And, our quick review of the 7 steps in “How to Make Your Novel Sellable”:
- Initial Read Through
- Seek and Destroy Problem Words
- In-depth Word Analysis
- Read it Out
- Get Some Feedback
- Let it Rest
Step #6: Let it Rest
This step requires the least amount of work, by far. It’s the step where you do absolutely nothing! Lock your writing in a drawer and refuse to look at it for a few weeks. I usually aim for at least 6 weeks for a novel, longer if possible.
The purpose of this is simple. You are too close to your work. The only way to get some distance is to stop looking at it for long enough that you start to forget it. Of course, you will never be as far removed as someone who didn’t write it and doesn’t know what you meant by that one really confusing sentence. Hence, step 5.
Letting it rest is about trying to gain some perspective and some freshness. In the meantime, you likely wrote some other things. Hopefully you’re reading books and blogs on the craft of writing and have learned something new. When you go back, you can apply the new ideas and new techniques you’ve learned. Like how to stop using the cliché “chills ran down her spine” and other faux pas.
On this book vacation, you might also meet some new writer friends who can be another fresh set of eyes after your next round of edits (you didn’t think you were done, did you?).
I know it’s not always possible to do this step as fully as you’d like. I entered a 24-hour story contest and the deadline prevented any distance. I got the prompt at 1 p.m. on Saturday and the story was due in by 1 p.m. on Sunday. I finished writing the story and did preliminary edits before I went to bed. That way, in the morning, it would have been at least 8 hours since I set eyes on it. Even that bit of time helped, but that was only an 875 word story. It’s different with a longer piece. You’re more committed and know more. Therefore, you need more time away from that world.
This is also a helpful step if you’re just stuck. Maybe the plot’s going nowhere and you haven’t been able to make it better. Maybe you can’t figure out why your main character comes off as whiney or boring. It’s much easier to see these types of things when your brain rests from thinking on them for a while. The ideas and problems suddenly become clear when you face them with a mind that’s been weeks removed from the writing.
On one of my novels, I skipped this step. Not by choice. It was another contest situation and there just wasn’t enough time. It’s now been months since I’ve looked at the book and I can tell you, some of the things I let pass now are obvious crap to me. I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, what was I thinking with that line? I read it too many times. I made too many changes. I had zero perspective. You need perspective.
Stephen King talked about this step in On Writing. And doesn’t writing advice just seem that much more important when you know that really successful writers do it? ;) Well, he does. You should, too. Learn to walk away (but don’t forget to come back!).