Monday, August 10, 2009

Take Time to Edit

Originally uploaded by forbesimages
If you're like me, the moment you finish writing a story (or a novel, or a poem, or whatever), you want to dash off a thousand queries to a thousand markets in the hope that one will accept it. There's something about typing the words 'The End' at the bottom of the last page that make me want to send that manuscript off pronto!

But when I feel this way, I always remember those immortal words, "Patience, Grasshopper."

Over the years, I've found that the very last thing I should do when I first finish a story is send it out. That's because finishing a work is a lot like finally consummating a passionate, oftentimes rocky, relationship. You've struggled with writing the story, maybe even laid awake at nights thinking about it. The plot has thwarted you. The descriptions have plagued you. The characters have evaded you. But now you're finished. It's a genuine high. (I've been known to literally do a dance in my office after finishing a piece, much in the same way that quarterbacks will dance in the end zone after completing a touchdown.)

This is the time you'll have that post-consummation, dreamy feeling about your story. You won't see its flaws; you'll only be rejoicing that you've finally finished the darn thing. You'll be thinking of seeing your name on the printed page and fan mail and royalties.

What you need (and what your story needs) at this point is a good dose of reality. You need to look at your work - not with those dreamy, lovey-dovey eyes - but with the cold, hard eyes of someone who has woken up the next morning and realized that she's written a book (or a story or whatever).

Once you complete that story - even if you've been editing all along - set it aside. For a week. Better yet, if you can stand it, for a month. Then re-read it carefully. Read it out loud to yourself, in fact. You'll be amazed at what you discover. Those words you thought were all perfectly spelled, that carefully crafted plot, those passages of description... There is nothing like time and distance to make the flaws in your writing stand out (and I am saying this from a lot of personal experience).

When you send your work off to the agent or market of your choice, you want to be 100% confident that your work is the very best it can be. For that, you need to give yourself some time away from your work.