What Authors Gain When We Edit After Gaining Some Distance From Our Work

1123441__erasure_As an author, I’ve never liked letting something I wrote just sit there before I edit. Still, I try to let something sit for at least a week or two. Stephen King recommends two months.

Why? Why is distancing ourselves important? I think I touched on this topic a couple of years ago, but I’ve got to thinking this morning about how both my fiction and my nonfiction have benefitted from distance.

What exactly does distance do for us?

  1. We’re less emotionally attached, less invested. This is the really obvious reason to distance ourselves from a work before an edit. It’s hard to change something that’s so close to our hearts, even when we know change is for the better. And the more changes we can make for the better before letting other eyes see our work–the more solid the work as a whole is–the deeper the feedback from beta readers and editors can be.
  2. We can recognize, honestly, what we did well. And that’s important, as I mention in this post about giving yourself credit for the positive aspects of your writing. We shouldn’t blow our talent out of proportion or think our story’s perfect, for sure, but an honest recognition of what we do well is helpful during editing, since editing makes us focus so extensively on what doesn’t work. This balance helps us stay positive. Distance helps us attain it. Distance allows us to more honestly see what’s good about our work because:
  3. We become less familiar with our work. And this helps us judge our work with greater objectivity, whatever its quality, because we’re not wrapped up in it. We can get a better feel for pacing, style, flow, tone, character, all these things, as they develop organically from one page to the next when the work as a whole is not front and center in our minds. Thus….
  4. We can more easily recognize what needs work. Pushing the work away, to the back of our minds, plus weakening our emotional attachment work together to allow us to better see what isn’t working. This is the first step in editing. You have to know what’s not working before you can try to fix it. Is the wording awkward? Is a passage extraneous or just misplaced? Is a character poorly developed, or do we just not need him or her at all? How do we know how to fix what’s off? Distance helps there too:
  5. The objectivity that distance gives us makes us less afraid to get messy and change things up. We can begin to see creative solutions to issues… such as moving half a passage or part of it, instead of the whole thing. Such as rearranging chapters. Such as combining two characters into one. Things like that, that I’ve heard writers talk about, which can only work or feel exciting after we distance ourselves from our writing and view it as something very much apart from ourselves.

Distance helps us in a lot of ways. For me, the best way to jump back into a project after forcing some distance is to do a read-through, which I talk about here.

How long do you let a work sit before starting the editing process? Or do you jump right in? Do you think distance is important, or overrated?

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14 responses to “What Authors Gain When We Edit After Gaining Some Distance From Our Work

  1. I completely agree. With my WIP, I let it set for 10 weeks. I did this, in part, because I knew I had structural problems. I had wanted to write a 120,000 word story but wrote 168,000 words instead. And, instead of writing my four parts at 24,000 – 36,000 – 36,000 – 24,000 words, I had a Part 3 at nearly 60,000 words, and a Part 4 at nearly 40,000 words.

    How could I have approached my WIP with anything except fresh eyes? After such an extended time away, I saw it as if I’d never written it. And, as I took my notes, I was heartless in criticizing my story’s structure.

    And, as I started my revisions, I was ruthless in cutting almost a third of my story out. It is stronger and my message is beginning to emerge. I wonder how many revisions I will need?

    • So glad some distance was helpful for you! Yeah, the number of revisions kind of depends on how you organize each revision and what you do with each one. I’ve done different numbers of revisions for different projects.

  2. Hard for me to answer this because I vary on my editing times. Usually I do it after a month or two, which is also when I’m writing the next in the series. I have done the immediate edit once or twice solely to focus on foreshadowing while everything was in my head. It probably is best to wait and let the story gestate in isolation for a bit.

  3. I let it sit for a couple of months, ideally. I once had to leave one for about six months and that felt like too long. It was hard to get my mind back into that story.

    I used to get to the end of the draft, close the file and not touch it again until editing time. But for the last few books I’ve taken to doing a read through right after I finish the draft – or within a week anyway – before it goes away for a rest. After all at that point it might be two months since I started it, so a lot of the early part of the story is now fuzzy in my mind. Having that read through, no editing, just reading it, on my Kindle, the same as I’d read anyone else’s novel, gets the story as a whole into my head so my subconscious can work on it while it’s resting.

  4. And this is why it takes me so long to finish a book: Write a draft; take a break. Write the next draft; take another break, etc., etc., etc. With distance, each draft becomes better. Not perfect, but better!

    • Isn’t it true? I admit I’m not disciplined enough to take a break between each draft. I only break between the first draft and initial read-through. I probably should break more often 🙂 Of course, I need to get back to writing before I can do any of that. It’s been a WHILE…. I don’t even want to say how long it’s been it’s embarrassing.

  5. I have a Mac computer, and therefore I have the ability to hear my story read back to me. Usually I will listen to it to help me see how my story ideas are formed, not necessarily for grammatical errors (although sometimes I will hear those and can change them).

  6. Pingback: Linky Birthday to me | Becky Black

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