It takes a long time to write a book. It varies from writer to writer, but for me, it’s usually somewhere between eight and ten months. Since it takes so long, it seems abhorrent to me that when I’m finished (really finished—the last draft is done and I think it’s ready to shoot off to the editor) I should pause before sending it. But I should let the heat of passion cool before taking another step forward. That’s the smart thing to do. Unfortunately, I’m not very good when it comes to doing the smart thing.
I’m not a patient person and this situation reminds me of growing up alongside my mum and every cake she ever baked. She’d take them out of the oven, put them on the rack to cool and I’d slide my face in the way of the rack to get a first bite.
“You’ve got to let it cool,” my mom would say.
“No, I can eat it now.”
“It’s too hot.”
“It’s never too hot.”
“Alright, have it your way—but don’t come running to me complaining of a stomach ache.”
Stomach ache? Ha! Not with my constitution. But lo and behold, twenty minutes later, I’d go running back to mummy and say, “Mummy, my tummy is all hurty.”
“Simon, you’re thirty years old. When are you going to learn?”
Well, mummy, I’ve learned. Finally. Somewhere around my 39th birthday. Mummy’s little boy is a fast one. Oh, yes, he is.
Now when the final draft comes chuntering off the printer, I don’t just shove it in an envelope anymore. I put it on the shelf for a couple of weeks to age and move on to something else. This cleanses my writing palate (translation: I get passionate about something else and I forget about the piece I’ve put away). Then I come back to my fully rested and cooled manuscript and read it again. Wow, do I find some imperfections in my perfect final draft and I’m back to tinkering. I swear enemy elves come at night and change things when I’m not watching. Little buggers.
I’m learning this at the moment with the current book I’m working on. I considered it done. Julie considered it done. I’m looking at it anew after several years since I last worked on it. It needs help. A lot of help.
Julie said, “How did we ever think this was good?”
The problem was we were too close to it. I lived and breathed the book for twelve months and I wanted it done and gone. My eagerness proved to be its shortcoming.
Julie added, “It’s a testament to have far we’ve come. We thought this rocked.”
And now it lolls, I thought. But she’s right. I have developed as a scribbler. I now know when I’m not good enough. Oh, that doesn’t sound good. Anyhoo, too much haste is a bad trait and makes me my own worst enemy. But if I exercise a little restraint and patience, I might create something good.
So, I’ve learned the importance of the cooling effect when it comes to my writing, but not when it comes to cake. Julie, my tummy is all hurty. Come rub it and make it all better…
PS: Our very own Robert Gregory Browne and Brett Battles are venturing into the podcast world. They’ve started a series of talks about writing, which, in the near future, will also include interviews with other authors and publishing industry professionals. Their first podcast on writing characters is now up. You can find it here. Please check it out as I believe podcasting may have something to do with alien invasions.
That cooling off period is oh so important, and I’m oh so bad at it also…but like you, Simon…I’m learning.
Simon,This is a great post.
It’s difficult to let those manuscripts rest. But, you’re right, when we finish the final manuscripts – we’re way too close.
But in the case of your other manuscript, the one that sat for years, I suspect part of the reason it “needs help” is that you’ve grown as a writer. You just know more. You’re better at your craft.
BTW: I know to let cakes wait, but my husband has been making really good flan lately. If you let it really cool, to the point of being cold, it’s far better than lukewarm. We’ve had a heck of a time waiting though.
Hope your tum gets better soon . . .
Good point, Simon. I think it’s also important to let a manuscript “cool” between completion of the first draft and the many, many rewrites to come. Amazing how much better you can see the problems if you let some time pass first. I finished the first draft of a new novel on Tuesday, and am spending this weekend on a houseboat … NOT thinking about the book.
Great analogy with the cake. Or maybe I’m hungry.
No, I really think you’re on to something, there. I guess it’s hard for all of us to take the time off, but we would save ourselves so much grief if we just took a #$%^&*@# break once in a while.
I made a good point–wow!
GREAT, GREAT, GREAT advice, Simon!Hope the tum-tum is better soon ; )
Julie says punching me in the tummy will make it all better.
My biggest flaw writer-wise is that I constantly tinker with my stories, editing them even before they’re finished. I know letting it cool is good advice, but like resisting warm-cake, it’s oh so hard to do.
Hot pizza is hard to resist too. I’ve suffered many a volcanic cheese burn to the roof of the mouth.