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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Writerly Virtues

Yeah, I know.  'Writerly' isn't a real word; but it got stuck in my head, and I couldn't get it out.  There are, however, certain virtues every writer needs to adopt.  One of these is patience.

I don't say this because I'm patient.  On the contrary, I struggle with it like a man in a python's coils; but every time I get in a hurry, I receive a painful wake up call.

Consider the revision process.  I've read somewhere (and somewhere else and somewhere else again) how important it is to let a manuscript simmer on the back burner a few months before starting the final revision.  I hate this!  The moment I've typed the last period, I'm itching to sprint for the finish line.  This is always a big mistake.  A project's baby scent needs time to fade.

But my story is beautiful!  It's the best novel ever written!  How could any agent or editor not fall in love with it?

After endless months of focusing on one project, writer's myopia sets in.  The only cure for this is time and distance.  After a painful two or three month separation some of my manuscript's perfection always seems to mysteriously drain away.  A simile I couldn't part with now sounds cheesy.  What at first felt like a wonderfully intense, pulse-pounding scene now reveals itself as lackluster and sluggish.

Even with the help of a topnotch beta reader (Thanks, Lynne!), I still need time to distance myself from a project.  Why am I lecturing about this?  Because, yet again, the wake up call has come.  With a little nudging from an excellent agent, I've found that a supposedly 'finished' project could be far more than it already is.

There's an upside.  After a two or three month hiatus, it's always a joy to rediscover a story and see it with new eyes.  If history repeats itself, the new way will be far better than the original.