July 5th isn’t a major U.S. calendar holiday, but because July 4th fell on a Sunday this year, many people with full-time jobs are taking July 5th as a holiday from work. Including me. So I’m here but not here. And do you know what I’m not doing, wherever I am?
I’m not writing. I’m taking a writing holiday.
As writers, we work hard, and more often than not we throw ourselves totally into our works-in-progress. We push and push. We problem-solve. We tackle challenging scenes and wrestle them to the ground. We generate new words. We agonize over deleting them. We are writers, and we write.
But as writers, I think it’s important we spend some time not writing. Taking a little time away.
Here are three of the times I think that’s most true.
One: after finishing a draft. I know too many aspiring writers who’ve gone almost immediately from “I think I’m finally going to finish my book” to “I’m sending it out!” When you’ve just finished a draft, you don’t have the proper distance to evaluate it. Set it aside. Come back later. Switch to another project if you want to, but if you can take at least a week away from writing of any kind, and a month away from the actual manuscript, I highly recommend it.
This is still true, by the way, at every stage of the process.
When I recently made a major change in the first few chapters of my book at my editor’s suggestion, as soon as I finished that revision, did I fire it off to my editor? No I did not. I sent it to my agent. I took a few days away. I’d added a scene; it isn’t that major an event in the grand scheme of edits, but it was early enough in the book that it could have a radical effect on pacing and tone. And I was way too close to know what the heck a first-time reader would think. My agent isn’t a first-time reader either, but I trust her opinion, and she had the proper distance. Someone with distance is helpful. You with distance is even better. Let that novel sit for a while.
Two: after your book sells. Two good reasons for this. One, you shouldn’t be writing, because you should be celebrating! It’s a huge milestone. Put everything on pause and be grateful. More than likely you will have months and months of further work ahead of you. There’ll be a thousand things you’re thinking about. Jot them down and leave them be. Do nothing but celebrate. A week or a month. Rest up. You’re going to need that energy later.
Three: after receiving feedback. Oh, it’s tempting. You come home (or log off) from critique group, everyone seems to have cool ideas and great insights, and you want to immediately put them into practice. Or an agent who has read your full MS – and loves it except for one major element – asks you if you would revise it for her. Or your editor sends you a detailed editorial letter, walks you through it, wishes you well, and tells you she knows you can do it. And you can! You want to! You’re ready!
Hold up. You’re not ready.
Many, many ideas sound great the first time you hear them. They’re a lot harder to incorporate in practice, so before you undertake that major change, be absolutely sure that’s what you want. Scribble down some notes if you want to. Spend some time staring out the window and daydreaming about the changes if you want. But take 24 hours at a minimum before opening that file on your computer and changing the actual words.
In short: spend some time not writing, and your writing will be better for it.
And have a happy writing holiday!
image by D Sharon Pruitt