Learn to pause … or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.
A few days ago, an author friend who was judging a writing competition asked me, when I’m judging, what challenge I most often see in writers’ work. I didn’t have to pause or stop to think about it and immediately answered, “Rushing.”
I then went on to explain. We write, and when we do, we translate the images that we see in our heads onto the page–or we intend to, but often important details get dropped in the transfer. Because we’re rushing to finish in the allotted time, or to get the work submitted, or read or critiqued, we don’t let the work cool long enough–and allow our minds to get occupied with other images sufficiently–so that the images we held during the creation process are dulled by time and/or distance.
So we read the work–read it again several more times–and consider it done. And then months later, we return to the work to see that what is on the page doesn’t sufficiently convey what we saw in our minds during creation.
But it’s too late. We had the critique, the reading–the work has been submitted. And now we wish it hadn’t because we see flaws that we wish we’d first corrected. Fuzzy details instead of sharp, crisp and vivid ones. We see that what is actually on the page isn’t nearly as strong as it could have been. And so we edit, honing the work, fine-tuning it to eliminate the flaws.
The problem is it’s too late to get a first impression through our normal channels. It’s been done. So now we must rely on second impressions and resubmissions, and those can’t be as strong as the first. We can’t recapture that initial burst of enthusiasm, or that sensation by others that what we’ve done is fresh and different because it isn’t–they’ve seen it and experienced it before–from us.
So the drawbacks of rushing are significant. The penalties are steep and the benefit is that if we do this once and recognize it, we might just slow down long enough to not make that same mistake again.
I can hear you say, “But I don’t have a choice. I have deadlines. I have to get this puppy submitted so that I can start the next book.”
To that, I say, “When you invest in writing a book, it should reflect your best. After all, you’ve traded time with your family, time doing other things that are important to you in creating it. If you’ve made those sacrifices, then doesn’t that warrant a complete project that is your very best? Isn’t your time–your life–worth your best?
Remember that writing isn’t all about mechanics and craft. It’s about art, too. And creating something from nothing that will transport readers into a story and embrace them so they live and experience it is art at its best.
How long does it take for those images to fade, so that what you’ve written matches the vision in your mind when you were creating? That’s a question only you can answer. For some, it’s brief. For others, it takes months. The time you’ve put into the work can be a factor. If, for example, you’ve been working on the project for six months straight, it’s going to take a while. If you’ve worked on it and other projects simultaneously, likely it won’t take as long. That splintered focus will aid you in this.
The bottom line is that you need to let the project cool long enough for you to forget the little details. You’ll likely remember a good deal about the characters and plot, but you’ll forget snippets or how A led to B. You’ll know that sufficient time has passed by reading the work. It will seem familiar and yet strange, too.
Will what you’ve written on the page ever equal the vision inside your head? Doubtful, if I’m a decent gauge. I’ve been writing twenty years and I’ve yet to do it. But when I’ve built in cooling periods and utilized them, I get a lot closer. I hope you will, too.