Let it Stew
Last week, I talked about taking a step back from a project to revive your energy for it. However, there are times when you should walk away entirely. Not forever, but for a little bit.
It drives me crazy when I see someone write a draft (of anything) and immediately scroll back to the top of the document and begin revisions. That just isn't going to work.
Why not? Remember this post, when I talked about how your eye ignores mistakes your ear can't? This is similar. You will not see mistakes in fresh writing. Sure, you might catch spelling errors or major issues, but you aren't doing yourself a favor.
It can be painful, but when a draft is complete, it needs to sit for a while and not be touched. The length of that time depends on the length of the story. The longer it is, the longer you should wait. With short stories, I wait a few days to a week. With novels, I like to have months pass before I reopen them. Sometimes longer.
I'm currently working on revising Chaos in G Major, which is now in it's third draft. I wrote the first one, let it sit for a looong time (read this post for more on that), did a major revision, then let an awesome writing buddy read it, then let it sit long after she gave me feedback. It stewed for over a year while I worked on Definitions of Life. And now that one has a completed second draft, so I'm back to Chaos.
I don't remember a lot of the story. I know what happens at the end and I know all the big twists and a rough idea of which scene is where, but I don't remember each line. Looking at it after such a long break is allowing me to read words I wrote as if they're someone else's. I can appreciate sections that are really good. I can spot areas that need work without feeling bad about them.
Also, my writing style and ability has changed since I last worked on this story. I know more and I have a better idea of what I want for this novel. So the revision is actually much easier, because all the things I want to change jump out of the page. I don't have to hunt them down.
If writing doesn't sit, mistakes aren't as obvious. You'll end up fixing grammatical errors for hours and the major plot issues will go unnoticed. You'll be so proud that the story is done that you won't want to mess it up by changing anything big.
But if you let it sit, you'll see that you need to make it messy. You need to tear that novel apart and stitch it back together before you can truly declare it "done." You can't do that right after you finish the first draft. You need some distance so it doesn't hurt as much when you do start tearing it.
How long do you let your work sit before you revise?