Let it Rest. by Melissa Heiselt

Writing is easy. As the distinguished columnist Red Smith once said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” It’s the editing that’s murder.

Like any great bread, cheese, or wine, time is the secret ingredient to making your writing the best it can be. Let’s say you’ve just finished your masterpiece; a complicated story, biography, or self-help manuscript that you just know is going to enlighten and entertain. Maybe you feverishly earned that NaNoWriMo Badge proving to the world that you can write a novel in just one month. We all know editing comes next, and so many writers want to dive right in and tackle it! Believe it or not, the most valuable thing you can do here is: leave it alone.

In my experience, the length of time for a good rest is dependent on the length of the material. A blog post or article may need just 24 hours. Something that has soaked up your life and soul and absorbed your every thought for months, and especially years could benefit from even more time. Giving it time does not mean abandoning the work altogether. It’s thoughtful time away from the manuscript, enabling you to disengage that part of your brain that created those words, and engage the part of your brain that’s wired for refining those words.

My first NaNoWriMo piece was a disaster. DISASTER, I tell you. I dove right in once the frenzied writing was over. After a month of trying to force that monstrosity into shape, I finally decided it was an interesting writing exercise, but for me was ultimately just not going to result in any kind of complete, publishable work. I had completely forgotten about it until clearing out my computer and stumbling across it years later. Just for laughs, I decided to read over this disasterpiece. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. I was too close to it at the time to have perspective enough to know how to handle the awkward transitions and pacing that resulted from my feverish endeavor. There were sections that truly were all but unintelligible. But with time between us, we were able to make amends.

This experience opened my eyes to the importance of respecting the time and space required for good writing. When I’ve typed that last period I know it’s time to put it away, take a walk, and enjoy the life of the living for awhile. Now  even as an editor, I’ve learned that when things start to feel muddy, and frustration creeps in, walk away. Give it some space to expand and develop in your subconscious before you return to the work and give it its best chance at published life. You’ll be glad you did.

2 Replies to “Let it Rest. by Melissa Heiselt”

  1. Excellent advice! Many things in life can do with a bit of space before tackling them. Fresh eyes and a calm mind can turn many mountains back into molehills and piles of graceless words into coherent thought. Thank you for your good sense.

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