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Here's the best thing you can do for your finished draft
If it works for Stephen King . . .
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I’m Blake Atwood, a nonfiction editor, author, and ghostwriter. My literary claim to nominal fame is as an early developmental editor on Atomic Habits, but I’ve worked on more than 60 books, including a few of my own. If this was forwarded to you and you’d like to subscribe, please do so below.
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⏳ A timeless tip for better writing
“Writing a book is like telling a joke and having to wait two years to know whether or not it was funny.” —Alain de Botton
This writing tip is easy, but it will cost you something dear: time.
In On Writing, Stephen King talks about what to do after you’ve finished writing a substantial work:
Take a couple of days off—go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle—and then go to work on something else. Something shorter, preferably, and something that’s a complete change of direction and pace from your newly finished book. . . . How long you let your book rest . . . is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.
Let’s work through his quote backward.
Rest length hinges on manuscript length.
Nonfiction word counts typically exceed 50,000. Depending on the genre, fiction lives between 70,000 and 120,000 words.If you’ve written something so substantive, rest your manuscript for at least six weeks before even thinking about editing it yourself.
But if you’ve written a thousand-word article for a website, rest it for a day.
The point is to rest your finished work for as long as it takes for you to almost forget it.
Once you return to your work, you’ll see it with nearly new eyes. You’ll still be biased because it’s your work, but the time you’ve placed between finishing your writing and returning to edit it should allow you to see your words in a fairly new light, which should result in a better—and less emotionally invested—edit.
You may need to experiment with how long you let your work rest. If a month feels too long, try two weeks. If a month feels too short, try two months. You’ll know what timeline works best for you once you return to your first draft and can’t help but see every instance where you can make your work better.
So what do you do while resting your work?
Try your best not to think about what you’ve just written.
This can be particularly challenging if you’ve just completed a full manuscript, what could have been the result of multiple years of effort. The book has likely been living in your mind rent-free for so long that it may be difficult to remove yourself from that world.
But that’s what King is espousing.
Get your book out of your head and get your head out of your book.
So go do something life-giving.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Go do that thing.
It’s all the better if that thing is something active and doesn’t involve sitting behind a computer or watching a screen (although a movie every now and then is a great escape from the stories in your head).
Volunteer for an organization you care about.
Read books far outside of your genre.
Eat a fine meal.
Make a fine meal—for others.
Crawl out of your writer’s cave, get out of your house or office, and talk to your family or friends again.
Whatever you do, don’t talk about your book.
I know that’s one of the hardest things for a writer to do, but save that for after your book is released.
As your manuscript sleeps the sleep of the just while awaiting your return, do something positive to occupy your time and make yourself forget what you’ve written.
Then, when you finally open that dormant file, you can say with all sincerity, “Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you. Can you remind me what we’re trying to accomplish here? Looks like we have some work to do. I’m glad we’re both rested enough to handle it.”
Then the real work begins.
Do you rest your words? How long? Do you fight the urge to return to them too soon? Too late? What do you do to prevent yourself from thinking about your work while it’s resting?
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