Self-editing masterclass snapshots: getting distance

guardAll this week I’ve been running a series of the sharpest questions from my Guardian self-editing masterclass. In previous posts I’ve discussed three/four-act structure, endings, characters who are either bland or too disturbing to write , making a character distinct through dialogue  and a fundamental misconception about self-editing. Today I’m talking about the rest period before we edit.

Phineas H

Putting the book away to get distance

How long do you have to put your book aside before you can see it objectively? One student asked this because he’d left his in a drawer for several years. However, when he read it again, he couldn’t judge whether it worked because he remembered exactly what he meant to say.

One of the biggest editing problems is spotting the difference between what you mean and what comes across. It’s possible that this gentleman did write the novel perfectly. Or maybe he has an unusually retentive memory and will never be able to judge that for himself.

My own memory is terrible. I can barely remember a book I read two months ago – whether my own or anyone else’s. Never before have I considered this to be an advantage but perhaps it is.

Moreover, his point made me realise how individual our writing and revision routines have to be, and also the fundamental essential of the rest period. Leave your book until you’ve forgotten it and are no longer reliving your intentions as you read. If you know you’ll always have trouble with this, or your production schedule doesn’t allow a long wait, line up some beta readers for the test drive.

(Thanks for the pic, Phineas H)

Tomorrow: what revision really means

How long do you leave your manuscripts before you edit? What’s the longest you’ve ever left one? And has anyone seen my car keys?

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  1. #1 by davidpenny13 on August 2, 2014 - 7:24 am

    Interestingly Roz now I’ve got my rights back to my science fiction titles I’m re-reading them 40 years after they were written, with the plan on republishing after a rewrite! Is that long enough? And sure – I can see what needs to be changed. Oh can I see what needs to be changed.

    BTW – you won’t need your car keys, have you seen how hard it’s raining outside? (Maybe not in London)

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 3, 2014 - 8:54 am

      Hi David! I’ve got a couple of test novels I wrote before I ghosted – and started working with proper editors. I daren’t even peek in the files.
      Are you going to be using a pseudonym to differentiate from your Thomas Berringtons?

      • #3 by davidpenny13 on August 3, 2014 - 9:07 am

        Not sure, Roz. They were originally published under David G. Penny and I might just go with that, same as a couple of other writers, hoping that’s differentiation enough :) It will be got Amazon, who’ll treat it as a completely different author name.

        • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 3, 2014 - 12:47 pm

          It was good enough for Iain Banks.
          I wondered about separate identities when I launched Future Life. For a few years I tried keeping up two Twitter handles, convinced that I needed to differentiate the audience for Nail Your Novel from the audience for my fiction. I was worried that each might be bored half the time because they are books of entirely different natures. Two Twitter handles became impossible, and it turned out that nobody minded hearing about both.

  2. #5 by Ileandra Young on August 2, 2014 - 8:20 pm

    I leave mine a month. Sometimes too.
    Sometimes that isn’t long enough, others it’s perfect. It really does depend on the piece and what I’ve been doing in the interim.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 3, 2014 - 8:56 am

      Hi Ileandra – good point about what you’ve been doing in the meantime. I guess if you’ve been trying to write something similar you won’t have had enough of a break – is that it?

      • #7 by Ileandra Young on August 4, 2014 - 11:54 am

        I think that’s part of it, yes. I’ll be trying something new in that regard and not counting the novel as ‘resting’ until I’m done going over the beta comments from the former one.
        That way I can work on something else that has nothing to do with either book and that will be a true rest.

        I hope!

  3. #8 by DRMarvello on August 2, 2014 - 9:30 pm

    “It is the doom of man that he forgets.”
    ~ Merlin, from the movie “Excalibur”

    My wife frequently quotes the above line to me. (Or perhaps that should be “at” me.) I have the same problem you do with forgetting novels I’ve read two or three months ago. I also see the leaky memory as an advantage when it comes to revising my own work. I only write about 5,000-7,000 words a week, so by the time I’m done with a novel, I can immediately return to the beginning and do second draft revisions with reasonably fresh eyes.

    For my latest novel, I’m just coming off a one-month break for the beta period between my second and third draft. It will be interesting to see what difference that makes as I begin third draft revisions. In the past, I’ve done the beta incrementally–revising and releasing 1/4 of the novel per week and turning right around to start the third draft as soon as I finish the last quarter of the second draft.

    • #9 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 3, 2014 - 8:57 am

      Ho ho, Daniel, so long as she doesn’t lock you in a cave for a thousand years. Or was it a hundred? I forget.

  4. #10 by Dina Santorelli on August 3, 2014 - 5:45 pm

    I think a month is a good amount of time. :)

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 3, 2014 - 6:53 pm

      Hi Dina! I think that’s a minimum, although I’m finding that writing the next Nail Your Novel book means that I’m leaving Ever Rest for longer than I anticipated. I don’t think that will do any harm! It certainly helps to have another project to switch to.

  5. #12 by ajdegan on August 3, 2014 - 9:37 pm

    I too have a terrible memory and hadn’t thought about the fact that it’s an advantage in this situation. Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a novella that I abandoned for several years half-written. That’s a different kind of challenge, trying to make the two halves sound like they were indeed written by the same person!

    • #13 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 4, 2014 - 2:39 pm

      Oh that’s an interesting question, Alice. The very final passes I do on a novel are for the voice. I sometimes find quite a bit of variation in the voice because of the different moods I was in on the various days I was writing or revising. But if you go through the manuscript often enough, you can create a coherent sound.

  6. #14 by writerchick on August 5, 2014 - 12:44 am

    I must be worse than you. Whenever I go back to reread my novel, my standard response is, “I don’t remember that.” But I agree, beta readers, very good idea.

  7. #16 by Jami Gold on August 6, 2014 - 12:31 am

    I’m one of those who has a photographic-type memory. I doubt I actually could, but I feel like I could quote my novels from beginning to end. And yes, this makes stories *extremely* difficult to revise. *sigh*

    I’ve actually let stories sit for over a year and still felt too close. I rely entirely on my many beta readers to point out issues. I fear I can never have too many beta readers. :)

    • #17 by DRMarvello on August 6, 2014 - 1:03 am

      Hooray for good beta readers! I just spent July in beta with my next release and got excellent feedback from six readers. Six is the most I’ve had up to now, and I’d be happy to have more. I certainly haven’t found the number that is “too many” yet!

    • #18 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 6, 2014 - 4:11 pm

      Hi Jami! I’m sure your phenomenal memory must be useful in other ways, though – if only to freak out your friends by recalling conversations from years ago. :)

      • #19 by Jami Gold on August 7, 2014 - 12:11 am

        LOL! Yes, it does freak them out–especially as my memory is all visual based. So I remember conversations by visualizing where I was and what I was looking at during the conversation. Those details cause a double-take. :D

  1. Self-editing masterclass snapshots: revision is RE-vision | Nail Your Novel
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