If you’ve a written a manuscript, this post is for you. It’s about a strategy I’m using now as I revise my current project. I created it out of necessity because after going through 15 revision rounds (yes, 15!) I was a broken writer. My story was only mostly good and I didn’t even know it. I had crashed into a brick wall in my race to query it, holding it too close, gripping it too tightly.
I was left frustrated and devastated, wondering if I actually still knew how to write a book. I had a story that I loved with all my heart, ready for readers to read, but no one wanted it. Why didn’t agents want it? Why didn’t they want to help me usher it into the world? I began to think that publishing wasn’t for me anymore and that no one wanted to read books from me anyway. I was THIS CLOSE to convincing myself that publishing three books was my limit, and I was foolish to think the book I was working on was worth the trouble.
I wasn’t exactly my usual optimistic self.
I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s important to walk away from your manuscript in between revision rounds. That way, when you return to it, you’ll be able to see any problems more clearly. And that’s true. The problem with that though, is that sometimes a few weeks is not long enough. Sometimes, a writer needs a stronger detox. Because even with a two or three week break from a manuscript, writers lose objectivity. They are so close to their work that they lose the ability to see it for what it really is. They forget that they can dig deeper. They can make their work better—even when they think they can’t.
I’m looking at you, writer friend.
Let’s say, you’ve drafted a book. You’ve revised it—hopefully more than once. You’ve edited it. You’ve sent it to critique partners. You’ve revised it again. You may even have sent it to beta readers. And then you’ve read through it again. You think it’s great. You think it could be THE ONE. You’ve polished it up as much as you know how. You honestly believe you’re ready to query literary agents and/ or editors so you—
Don’t even finish that thought!
Please don’t get ahead of yourself. I know it’s really tempting to start querying too soon. I’ve been there. I know how it feels to want to be published so badly that it’s hard to think of other things. I know you love your story (or why else would you be writing it!) and I know how much you want to share it with readers. But, you only get one chance with agents and you don’t want to query them with a manuscript that’s only mostly amazing. You want it to be 100 percent amazing.
So, don’t do what I did. Don’t send your work out before it’s ready. Before you begin querying again (or for the first time), I want you to try one more thing. I think it’ll help you gain clarity about your story, dig deeper, and put out your best work.
Take a manuscript hike.
Walk far away from your manuscript. Close the file. Turn off your writer’s brain. Completely. Go someplace mentally that doesn’t involve your story. Take a proverbial hike for a month or two. Pack your hike with the things (other than writing) that make you happy. It may sound extreme but the farther you can get away from it by distracting yourself with something else, the better chance your brain will have to work it’s magic. Take a cooking class on-line. Learn to speak French. Start a short-term book club. Paint your living room. Listen to a motivational podcast series or any podcast. Fill the time you usually spend writing with something else. It doesn’t need to be forever, just long enough to let your brain disengage from your story and inspire you in a new way.
Well, there are three big reasons:
1. When you set your writing aside, you free your mind of the thoughts about the story that are weighing you down. You leave room for new thoughts. It’s kind of like when you mindlessly fold the laundry or drive a familiar route home. New ideas will swirl. Creative sparks will work their way into the empty spaces—because you’ve given your brain room to breathe.
2. When you try something new or learn a new skill, you fill up your arsenal of story-crafting tools. A scene from that pottery class may make its way into your manuscript. That business podcaster may be the perfect muse for a character that feels flat. That trip to the museum might be filled with colors and images that spark your imagination. New experiences are a writer’s secret weapon.
3. When you set your manuscript aside long enough, you start to miss it. It’s kind of like taking a vacation that’s long enough. How many times have you taken a trip and you’re really not ready to return home yet? But you have to. Work is calling. Your vacation days are used up. Whatever the reason, you return home because you have to. That’s not the best time to return home or to your manuscript either. Wouldn’t you rather stay away long enough so that you’re feeling refreshed and ready to come home… when you’ve done all the sun-worshipping, sight-seeing, and restaurant-eating that you can possibly do. Imagine that?!
The point is, if you walk away from your manuscript long enough—if you take a good long hike where you don’t think about it and instead do things that you don’t normally do, you’ll return to it energized and full of ideas on how to make it better. You’ll have realized that you do have more to give, and you know how to give it. You know how to dig deeper and mine for the gems that can make your story sparkle.
Curious what I’ve been doing during my long walk away from my story—my manuscript hike? I started a new job! I’ve been working as a part-time, seasonal college admissions reader for a local university. It’s the best job ever because I get paid to read! But even more than that, the personal essays have inspired me to chase my dreams in a way I never thought possible and the gobs of extracurriculars and volunteer work has been eye-opening. There are some pretty amazing kids out there who do really cool things! It’s given me a new perspective in so many areas. It’s been like reading hundreds of shorts stories and learning something special and informative from each one.
I took the job because I was burnt out from writing, I thought it sounded interesting, and I wanted to break out of my comfort zone. I had no idea that it would force me to set my manuscript aside for quite as long as I have though. But it was one of the best things to ever happen to me as a writer. I’ve learned a lot about myself and realized that I do have what it takes to make this book special. I know how to fix it. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to work on it right now because this job goes for another month and half, but the spark is back. I recently cracked open my manuscript to get started and now I’m literally dying to keep working on it. The (long) time away was the detox I needed—a gift actually, and I’m grateful that the strategy worked so well for me.
I truly hope it can work for you too. If you happen to try this or something similar, I’d love to know how it worked!
Good luck and until next time, enjoy this picture of something else I did on my time away. I took a quick trip to Florida last week and a long walk through the Caribbean Beach resort in Disney World! It was so pretty… so nice to be surrounded by sunshine and greenery while snow fell relentlessly back home.
Thanks for checking in…and cheers to turning the page on January. Let’s make February even better!