Welcome back to the Journey in Prose!
Today’s focus may seem simple, but is paramount to improving your prose if you find yourself really getting stuck. This is a technique when you’ve edited until you can edit no more, and no matter what you do, you can’t seem to polish your manuscript that last 10%. There’s something wrong, something not smooth. And for the life of you, you can’t figure it out.
Maybe you’re saying, but AJ, my first draft is pretty good. I don’t need to edit it until it’s clinical. Well, let me tell you this. When you write out your first draft, that is going to be the most pure, true to yourself, THIS IS ME moment of writing.
But guess what? The natural you is full of flaws, typos, and redundancies. I’d make a nudist/hippy reference, but I don’t want to offend anyone. (Too late.)
So, your draft needs a good scrub. Nothing wrong with that. You sludge into the muck of your manuscript and scrub-scrub-scrub. After a while, you think it smells pretty nice. But after a beta reader or two, you’ll get back some complaints that the prose wasn’t up to snuff. But how’s that possible? You can’t smell anything amiss.
Think about the last time you walked into a stinky room. At first, it was like “Phew what is that!” And then, it started to smell normal after a little while, right? That’s how an over-edited draft becomes. You’re so close to it, so “surrounded by the stink” that you can’t even smell it anymore. There’s only one way to fix that, and that’s to get out of the room until you regain your sense of smell.
Once you’ve walked around in some clear air for a while, maybe smelled some other things, roses, daffodils, what have you, come back to your slightly-stinky manuscript. You’ll sniff in every nook and cranny and you’ll be surprised what you couldn’t smell before now seems perfectly clear. There’s a rotten apple under this rug, or there’s a dead raccoon in the corner “HOW DID I MISS THAT?”
I know this metaphor is a bit gross, but it works! Put your manuscript down, I’d recommend at least two months. Six would be ideal. You really need to get away from it long enough to change your mindset. Unless you have a photographic memory, this technique will work. You’ll transform into the one thing you crave feedback from: a reader. Once you have some distance from your novel, the more you’ll actually forget what you wrote. And then, when you come back to it, you’ll read it as a reader would. You’ll catch places where a reader would trip up, or sentences that just don’t seem to flow or make sense.
I know it’s hard to imagine working for a year+ on your sweet baby-novel and then putting it down, but this is an opportunity to work on something else. By no means should you stop writing. Depending on your goals, there are plenty of other activities you can do in order to progress as a writer. If you want to make your bio section of a query a bit more fluffy, join a fancy writing workshop, work on some flash fiction or poetry and submit to some reputable magazines, or even a short story competition. If you’re really rambunctious, work on a separate novel. Whatever you do, do not even think of or pick up your manuscript for, at minimum, two months. Six months would be best. (Yes I’m repeating that because it’s important.)
All that matters is that put it down for a while, and come back to it when you’re ready. This doesn’t mean use it as an excuse to shove it under the bed and forget it ever existed. That would be called giving up, and you’re no quitter. No, this is about patience and determination. One of the many tools you will utilize to become the writer you are striving to be.
Thank you for visiting today’s focus in Prose!
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