lost writing advice #1: letting work sit

Once upon a time, the best writing advice was to finish a work, let it sit for six months to a full year, and then edit it. As a wee writing sprog, I found it absolutely inconceivable that anyone would want to do that. Writing for an anthology meant having an absolute deadline I wrote until, and I wanted regular submissions in the mail ASAP.

Waiting a few weeks was too long. But before I started my MFA, I was very prolific. The books I wrote in my apprenticeship will never be great literature, but they were fun. I often let a draft sit for six months before revising it, but only because I hated rewriting. I usually wrote the next book in the series in its downtime.

It took writing a completely different world than the book cooling off to understand that allowing prose to cool wasn’t just a matter of linear time. If I wrote in the same world, it was easy to remember what I meant to write instead of seeing the prose I had written.

Vihart’s Twelve Tones video is one of the best videos on the creative process. The section at 14:37 is one of the best representations of how experience guides the creative process. It explains how originality is just another aspect of craft that writers must learn by doing.

But it’s the section that starts at 3:21 that is a great visualization of most writers’ first drafts. As the writer writes, they know all the parts of the story that may not yet be effectively captured in the prose. The reader can only see what is written in black and white. Without the context the author knows but didn’t put down on the page, the writing can feel flat.

When I wrote a sequel to the work, I couldn’t see what parts of the scene I hadn’t captured. I was too close to the story. Even after a year, the prose felt like hot copy. When I wrote a completely different book before revising the first, what wasn’t captured on the page was obvious. Excessive prose was obvious. Underdeveloped aspects of the story stood out. I now do a hot revision when the draft is finished to fix the errors I saw in its writing, then I would write something new before rewriting the first book entirely.

I have a friend who writes page by page. When the page is finished, it’s perfect. But they don’t know how to fix a final draft that isn’t greater than its parts. Engaging fiction draws readers into the story and keeps them in it. First drafts rarely do that as effectively as a final draft that has completed a full revision process.

Writing is hard.

Revision is harder.

If anyone tries to tell you differently, they are selling something.

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