and grammar mistakes.

While your manuscript's out with beta readers (choose only two or three good ones--too many will be too confusing, and one is usually not enough) read as many fantasy novels as you can. Read ones that have been recently published (LOTR will be no help to you here) and are the best in the genre. You want to fill your head with good writing, great world building, and excellent story telling. If you're not envying the writing, you're not reading the right books.

If you've done it right, when your beta readers give their feedback, you'll be able to see exactly what they're talking about.

Good luck!

Adib Khorram said...

I've been all over the place on this—sometimes I'll write another novel in between revisions, sometimes I'll dive right back in, sometimes I'll let it sit and do NO writing for a couple weeks (or months!) and let myself rest and recharge.

What has worked best for me is two or three months away from the MS, whether I'm writing something else or just relaxing. I know it's time to go back to it when I can't think of anything except all the ways I'm going to make it better.

Ashes said...

I think it depends on how well you remember, or perhaps more accurately, how quickly you forget. 

Personally, I'm blessed with a very good memory. This has helped me in many facets of my life, but writing isn't always one of them.

To me, the point of putting a manuscript away is to forget it. Only then can you come back with fresh eyes. Only then can you see what is there instead of what's supposed to be there. 

I didn't get enough distance from my novel until I'd hid it from myself for four months. Your mileage will vary.

Panda in Chief said...

I'm fortunate (ha ha) that I have so many different irons in the fire. What I have finally learned is that I work best in short bursts: one to three hours at most on something that requires intense thought. I can barely stand to start the drawing for a new painting, because the thinking part is so intense. The same is true if I'm storyboarding a picture book, and doubly true for the graphic novel. I can work on several projects over the course of a day, and have that same energy level for each one. If I work too long on one thing, I get mentally tired and start screwing it up.

Having so many different parts to my creative work life, (painting/printmaking/cartooning/graphic novel) gives me lots to do while I'm waiting for a big project to tell me what to do next. When I am working on a painting, there always seems to be a point where I am no longer looking at my source material, and looking to the painting to tell me what should happen next. This would be the final polishing edits and usually needs a couple days to think about other things.

Everyone works differently, but the constant seems to be, have something else to take your attention while you are waiting to see what the WIP wants you to do next.

Joseph Snoe said...

My advice on how long to let it sit is unhelpful. I’m not sure I’m doing it right. I’m one of those who torture themselves over every sentence while writing (handwriting at that) and then even more when typing. I keep going back to chapters on a regular basis at random and nit-pick. Because of work I went seven or eight months without looking at my manuscript. When I looked at it again in December, I thought it was wonderful. But Julie Weathers told me it wasn’t.

So here is my new plan. I took notes from an online course in January. I bought several books on writing. I read the outline and a few pages from a book on writing daily and see how I can apply those to the chapter I’m working on.

I’ve been doing this since early February (It’s a slow process by the way). I now have an informal checklist. I revise the chapter I’m working on with one item on the checklist in mind, then go back with the second item in mind, and so on.

I found I already had a good structure and story. I needed to “accessorize” the chapters—what Janet Reid called hanging pictures and plugging in lamps—and I’ve added two chapters so far and eliminated four or five (some of my favorites).

As an example
ORIGINAL (After many revisions- I liked it)
Loira paused. Her voice turned softer. “E.J., in the restaurant last night you said you floated outside your body and watched yourself sleep. Did you really?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Or I may be remembering a dream or a fantasy.”

“I don’t float outside my body, or fly over the city or anything like that. But sometimes I see myself. I’m usually awake, not asleep. Do you believe me?”

E.J. did not know what he should say. “I have no reason not to believe you,” he said. “What do you see yourself doing?”

CURRENT (Accessorized)
Her voice turned softer, quieter. She sounded like a twelve-year-old girl asking her cookie-baking grandma for advice. “E.J., in the restaurant last night you said you floated outside your body and watched yourself sleep. Did you really?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Or I may be remembering a dream or a fantasy.”

“I don’t float outside my body, or fly over the city or anything like that. But sometimes I see myself. I’m usually awake, not asleep. Do you believe me?” She attempted a weak smile then let it fade.

E.J. didn’t know what to say. Conversations that began this way usually left him walking a tightrope without a safety net. He bought time. “I have no reason not to believe you. When do you see yourself?”

--P.S. I wanted to let this sit for few days before posting it, but then no one would read it.

Karen McCoy said...

Agree with everything said, and I love how everyone's process is different. My process is letting it sit while working on something else--and, most importantly, letting it sit longer the worse it is.

This is not scientific, nor exact, and everyone's process will be different, but it allows a gauge for space. And time and space are the best editors.

BJ Muntain said...

With a novel, once you feel it's 'done', let it sit for at least a month. Longer, if you can. Work on something else for that time, to get your mind completely off the novel.

You want to be able to come back to the novel with fresher eyes. We've mentioned here before that your brain will fill in the cracks when it knows what's being said, which leads us to all sorts of typos and other errors missed.

When you work on a novel non-stop, your brain gets blind to other things besides simply words - ideas, subplots, transitions... You might think you included important information, but was that in revision #3? And did you remove it in revision #5, before you realized how important it was going to be in revision #9?

One month. At least. I'd almost say let it sit one month for each month you've been revising, but you might not want to wait that long, if you've been revising a long time.

The purpose is to gain distance from the novel. Look at it with fresh eyes, as though you're reading it for the first time (or, more like, the second time, but years later), so you can see it more critically.

BJ Muntain said...

Jason: Sometimes core structure IS in need of revision. Would this Part A be better before or after Part B? How does all this affect the pace (pace is an important part of structure)?

And writers are 'born' in that the imaginative process is hard-wired into their brains. But this is only the clay. It takes a lot of work to mold a person with imagination into a writer.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oooh, Elissa - is this where we get to recommend some of the hottest non-LotR fantasy novels? Because I am SO there!

I mean, there's the obvious GoT for 'complicated political' fantasy.

Then there's the Malazan books for 'complicated everything' fantasy.

There's Name of the Wind for 'protagonist on a quest' fantasy.

There's the Codex Alera for 'pokemon meets the Romans' fantasy.

Those are all just high fantasy, by the way, but if I remember right, Jason, that's what's you're writing. :)

Beth said...

Reading all of your strategies is fascinating! I agree with those who said there may be a right answer for individual writers, but there isn't any one right answer. I'll also echo Colin's disclaimer. I am unagented, and haven't even waded into the query trenches yet.

When I write longer form works, I let them sit for a good long time after the first draft, usually 4-6 months, while I work on other things. Then, I reread it without making any revisions (other than basic typo corrections). I find that I've forgotten a lot. Reading with fresh eyes reminds me why I loved this idea enough to write it, but also makes me realize the many weaknesses. Then, I develop a plan for revision.

Adib Khorram said...

As long as we're doing recommendations, THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING and AN EMBER IN THE ASHES are both pretty exceptional fantasies as well. Both are sometimes classified as YA, but they have amazing world-building, superb pacing, and pack a huge emotional wallop.

Emily Kate said...

I agree that writing processes are different for everyone. But this is one thing that I think is universally necessary for any creative project--the "out of sight" time.

Art is a living, breathing thing. If you work it too hard for too long, it starts to fade. The flank of it gets shiny with sweat and starts reflecting those sunny ideas of yours that may or may not be as great when the sweat dries. Let the sweat dry. Rest yourself and your story. Then take another gander.

Cheryl said...

yes, I write the query first which I know is weird

Weird, but a good idea, I think. How better to find out if you've planned for the required story elements?

Like flash fiction, distilling your novel down to its most concentrated is the best way to learn what it's actually about -- or not, in the case of one of my drafts. It took writing the query for me to realize there was no real story.

On topic, I let WIPs sit until I've forgotten all my favourite bits (usually about a month). That way, cutting is easier and when I read I'm not skimming because it's too familiar. I've just gone back to an unfinished second draft that sat for six months while I was focused on another project and it's totally new to me. The best part is that I still love it.

Julie Weathers said...

I would say Game of Thrones is more epic fantasy than high fantasy. Not having read Jason's story, I have no idea if it's epic or high, but he calls it epic, so assume it is.

Joe, you are tearing my heart out. I didn't say your story wasn't wonderful. I just made some suggestions on what I thought might make it better and opinions are like noses, everyone has one. Just because I'm older than dirt doesn't mean I know anything.

Ok, I am skeedaddling now before I get banned permanently.

Hannah H said...

Bethany: Can I jump on this train? I love high fantasy!

Sharps by K.J. Parker is about a rag-tag fencing team sent on a diplomatic mission to a recently defeated country. While they're on the tournament circuit, high ranking officials start turning up dead in every city they go to. The team passes through long enough to realize that their host country is on the brink of resuming the war that everyone just wanted to end. Revolution and intrigue surround the team, and what's worse, one of them is causing it.

The Goblin Emperor is about a young prince--the hated half-goblin son of the Elf King--whose father and brother all die in one very premeditated airship accident. Maia hasn't been to court since the death of his mother. He's lonely, confused and desperately afraid, but he needs to solve his family's murder, survive at court, and-- hopefully-- survive long enough to right some wrongs and kickstart the Industrial Revolution.

Finally, on the young adult side of things, there's Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy, which is about a Persia analogue fighting an invading empire. There's spying, battles, and a wonderful subplot about forging techniques, but the main issues of the text come from culture clash. Wonderful characters and wonderful worldbuilding.

Sorry to go overboard on my first post, but I hope that this is useful for someone!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I must echo the other Fantasy writers in the Reef. I do believe it takes a good long time to bake a truly great epic or high fantasy, and face it, we’re not reaching for moderately neato debuts here. All of us want to write something that sings and connects to the reader with a steel grip. Creating something truly epic, with a multi-layered world full of diverse and interesting cultures and characters takes a lot of time to ferment. There is a reason George R.R. Martin is taking so long to finish Winds of Winter and it's not just writer's block.

I am going to hop on this fantasy train of recommendations. I already mentioned Robin Hobb and her Rain Wilds Chronicles (Dragon Keeper, Dragon Haven, City of Dragons, Blood of Dragons.) I would like to emphasize my recommendation. The story follows a group of deformed dragons being cared for by a group of outcast and mutated humans, trying to find a place for themselves in a brutal world. Both world-building and character development is stunning in these books. Hobb does a lovely job of pacing, suspense, conflict, and with a fascinating structure as well. It’s simply brilliant. These books trumpet the best diverse array of protagonists I have ever read in any genre. Bar none, these books feature some of the best written female characters in fantasy I have ever read, and that takes nothing away from the young men in the story, not to mention the wonderful dragons. None of the characters are all good or all bad. They are exquisitely flawed as we all are, sometimes making decisions because of ignorance or bias that makes the reader despise and love them all at once. Anyhow, it is a shining example of how to write a great fantasy.

Kate Larkindale said...

I tend to draft fast - 8-10 weeks to finish a novel. Then I leave it while I revise whatever I wrote before that novel. Revising usually takes around 4-6 months by the time I've been through every chapter, sentence and scene, then had CPs look at it and tell me what's wrong. By the time that's polished and shiny, I'm ready to draft again.

So I write a new book.

Then I'll revise that first book I drafted. So it's usually at least 8 or 9 months between finishing and revising. Sometimes more. I have a book I finished in July last year I haven't even glanced at since. I will get to it sometime...

Lucie Witt said...

Cherly, that's basically why I write the query first. If I can't identify the main characters, main conflict, and the stakes, I'm not really ready to write the book. It helps me weed out which ideas to focus on. Might not work for discovery writers, but it sure has saved me some heartache (and was a very hard learned lesson).

Jason Magnason said...

Hmm. Thanks guys and gals and cats, just in case DoY chimes in. I appreciate the advice and info.

Stephen King - On Writing : "It is... my attempt to show how one writer was formed. Not how one writer was made. I don’t believe writers can be made."

John Davis Frain said...

Joe Snoe,

I'll take a leap. You do one thing same as me, so naturally, I notice it much easier in your ms. You wrote:

Her voice turned softer, quieter. She sounded like a twelve-year-old girl asking her cookie-baking grandma for advice. “E.J., in the restaurant last night you said you floated outside your body and watched yourself sleep. Did you really?”

You have a great line: "She sounded like a twelve-year-old girl asking her cookie-baking grandma for advice."

You do a superb job here of showing. So trust yourself. Because you lessen the impact of your second line when you buffer it with your first line where you tell us that her voice turned softer, quieter. First, I'm not sure you need "softer" AND "quieter" and second, you're telling us in sentence 1 what you're showing us in sentence 2. So strike sentence 1 and I think you'll have a stronger paragraph.

Well, after you shove it in a drawer for 4-6 weeks, then strike the first sentence.

Good luck and keep writing.

72df7aa2-1c6e-11e6-894a-4fa8d618deba said...

I have to agree with those who say you should work on more than one project at a time. Besides having Project B to distract you from Project A, it also gives you something else to work on when you hit a creative roadblock. I definitely need a month or more away from a project before I can go back to it semi-fresh. It's frustrating, as I always feel like time is of the essence. I don't want someone to sell a similar novel while I'm endlessly revising mine (and yes, I know no two are exactly alike, but still...) I've even had news stories happen that were like a very unique plot I'd been working for years on, and it kind of sank my enthusiasm for the project. So I think it's good to let a project sit for a while so you can have fresh eyes, but not too too too long.

I found myself wondering the other day if mystery writers feel intrigued as they are writing, since to them, their book is not at all mysterious. Even with fresh eyes, can you ever have the perspective you really need? Do any of you fine folks laugh at your own jokes in your novels, or get excited about the mystery, or scared by the horror? I wish I had some glasses I could put on to read my story without prior knowledge, but of course, it might be the worst ever if I realized it wasn't any good....

So yes, work on more than one project, take a month off, look at it fresh. I've got a novel ready to give my agent now but I postponed another week to do more proofreading, and I'm at the point where I am changing paragraphs around and then realizing they were better off before. So that may mean I'm finally at the point, after more than four years of breaks and revisions, to let it gooooo, let it goooo. I was always working on a few things at once.

Ravens said...

I think it depends on whether you edit while writing. I don't, I write my novels with the NaNoWriMo approach, as in write like hell for 30 days, never looking back or pausing, until you've done at least 50k words. I start with a story idea some characters, a plot outline, and some scenes, and go for it. Editing would only slow me down.
I then let this draft sit for at least a month, while I catch my breath, do laundry, and NOT write. Editing starts then as top-down - as in re-examine the story idea, the characters, the plot, etc. to see what needs to be adjusted.

Leone said...

I'm revising my second novel (after putting my first novel in a drawer) and here's the process that seems to be working for me.

(1) Write first draft, very fast, noting in all caps anything I need to address later, such as descriptions, timeline or research. (2) Once first draft is done, look at plot,structure and the order of scenes, looking especially for missing plot points or threads that have been left dangling. This is the stage I'm in now. (3) Do a "read-through" and address items in all caps as well as sloppy language and all the other obvious stuff. (4) Put the manuscript away for at least two weeks, then print it and read it, as if I were a reader coming to it for the first time. Write in the margins everything that needs fixing and then fix it. (5) Hire an editor to read it and tell me what else I need to fix. Then fix it. Then query Janet Reid.

Panda in Chief said...

I definitely laugh at my own jokes, at least to make sure that SOMEONE does.

Julie Weathers said...


I'm not trying to pick on you, but if you truly believe King's line is saying writers are born, then why are you buying a book from him that delves into his advice on the craft of writing? Yes, I know it's also a memoir, but many people buy it for the writing advice.

I may have a knack for telling stories, but I had to learn how to write. It took several years to develop my voice. Thankfully, my editor at the magazine encouraged all of us to maintain and grow our own voices while strengthening our writing skills. Even on non-interview stories without bylines, readers could recognize my stories and owners or trainers would often call me and thank me for the nice story.

I've said this before, but maybe it bears repeating. I had a blue pencil with Chris Humphreys at Surrey. I asked him after we discussed the piece if he was going to write any craft books because he writes exemplary fight scenes. He replied, "No, and you don't need any. Stop reading them. You're going to screw up your voice."

Later, holed up with Jack Whyte drinking and talking I asked him the same question. "No, and quit wasting your time on that sh!t. You're going to ruin your voice. Just write the damned book."

Jack Whyte, by the way, took ten years to write his first book and even then didn't think it was good enough for publication. If not for his sainted wife shoving it out the door, it would never have seen the light of day. Of course, a lot of that time was spent on research.

At some point in time you do need to learn to trust yourself, but you should never stop striving to be better.

When people tell me, "Oh, I wish I'd been born with your talent," I'm always tempted to respond sympathetically and pat their arm, "I know, dear, but you know the good Lord only has so much talent to spread around and sadly it's all gone. I got the last of it. Well, if you'll excuse me, I must get out my feathered quill and dispense divinely inspired brilliance. My words glow when I write, you know."

I know people mean it as a compliment, but seriously, if I can write, it's because I do write. I don't treat it as a gift, I treat it as a job.

Arri Frranklin said...

Mostly OT, because I'm in the process of editing my first novel myself.

I have to say pretty much the same thing as everyone else, let it sit. I found that after letting it ferment for a while, I didn't exactly forget the story, or even get all that distracted from it, but I was soon able to write down a list of things that I thought should be changed or could be done better, without even looking at it again. Who knows?

Can I also say that I am easily intimidated, and that I might have to stop coming here because everyone seems so much better than I am at everything? This is awesome for all of you but not for my annoyingly delicate ego.

Then again, you all are probably a lot more skilled than I as I'm just a wee first year undergrad.

E.M. Goldsmith said...


Everything you just said. Amen.

BJ Muntain said...

Arri - Just a couple of things.

A) You are editing your first novel. That means you finished it. 90% of 'aspiring' writers never get that far. You're already far beyond most.
B) Some of us having been writing for a very long time. Others are like you - just starting out. Those of us who have been writing a long time all started where you are starting. Some reached success young. Others, not as young. Many of us haven't been published yet, but we're still trying.

Basically, we're all writers. We're all doing the best we can. We're all learning - that's why we're here.

Don't be intimidated. We're just sharing what we've learned. So are you. Keep writing, keep learning, and keep sharing. :) said...

I think the info we're missing from the questioner is whether this is a first novel. A common problem is the inability to move on from a first project. Hell, I did it myself with that first one. You get so wrapped up, so intent on making this one book the very best it can be . . . and you end up "editing" it to a stale death and never learning anything or growing as a writer. If that's the situation you're in OP, put it in a drawer and write something else.

That's the main thing, for me. Do something else. Write something new, read in or out of your genre, go over your notes from a class you took, read a craft book, watch movies, binge on an entire TV series. Take long walks and let your mind wander over favourite stories. Anything that will give you perspective and time, but that will also serve as a learning experience. This might take a few days, or weeks, or months. It depends. But if you just keep hacking away at a WIP without ever learning anything new, you most likely won't improve it.

Also, find a few good beta readers. Get feedback on what works and what doesn't. And let THAT sit for a while before you act on it. Sometimes people are wrong, or at least wrong for your vision of the story.

As everyone has said, we each need to find our own process for this. And, unfortunately, it's sort of like having a new baby-- once you settle into a routine and know you need three weeks before revision, the baby decides to skip that nap (or an editor changes your deadline) and you have to figure out a whole new way of doing things. Good luck!

Where There's A Quill said...

As you guys have already established: everyone's different. I'd love to know OP's current revise/put away/come back approach and what about it isn't working for you. Is it that you get impatient and launch right back into in immediately? Because that had always been my problem in the past. Primarily because I couldn't handle the feeling of not actively working on my novel just for the sake of letting it rest. Here's what works for me:

Once I complete a revision, I put my novel away and work on my query letter. Working on a query is completely different to working on the novel but just as important. Like the novel, however, it's something you eventually need to let rest. Which is when I move onto the synopsis. Again, totally different kind of writing. Then when the synopsis needs to be hung out to dry, I head back to the novel.

Often it'll be a couple of months before I make it back to my novel, but I won't have noticed the time. And I've felt productive in the meantime. said...

Arri, you are leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at your age. You know you're a writer, you've completed a novel, you've found a community of writers willing to give advice and share experience, you know you have stuff to learn. We all have delicate egos and are easily intimidated in the right circumstances, every single one of us. Some of us have just had more time to figure out how to fake it in public. Please don't go away.

Arri Frranklin said...

Thanks BJ. I will try to keep those things in mind.

Arri Frranklin said...

*and kdjames.

Joseph Snoe said...


I truly appreciated your comments. You know that. I should have written above something more like "Julie Weathers opened my eyes to ways I could improve it." I go back to your comments on each chapter I revise. If my novel ever hits a bookstore, know you were a big influence on it.

P.S. I've got some new dirt in my backyard. It's not old at all. Only a few weeks.

John Davis Frain - Your suggestion makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

Julie Weathers said...


You should never feel less than anyone. You finished a novel. What does that make you? A big damned hero! Most people say, "I'd like to write a novel."

You did it. It's not easy and you better look in the mirror and realize how remarkable you are.

Is the job over? No. You realize that or you wouldn't be revising. That's the sign of someone who's serious about their craft.

Something else you will realize. Your next book will be better than this book.

We're all at different places on our journey and every single one of us started out with a dream. You chose to make your dream a reality.

Chris Shivers, world champion bull rider, started out making half a jump on a bull. He kept trying and never gave up.

Arri Frranklin said...

Well, I hope things turn out better for me than for some other big damned heroes I could think of!

Thanks Julie, everybody. I needed the encouragement. I like to pick impossible dreams; the other impossible dream right now is that engineering degree.

Speaking of which, I have homework to do. And maybe I'll write a hundred more words when I should be sleeping.

Joseph Snoe said...


If I had to list the three writings for which I've received the highest praise, one was written while I was a college freshman.

You see and feel and write things at that age that disappear over time. Take advantage of your age while you can.

Donnaeve said...

"It is... my attempt to show how one writer was formed. Not how one writer was made. I don’t believe writers can be made."

On this particular debate as to whether writers are born or made, I think Julie/Jason, you're both right, it's just that some people are born with more talent than others. Like a runner who goes out and practices for a year and can suddenly win races while another will train for ten, and still not ever be as good. It's genetics.

Betsy Lerner writes about natural talent in THE FOREST FOR THE TREES. That chapter is called, (can you guess?) "The Natural." She questions if this person exists. She states that she won't say there is no such thing as natural talent, but having that natural ability doesn't make writing any easier..."it is some a combination of ability and ego, desire and discipline that produces good work."

I have SK's book ON WRITING, but it's been years since I read it. Reading the quote, I think what he means is "forming" is like holding putty. You can mash it, pull it, shape it, until it is what you want. "Made" (IMO) is in the context of all you have to do is follow steps 1, 2, 3, etc. I.e. you can't "make" a writer like you make a cake, do this, do this and do this, presto, bingo! You're a writer! I think what he means is someone who writes over time CAN form themselves into a writer (some will quicker than others.)

Just my two cents at the end of a long day!

Night all.

Joseph Snoe said...

Since Guy Clark died today and I'm feeling bad over it; and I wrote something that made Julie unhappy and I'm feeling bad about it; and I'm made teh world and I'm feeling bad about it, I'm jumping into a fray without anyone asking me to.

Here is what Stephen King wrote:
“I am approaching the heart of this book with two theses, both simple. The first is that good writing consists of mastering the fundamentals (vocabulary, grammar, the elements of style). . . . The second is that while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
. . . .
“If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well—settle back into competency and be grateful you even have that much to fall back on. There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground, he’s a basement guy. . . . You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars.”

The thing I like best about his quote is my writing desk is in my basement so I'm a few steps closer to the muse than most.

Colin Smith said...

I just want you to know that I have delayed digging into THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS to read the comments. I love y'all THAT MUCH!!! :D

Here's a bit more of Stephen King from ON WRITING that, I think, elucidates the "writers and made not born" issue, at least from his POV:

... while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

I have to say, most of the time I feel competent. One day, I hope to be good. But I think I was born with enough raw material that I'm not bad; but not enough that I'll ever be great.

Now, Corby awaits! Good comments, everyone. :D

Oh, and HELLO, HANNAH H!!! Welcome to the Shark Tank! :)

Colin Smith said...

Hah! *fist-bumps Joseph*

Julie Weathers said...

I'm sorry, I'm really clogging the airways today. I beg forgiveness. I'll restrain myself the rest of the week perhaps.

First off, Joe, my dear friend. You'll have to try harder than that to make me unhappy. I'm made of fairly stern stuff. I just don't want you to believe you don't have a perfectly lovely story and lose confidence in it and yourself based on anything I say.

"The thing I like best about his quote is my writing desk is in my basement so I'm a few steps closer to the muse than most."

I love this and agree, the boys in the back are most often drinking beer and smoking cigars. Mine are squatted around a campfire swapping yarns.


I do believe some people are more naturally talented or gifted in some ways. Da Vinci was apprenticed to a very well known artist named Verrocchio who had apprenticed Domenico Ghirlandaio who in turn apprenticed Michelangelo. (More useless Julie information.) Verracchio and Da Vinci corroborated on the painting The Baptism of Christ. This was a common practice. When they finished the painting, Verracchio felt his student's work was so superior to his he never lifted a brush again.

Some people are born with a genius for art, music, storytelling, athletics. Most of us have to take whatever talent we have and work constantly to hone it.

Some days the words flow for me. (like today apparently, just not on the wip.) I wrote a bit about a wounded drummer boy the other day that seemed to be dictated to me. Many days it's pure work. As long as the words come, I'll take them.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Never underestimate the value of a good night's sleep as a writing tool. This is the time the subconscious does its best work. Also, sleep resets the brain chemistry and allows for clearer thought after.

This is why so many people wake up the next morning with the solution to a problem (writing or something else).

The subconscious knows Every.Single.Rule. Give it a problem and turn it loose. Don't let the conscious work on it. The conscious has too much baggage. But don't overload your subconscious. It'll pick and choose what it thinks you need to be focusing on, and in the morning your conscious might not agree.

I never turn in any piece unless I've had a good night's sleep before the last revision.

Craig said...

Ahh, man. Yes Guy Clark died today. Many never knew of him but knew his songs. The list of artists who covered him is huge. It was not just country folk. Jimmy Buffet covered "Boats to Build", Roseanne Cash covered "Better Days". That is a bummer.

Thank you Joseph

DeadSpiderEye said...

I'm not big on concept of innate talent, because it runs contrary to pretty much all my personal experience. As a youth, I was enrolled at an art school because holding a pencils straight was the only thing I could do. I thought I was pretty smart and I'd smugly compare my efforts with the scrawls produced by those I considered less able. One particular student, a woman sneaked onto the course as a quid pro quo, for whatever favours she'd rendered for the resident lecherer, er sorry lecturer, produced drawings much like a four year old might do when she first started. Well guess what happened, she got better, in fact there was no one taking the classes who wasn't wasting their time, who didn't get better. All of 'em left as competent draughtsmen and artists, despite the neglect of the wastrel who oversaw their tuition.

Yes there is a certain magic that comes over those at the hight of their powers, when they can produce something remarkable but let's face it, that's a transient condition, the rest of the time you're striving for bread and butter. That's what counts in a commercial context, the ability to produce consistently and competently.

Joseph Snoe said...

Colin. It's a 270 page book and we picked the same sentence! You must be an exceptional person.

Panda in Chief said...

I liked what DeadSpiderEye had to say about talent and showing up to do the work. I remember all too well that I was not a star pupil, but several (well, many) decades later, I'm the one who's been making their living from painting for the last 28 years. (Because I was stuborn and would quit working to get better) I like what Elizabeth Gilbert says in"Big Magic" about ideas showing up to those who are at their creative work stations. The idea that you don't wait for the ideas to present themselves before you get to work, but they will come to you if you are working. I don't claim to be a genius, but I'm pretty darn good at painting, and if I work hard enough, I might come close to that good with my writing/ graphic noveling/ storytelling.
But it won't happen if I don't do the work.

Arri, welcome to the reef. I'm kind of a newbie here myself, I lurked for a while before jumping in to weasel (panda?) my way in to sit at the popular kid's table in the cafeteria. I am amazed at the generosity of the inhabitants here, sharing advice, experience, congratulations and comiseration.

Julie ,several times you've mentioned Jack Whyte... Is this the guy who is also a painter, and his wife is a painter? Never met the man, but I used to read the essays he wrote in Art Calendar Magazine, way back when. I always found his articles inspiring and just what I needed to hear at the time. Funny how paths cross at unexpected times and places.

Well that's 3 for me! Panda over and out!

BJ Muntain said...

Panda: I know the Jack Whyte Julie is talking about. Jack writes historical fiction. Jack Whyte's website

Claudette Hoffmann said...

This is probably too late for anyone else to read, but…

At the end of a long, long day, finding 80+ comments from so many incredible people who are such talented writers and who care so much about their craft and each other is overwhelming. And, yeah, it made me a little teary.

Deadline phobia, fear of failure, perfection anxiety are just some of those horrible orange and white cones that obstruct bringing a piece of writing to submission. All your comments bring peace to the process with enough suggestions, strategies, and tactics to manage even the toughest setbacks.

It is humbling to be part of this community.

BJ Muntain said...

(((hugs))) Claudette

Kate Higgins said...

I usually let my WIP#1 sit after I have the whole story down and I go and draw or create a related illustration, then I have another Idea for a book/story and that knocks all the drivel from the first book (aka WIP#1) out of my head..

My WIP#1 sits on the shelf reminding me it's there but not beckoning...not yet.

Then in a month or so something sparks in a comments (like the ones I read here or on other blogs) or some targeted researching and my attic brain opens the file drawer marked WIP#1. I go to the file folder (figuratively my dears...I am not that organized in real life) and I pull out the awkward or slow parts and play with them.
I see what is wrong or dumb or just plain boring and tweak the heck out of it. Then pull stretch, erase, revise until my thoughts are tired.

I refile that WIP#1 and go to bed or go on to something else. These breaks are my mind's way of churning out solutions while I'm not actively thinking about the story. I works every time for me.

I do this not only with stories, I also use it with illustrations, stories, designs and other projects. I will have to live to be 372.5 years to get most of it done...but I will never get bored!

Does anyone out there know how to turn your brain off?

Julie Weathers said...


I reference Jack because I admire him greatly as a writer and a teacher. If you ever get a chance to take a workshop from him, jump at the opportunity. The last workshop I took from him on historical research and timelines was absolutely brilliant. It's made all the difference in the world in my current work.


Here is a piece with him reading one of his poems. Obviously, it's a treat just to listen to the man speak. At least it is for me, but I'm a sucker for a man who belongs in a kilt.

BJ Muntain said...

Julie: That man could read a phone book out loud for hours, and I'd listen, enrapt.

And if anyone is looking for something writing-related where you might see a man in a kilt speak with a thick brogue, come to the Surrey International Writer's Conference. Registration opens June 1st and meet Jack Whyte. Barring an emergency of some sort, I'll be there.

Kate: I'm afraid I don't know how to turn it off, and I'd be afraid to try. Mine does break down once in awhile, turning itself off, and life kind of sucks when it does that. So when it's working, I'm perfectly happy to let it keep working. And when it works, I'm writing like crazy, in preparation for the next breakdown.

Kae Ridwyn said...

"Let it sit one day for every 5 thousand words" - at last! Something measurable! Thank you, QOTKU!!!

Amelia Creed said...

For me, I like to write the draft as quickly as possible (that can take a month or a year+), because it helps me focus on plot and character arcs first and not on lovely, lovely prose. I get it all out in one go and if I think some scenes need to be deleted, I go straight into big picture edits. The great part is that while I'm killing my darlings, I automatically go into polishing mode too.

If I think it's in good shape, I send it out to betas and don't open it again until I get their comments (it can take 2 weeks, it can take 3 months).

Then I fight the beast for every word and missing comma.

By getting the draft out faster, I found that I don't recognize my words and I can distance myself, which I had a hard time with before adopting this process. It works for me at this stage.

But I think the 5k rule is amazing.