I know we’re having some wonderful weather here in the UK at the moment but I’m not talking about a holiday break; rather taking a break from writing. I’m sure you already appreciate how important it is to incorporate regular breaks into your writing routine. Too much sitting at a computer is bad for your body. And too much time constantly working on one particular writing project can affect your creativity. But there’s one particular writing break that I want to address this month: the break you should have when you’ve finished the first draft of your novel (or, indeed, short story, essay or article).
You’ve been working for months, perhaps years, writing your novel. You know your characters like your own family, all their personality traits, nuances, habits. You’re as familiar with all the settings of your book as you are with your own home surroundings. You’ve typed the final paragraph, sat back with an immense sigh of relief, and then you realise you’ve got to go back to the beginning to start editing. You might already have ideas in your head as to where you need to change events, conversations; where you can beef up certain characters; where you can write in more conflict
But this is the point at which you need to STOP. Really STOP.
DON’T start fiddling
DON’T turn to page 56 where you remember you had a problem
DON’T start correcting your punctuation.
TAKE A BREAK!
At this point, your brain is still in writing mode – the left side is the more dominant: that’s the creative side. You need to give that side a break and later, probably much later, let the right side of the brain, the analytical side, take over to do all the, well, analysing: the corrections, the punctuation and spelling, identifying holes in the plot. If your left brain is still involved, then emotions will still be at work. And although we want those in the actual prose, we need to be as non-judgmental and clear-thinking as we can when we start editin
Stephen King, who has sold more than 350 million books, has very definite views on this particular juncture in the life of a novel.
“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”
He says a manuscript (for a novel) should take a season (three months) to write. Then, he says, he puts a physical copy of it in a drawer and forgets about it for at least six weeks.
How long should a break be? No-one can tell you. That’s up to you and if you have one, your deadline. I recently looked at a novel I finished last year while on holiday. I knew I had to do some historical research before letting anyone else see it. In the meantime, I had other writing projects to get on with. So I really did leave that novel alone for at least six months. When I re-read it, I was pleased to see that the characters developed as I had planned and the pace ebbed and flowed in the right places. I was also quite surprised to read sections that I couldn’t actually remember writing. And, yes, my own writing produced some emotion in me – the writer! But switching to my right brain, I could see, far more clearly than before, where the plot sagged, characters who weren’t even necessary, others who needed more personality, plus, of course, spelling and punctuation mistakes.
So my advice to fellow writers is always take a break when you’ve completed the first draft of a particular writing project. Don’t think of the break as wasted time. The break itself will rejuvenate you and at least half your brain gets a rest!
(For those of you who’ve been asking about the photos, this one above is of the village of Taqah on the south-eastern coast of Oman, the region where my novel Pathway to the Gods is set.)
Also this month: writing prompts, six competitions, two book recommendations and two fascinating blogs – one about why it’s good to enter competitions and the other – about graveyards!