Give it Time

Big news, readers. I’m excited (but also a little apprehensive) to report that this week I wrote the last few scenes of my novel this week. It doesn’t mean I’m done — in fact, far from it. I can already think of a few scenes that I know are missing, and there are several places where I’ve simply written MORE HERE to remind myself that more is needed.

But still, there’s something momentous about putting that final image, the one you’ve been barreling and sometimes crawling toward, for more than a year. When I wrote the last lines, I sat back and waited for something enormous to happen — for it to feel like all the pieces had now magically shifted into place and now the piece was perfect. Of course, my first feeling was one of disappointment — when I thought about the piece, I realized all the old weaknesses and failings of my writing had crept in. There remained much too much wrong with it.

After I got over that initial realization, my impulse was to leap right back into the fray, to start picking and prodding and teasing and pulling. I wanted to start right away, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to GIVE IT TIME. If you’re finishing a long project, you’ve been walking through the forest for a long time. It’s like being underwater, or sitting in a darkened movie theater. You’ve lost all sense of perspective; you’ve fallen under the spell of your own writing, and you’re no longer able to judge what works and what doesn’t.

So when you finish that last scene, and you push away from your desk — don’t go leaping right back into the editing process. If you do, your editing will be half-hearted. You won’t be able to make the big, brave decisions that need to be made, because you’ll be too attached to the work you’ve just created.

Instead, give yourself a little vacation. Yes, you heard me — I absolve you from writing for at least a day, and preferably a week. Go watch some bad television. Indulge all your vices just a little bit. Read things you love. Feel good. You’ve accomplished something real and significant. Your editing will be much better if you gain some distance. Then after you’ve given it some time, look back at your piece in the cold, sober light of day. Don’t put up with any of your old inadequacies. It’s time to strike them out.

As I embark on my own editing journey, I’ll have plenty more to say here at Writerly Life about that crucial process. But for now, I’m giving it time, difficult as it is. I want to tear into the story, but I simply can’t do it. And the same goes for you!