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The Long Rest: It’s For the Best!
Guest post by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod
author of the Write Kids’ Books blog.
How do you feel about your stories once they’re written? Do you read every word in adoration, or glance away from the screen so you don’t have to look at it? Some writers are totally in love with their manuscript the minute it’s finished. Others can’t stand it; they’re simply sick of the thing.
Which one are you?
Whichever group you’re in, or if you fall somewhere in between, there’s one thing you should do when you finish your story. Set it aside for the Long Rest.
How do you make tea? You probably don’t just dip the teabag in the water and pull it out. You have to let it steep for a while or else the water has no taste. Same with your story: you have to let it steep.
Take me, for example. I’m in the second group. The minute I finish a story, I can’t even bear to look at it. I feel like I’ve been wallowing with it in the mud and I’m eager to get out and wash off my feet.
So I do. I get right out of that story and let it sit somewhere for all that mud to dry.
But even if you’re totally in love with your story, the Long Rest is important. Even if you want to spend all your waking hours preening over each word, put it down and distract yourself. Walk away. Write something else. Let it steep.
How long should you stay away?
I can’t tell you that, but it should feel like a long time. Maybe that means two weeks; maybe two months. I had a collection of short stories I stayed away from for ten years until I found it on my hard drive again.
Since self-publishing is so easy, it can be tempting to write the thing, run a spell-check or hire a cheap editor, and then put it out as a Kindle book. (In fact, if you hire an editor, even a cheap one, you’ll be well ahead of most Kindle writers out there!)
That’s not enough.
In a traditional publishing company, many eyes will read your story; many hands will make changes. Since you don’t have a large staff, you must be those eyes, those hands. And the only way to do that is to give yourself time.
When you come back to your story after the Long Rest, you’ll be renewed and recharged. You’ll see it in a new way. Its good points and bad points will be clearer, its rough edges and shining moments more apparent than they were when you were immersed. You’re ready (at last) to start self-editing.
You know it’s been long enough when you open up a story and say, “I wrote this???” You may say it in wonder, or maybe in disgust.
With your new objectivity, you’ll also be a better editor of your own story.
Reading the story again as an editor, you’ll feel free to change anything. You might discover that that scene description you were so in love with just a few weeks or months before is actually kind of tedious. Or you might even surprise yourself. Maybe that dialogue that felt so clunky as you slogged through writing is actually kind of poignant.
But none of that can happen without the Long Rest.
None of us is a perfect writer or editor and, more importantly, none of us is both simultaneously. Give yourself a break. Take the time that you need. Let your story steep. Then slip out of writing mode and slide on that editor hat, sharpening your red pencil to make your (well-rested) story as perfect as it can be.
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Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in northern Israel. She’s written over twelve books for kids along with two books for authors: The Seven Day Manuscript Machine: Edit your children's book to genius in only a week and Writing the Bible for Children: How to write blazing Biblical stories and picture books for kids. Make your own writing dreams come true at Write Kids’ Books.