Monday, March 21, 2011

Don't edit yet! Take nine!

From the (still very messy) desk of Janet Fogg.

True confessions. I’m a pantser and a scroller. And while I don’t particularly want to change either trait, one habit I have changed over the years is to take nine (days), whenever possible.

Take nine days? For what? Quite simply, to wait.

Remember the old nursery rhyme?

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old.

As a scroller I’m constantly editing, constantly tasting the porridge. When I sit down each day to write, I go back through the last few pages from the prior day, edit, and then pick up the thread of my story to add new words. As a pantser, since I don’t have a chapter outline but instead write by the seat-of-my-pants, details, choreography of characters from scene to scene, timelines, and so on can be slightly skewed from week to week, sometimes even day to day. To help straighten the skewing, upon “completion” of a chapter I typically print it out, change chairs, grab a cup of tea (not porridge), and edit yet again. But a chapter might also veer from its predecessor and that’s where the nine days helps. A lot.

So when do I actually take nine days? When I’m ready for a serious, sit down, no interruptions, put-this-sucker-to-bed edit, I try to wait a minimum of nine days between the moment when my eyes last gazed upon that particular manuscript or chapters or whatever, and actually grabbing a pen for a focused edit. By doing this, by reading with eyes nine days “new,” I have caught numerous mistakes, stupid language choices, and even more importantly, have been astonished at how my story might actually take flight, or alas, miserably fail.

With my habit of scrolling every day I’ve already read each paragraph twelve or nineteen times while still roughing out the entire document, but that fresh read, when the porridge is cooked and nine days old, always reveals something I’ve never noticed in my day-to-day edits. If you can take nine days (or more), you will likely be surprised, occasionally think that someone else penned your words, and find yourself far more objective as you run through final edits.

So if you can find the time, take nine!

(This time next week? Join me for Crazy Eights - The Query Game!)


Emma Lai said...

Thanks for the useful tip.

Peg Brantley said...

I have a full out that I haven't seen in months. Assuming it's returned unwanted, my plan is to read it through, yet again, with fresh eyes, and hope the porridge hasn't spoiled.

Joanne Stewart said...

I could not agree more! I finished a WIP a few months months that just did not feel right, but I couldn't pinpoint what exactly it was. So, I put it aside and started another story. When I finished the second, I finally went back to the first and found it much easier to see the story and know what it needed. Taking time away helps a TON.

Janet Fogg said...

I've been startled more than once when I take a long break from a draft and then re-read it, how I'll not even recognize certain passages. It's very interesting and a bit disconcerting sometimes!

Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your edits!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I wish I would take nine, instead of 90 or more. On the other hand, when I pick up my manuscript to do revisions, I'm often surprised at what I read and wonder if I have gremlins producing pages while I sleep.

Vonnie Hughes said...

Absolutely agree. Although I tend to do the waiting at the end of the m/s rather than a few chapters. And boy do you see things likes lapses in storyline and peculiar changes in pov after you've let it steep awhile before returning to it. Nine days is the minimum for me.

N. R. Williams said...

Nine days is doable I think. I've heard of taking a month off. Some times that works, depending on how many mss you have in the fire, but some times you need to get it done.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

Brent Wescott said...

Nine days sounds totally reasonable. I tried fifteen years on a novel of mine. It didn't work very well.
It Just Got Interesting

Mario said...

Great advice. When I'm under deadline, sometimes all I get in nine minutes. Or so it seems.

Lynne Roberts said...

Hi Janet!

Great advice. I completely agree. I think a novel has to rest between edits to give the writer some perspective.

Shannon said...

With a Swiss cheese brain like mine, nine days can seem like a lifetime! As usual, your advice is sound. Thanks.