November 25th, 2009

Letting It Sit

"The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way."
---Richard Harding Davis

"The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads."
---William Styron

LETTING IT SIT


We've all heard the advice: When you are done drafting something, put it aside and leave it a while. That way, when you come back to revise, you will have fresh eye.


But is this true for everyone?


And how long do you leave it?


Ted Kooser recommends letting it sit until "It reads like someone else wrote it."


Well, that is good advice. Because isn't objectivity critical to revision? We can't necessarily do our best revisions when we are still mired in the fever of drafting, figuring out, shaping, building, and answering our own questions.


Or can we?


I know someone. She defies this theory. The "let it sit" approach simply does not work for her. Instead, she revises AS SHE GOES.


I know. It's like a cardinal sin. It's not something lofty writers are supposed to admit to, because then we open ourselves up for criticism and shock and "don't you think you'd do better if you let it SIT? That's what you're supposed to do!"


And the thing is, my friend has written two novels. And they are SPECTACULAR. Unique....tightly woven, seamlessly constructed, quirky, funny, intriguing, mysterious, marvelous and memorable. And not a dull spot in the whole mix.


So. Anyone else out there care to admit to working this way?


I have mixed feelings about the whole piece of advice of letting it sit. In general? Yes. I agree. For ME, as a writer, I do best if I "let it sit a bit" before I return to it, ready to revise. Why? Because when I don't take a substantial breather, I simply can't see the forest for the trees, and I wallow, nitpick, and go back over and over to the tiniest of word choices, the smallest of finessing. And that' s not really addressing the job of revising. I miss the glaring dry spots, the loss of a subplot for several chapters, the overall tone of the story, the arc of a character's development.


On the other hand?


If I let it sit TOO long, I lose my connection to the piece altogether. And sometimes, I can get that connection back. But sometimes....I can't.


Maybe this is unique to me. Anyone else find this has happened to them?


So today's thoughts on balance are once again: One rule does not fit everyone.


We hear a lot of conflicting advice as writers. And if you are like me, you sometimes feel you are not a "real" writer unless you do what the majority of "real" writers do. (Example: I do not get up at five a.m. and write every day, and I never will. But it sure seems to me that "real" writers do this. And maybe I won't ever "make it" as a "real" writer without this sacrifice. However, if that is the case, then I am not going to be a real writer, I suppose, because I'm not getting up at five a.m. if I don't have to.)


My point is, don't let yourself fall into the trap of forcing yourself to follow arbitrary advice. If it doesn't work for you despite a good effort, then it doesn't work for you. It's that simple. So what if the rest of the world all work differently than you do. It's okay. Be brave. Find what works for you, follow it, and cling to it. Even if it goes against the common grain.