“Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There’s plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.”
Every once in a while, I pull out Stephen King’s great guide, On Writing, for a bit of inspiration. What I like about this book is how honest our boy Stephen is about what it takes to craft a great story. It isn’t easy — and he isn’t afraid to say it boldly. But he’s also very open about loving to write and sharing what he’s learned as a seasoned storyteller.
He has lots of advice about pulling together a draft, but perhaps even more important, he also talks about what to do when your draft is complete. Since some of us (that includes me!) may be close to finishing a full manuscript, I thought I’d pass on his suggestions for all of us to ponder.
Once your first full draft is completed, you need time to re-energize so that you can approach it with a fresh mind and imagination.
Take a couple of days off to relax — go kayaking, hiking, or just chill out, and then start working on something else — preferably something shorter and totally different from your finished book.
Let your book rest (like bread dough between kneadings, says Stephen). He suggests that you leave it in a drawer and don’t look at it “for a minimum of six weeks,” so that it can age and mellow. During this time, resist the temptation to read it.
When this fallow period is up (you might want to mark your target date for picking it up again on a calendar), then sit down with a pencil and legal pad — and read your manuscript over. At this point, it should be like reading someone else’s work.
Take notes, correct typos, and look for glaring holes or errors, which should jump out at you now. Mark up the manuscript, but don’t give yourself a hard time about any mistakes. During this first round, first focus on story and mechanics, then ask yourself what you’re really trying to say and whether it’s coming through loud and clear.