New writers—and some not-so-new—are often eager to get a story idea out there as quickly as possible. I can be so enthusiastic about my own work that I practically knock myself down submitting stuff that’s hot off the press. But then I remember the sage advice to let my draft rest before I hit “send.”
Writing Tip for Today: When you put your time and energy into creating a piece or story, it can be hard to put it aside. Here’s why a rest period for drafts is a good idea:
Resting Your Draft
A key benefit of resting a manuscript is in preventing sloppiness. Nearly every editor or agent requires a clean copy—that is, a manuscript free of typos or formatting and usage errors. My personal rule is to wait at least twenty-four hours before I submit to any publication or agent, even if the work is under contract. After long hours of drafting, I can look at a screen and not see typos, misused words or clunky sentences. I can see more mistakes if I print out a hard copy, but the 24-hour wait is mandatory for me. I find it amazing how differently my brilliant prose sounds the next day. Additionally, my ideas often percolate during a rest period. As I let the work rest, I’ll come up with better ideas, solve plot problems or understand my character in a deeper, more authentic way. A short essay or article might need a day or a week to rest. For a novel-length work, two weeks to a month or more makes sense. And difficult short forms such as poetry or short story, might need even longer to rest.
Redirecting Your Energy
Now that your draft is resting comfortably, what do you do? Write, write and write some more. While my manuscript is on the back burner, I start new ones. If I rest a novel, I might work on shorter pieces—essays, poems or a short story. This helps the creative process and also keeps me from obsessing about the novel in repose. Writers have told me about tinkering with a novel so much that they either begin to lose interest, start imitating other works or in general mucking up the organization. Redirecting energy to short forms, working on platform or marketing efforts or revising another rested work just coming off the shelf might prevent embarrassing mistakes or rejections. I keep a kind of loose schedule, to help rotate through different projects. You might try reserving certain days for brand-new ideas, others for revisions and another for business-related writing chores.
Returning to the WIP
At some point, it’s time to face that resting draft. You get to yank Mr. Work in Progress off the chaise lounge and get back to work. At the same time, ideally you also shelve another manuscript, so that you always have something to revise. Writing is rewriting, remember? Revision take most writers multiple rests and revisits, so get in the habit of putting away one piece while pulling out another. If you have deadlines, of course the most urgent will need to cut to the head of the line, but try to give at least twenty-four hours of rest to everything you write. If more of us took advantage of this simple technique, fewer emails you didn’t want the boss to see might land in his inbox and angry Tweeters might cool off before hitting send. At the very least you might spot that embarrassing homophone or passive construction and fix the goofs before they live on forever in print or cyberspace.