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?
- 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.
- 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:
- 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….
- 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:
- 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?