Step away from your manuscript!

It is impossible to get an objective view of your own writing, of course it is. Even if you came back to something you’d written after a gap of twenty years I doubt you’d be able to see it with the objectivity you bring to reading someone else’s writing.
But a degree of objectivity is a skill a writer has to develop.

When you reach the final words of your novel, naturally, you have a satisfying sense of achievement. The story is told. You know what happens. You know who it happens to and where. You’re entitled to your satisfaction.

But don’t for a moment think this is the end of the work.

The work’s hardly started.

Now is the time to put the book to one side, to gently ease your brain back into the real world or some other piece of writing, so that when you’re ready – I find three months a good amount of time – you can come back to your story and see it for what it is: some material you can work with. And when you’re finally able to be objective enough to see it this way, it’s time to start asking the questions that’ll fill in the holes, cut out the slow parts, make the characters consistent and your intention clear.

IMG_1450 IMG_1455Time is everything. Can’t work out how to get your characters into a hole you’ve dropped them in (or into the hole in the first place)? Don’t sweat it. Make a note of what needs to happen and move on to a part you can fix right now. Chances are the solution will come to you when your mind is semi-occupied with something else. For me, these moments always come either when I’m walking the dogs or when I can’t sleep. What is it about those particular times? Perhaps they’re when my mind is at its most meditative. Perhaps my subconscious is more active than my conscious.

And if that doesn’t work? If no matter how many walks you go on, your characters are still stuck down the volcano? Step away in a different way. Make a game of it. Instead of aiming for the perfect solution, make a list of twenty ways they could get out. Go through the obvious, the unlikely, the crazy, the stupid; really push yourself. The game should take you past the stress of ‘I’ll never fix this’ that’s holding back your creativity and somewhere amongst those twenty wild ideas, you should find you’ve come up with something that’ll help you fix your problem.

So there you go, that’s draft 2 finished. Now you could put it away for another three months before you start draft 3…

But you’ll probably find you can look at it again a little sooner this time. You’ll be in the mindset to fiddle and minutely adjust, or to move around great chunks of the story or delete them or add new stuff. Watch it though. Accept that a manuscript never feels finished to its author. Eventually you need to step away again. It’s time for someone else to see it, someone who’ll be able to be truly objective about it. And when you get our work yback from them with their comments and fixes, you’ll kick yourself for the obvious flaws you couldn’t be objective enough to spot.

(Three guesses what I’m doing at the moment!)

Claire Watts


Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French?


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