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The Essential Space: Creating Distance between Writer and Work

Posted by CW64 on November 3, 2010

If editing is the responsibility of the writer, does that mean each writer needs to invest money into paying a professional editor? While it is a good practice to develop, you can certainly avoid the expense if you have a friend who can objectively review your manuscript. Having a second pair of eyes review your writing is always a good idea. Remember, you are too close to the writing and will have a tendency to read what you meant to type rather than what you actually typed. Another way to avoid hiring an editor is to put the piece down for a month or so and then reread it with fresh eyes. Certainly this will not work when you have a specific deadline, but if you are working on a book or short story, it will definitely work and is a good idea. In fact putting your story down for a while will also help you see any flaws in your storyline

A friend and colleague of mine, Brenda Coxe, has recently been writing a series of articles on the importance of the editor and editing in the processes of writing and submitting a manuscript for publication. The conclusion to this would seem like a no-brainer, but, believe it or not, the subject has taken on a debate. Some people actually believe that neither hiring an editor nor performing one’s own edits during the writing and submission processes is important.

Please read here and here.

The one point she made that really struck home for me, however, is the above paragraph: specifically the question as to the importance of setting one’s work aside before revisions and editing begin. Now, I am not going to restate her points (except where and how they relate to mine), but I will elaborate on them with insight derived from my own experiences writing.

First, the question that comes to mind is whether or not a writer should suspend some space between writing and the ensuing revisions and edits. This all depends on the writer and, equally as important, the piece being developed (not every piece is or should be done exactly the same way, although certain general steps are advisable to follow at all times). For me, the answer is a resounding yes, and I am pretty certain that most if not all writers put their work aside before they administer the necessary revisions and edits, as nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every one thousand manuscripts will need them.

Brenda was right when she said that writers are too close to their work. This is natural for every writer due to the time, interest and hard work invested into the writing. Writers know the content better than anyone else (or at least are more in tune with the ideas expressed and how those ideas are developed), so they trust what they write. Is this a good thing? Well, yes, to some extent, because self-confidence is important. However, after time, said writer loses a sense of objectivity necessary to assess the piece in order to review it honestly and with assurance. Objectivity is a good thing as well, and necessary if one is planning on submitting a manuscript for publication. Writers’ perspectives are essential, but so are the readers’, otherwise publishing a work would have no purpose.

Another question that comes to mind is: How much time should a writer wait before returning to the work? That depends as well. I was advised by my graduate professor once that the time span should be approximately or at least six months, Sensible, as writers need some distance from their work. This is especially true if the writer has had problems leading to migraines.

Diverting one’s attention away from a particular piece of writing will not only provide distance, but also allow new insights to emerge through other projects and activities. When I was writing on the draft to Hallowed Halls, I found myself conflicted by the ongoing direction regarding the protagonist’s mission in relation to the spirits who were calling to him. Which way should I go from here, and to which extent and why? What significance(s) would any particular solution have regarding character development and/or plot? In any case, I had a basic outline, but I found myself getting lost in the details and I became aggravated. I knew I had to get away from the story and the text, so I put it away for about a year and focused on other stories. One was Urban Legend, another ghost story about skepticism versus open-mindedness. When I constructed that plot-line, which was easier due to the story’s simpler structure, I gained a great sense of clarity that allowed me to progress with Hallowed Halls. I even changed some of what I had already written. The story flowed naturally and realistically, and all of the details bore significance to the characters and/or the plot.

Other forms of writing, such as articles, would sometimes only require a few days before revisions or editing takes place. These are relatively short, but they quite often need rewrites or even re-conceptualization. Magazine features and diminutive items of research fall into this category. My recent post on Lambertville High School, with its background and how it has served as a literary influence for both Hallowed Halls and Urban Legend, was one such article. That article was really involved and included various sources for which several links had to be provided and integrated into the text. Which angle should I have taken? Which information was relevant and to what extent? Which sources or links are most important and should thence be used? These questions and others were asked. The draft was redone several times, and I reviewed and edited it more than once—and each time I had to put it off for two or three days to gain a fresh perspective. Within a two-week period, I finished it and even appended a series of additional resource links for readers to explore. This post serves as the basis for an extended piece on the subject which will contain more information and elaboration on various points regarding the history and paranormal aspects of the site and how it has influenced my work.

Upon their submission, after they have been properly and thoroughly revised and edited, manuscripts have a better chance of being accepted for publication. Editors will be able to review them much more swiftly and easily, and with very few, if any, complications involved, which is ultimately what they prefer.

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3 Responses to “The Essential Space: Creating Distance between Writer and Work”

  1. Once more writes develop the mindset about editing their own work as well as putting it aside before attempting to conduct edits I think we will see a difference in the quality of work that arrives on the bookshelves even in the self-publishing arena. It is the lack of editing that gives self-publishing a bad name and the reason many traditional publishers and even magazine and newspaper editors do not consider self-publishing as “real publishing.”

    • Sorry, that was supposed to be “writers.”

    • CW64 said

      I agree, and I also agree that an essential part of self-editing is the need to put the work aside before conducting edits. The two go together. I think it would be both fair and true to say that a writer who neglects to distance her-/himself with time beforehand will not be as successful in performing effective or necessary editing

      As for self-publishing, I will agree with that as well. The form of publishing has many preconceived notions and beliefs attached to it, and the only way of getting past them is to determine how and why these stigmas came about in the first place. Since editing serves as a root cause or problem, the solution lies with the writers, not the publishers. But to convince those writers to edit their work in the first place? A change of attitude regarding the importance of self-editing–-and distance-setting–-is crucial and non-negotiable.

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