Let Sleeping Drafts Lie

This weekend, I plan to take Holland Bay back out of mothballs and read what I finished in early May. I’m sure there are some cringe-worthy moments in there. For all intents and purposes, this most recent draft was a reboot of the first draft.

I did this on all the books listed on the Books Page. When I finished the first draft, I let it go. I know a lot of authors, particularly on deadline, like to dive right back into the manuscript and start revisions. That is probably a mistake. You’re too close to the story then. It’s still… my baby!

This is probably the shortest layoff I’ve had from a long work. I like three months, an entire season. The weather changes. The daylight hours change. Life changes. It’s long enough for one to become a different person from the one who typed “The End.” But I was lucky. Northcoast Shakedown was written on spec. Second Hand Goods was written while Northcoast was shopped. While Northcoast never had a deadline, Second Hand was in third draft by the time it had a deadline. Bad Religion had a deadline, but the publisher collapsed before I could start the third draft. I had not looked at it from 2006 to about July of last year or so. That was the longest I ever let a finished manuscript lie with the intention of getting back to it.

I hope I never have to pass chapters to an editor or agent as I write the story. That’s madness. Thomas Wolfe wrote The Bonfire of the Vanities that way, serializing it in Rolling Stone. There is no way I’d fly without a parachute like that. If the story goes off the rails, it does so with in front of a live studio audience, in Wolfe’s case, the still-substantial readership of Rolling Stone. It’s not so bad when it’s you and someone involved in bringing the novel to the public, but you still lose some control over your story.

If I were a perfectionist, I would rework every scene and every page until I liked it and write detailed outlines of everything. I can see a time where that’s going to become necessary, but for now, I prefer ignoring a story until it’s ready for the next stage of development.

Stephen King tells of writing this way, leaving the draft in a drawer for a month or two or three. He prefers work to become almost a foreign thing when he looks at it again, like someone else wrote it. That’s the way it should be. The bookshelves, Amazon pages, and even POD self-pub houses are strewn with the literary corpses of those who defended “their baby!” (Including mine.)

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One thought on “Let Sleeping Drafts Lie

  1. Excellent advice. I’ve begun letting works in progress lie fallow for weeks and months at a time while I either work on something else, or sit back and recharge my batteries for a while. I’m less stressed, and I think the work benefits. Of course I don’t have any deadlines. On the other hand, if someone wants me to alter my life, they need to offer life-altering sums of money. I’m not lying awake nights waiting for that, either. 🙂

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