Jackie has not only helped me gain perspective on all fourteen of the stories in my current work-in-progress, a short story collection, she’s helping you too. In Jacquelin Cangro’s guest post below, she shares actionable steps you can start taking today to help you move from writing to revision.
5 Steps to Gain Perspective on Your Finished Story
By Jacquelin Cangro
When you are writing, you are creating. Writing is generative, bringing the story that lives in your mind’s eye to the page. Editing calls for a different approach because it is an examination of what you created.
Here are five steps to prepare yourself for the mental and emotional shift from writing to editing so you can begin the revision process with confidence.
- Put your manuscript away. In order to gain a fresh perspective, take a break from your story. Launching into revision too quickly often leads writers to an excessive re-write or the mistaken belief that their manuscript is already perfect. A week is good. A month is better. What should you do in the meantime? Try one or more of these options:
- Dive into another creative pursuit, especially if it doesn’t require words, like drawing, painting, gardening or decorating.
- Read a different genre. If your story is fantasy, pick up Pride and Prejudice. If you’ve written literary fiction, give The Martian a try.
- Get outside. Nothing refreshes me like a hike. Even a picnic in the park can do a world of good to clear your mind.
- Begin writing a different story. Sometimes putting your efforts into a new set of characters and plot problems loosens your ties on your original story.
- Change locations. Being in a new environment can signal your brain that it’s time to make the shift to a different task. If you normally write in your home office, move to a coffee shop, the library or the park. Just moving to another room in your home can work wonders.
- Read your manuscript. When you’re ready to return to your story, take time to experience it the way a potential reader would⎯from start to finish. Resist the urge to make any edits. You’re looking for the overall impression. Ask yourself: Where are you skimming? Are any parts confusing? Are there gaps in plot continuity? Is your main character’s motivation clear?
- Take it bird by bird. Tip of the writer’s quill to Anne Lamott, of course, but this applies to editing also. The thought of revising a 300-page novel or memoir can be intimidating. Reduce the overwhelm by dividing your manuscript into a separate file for each chapter. You only have to revise this one chapter right now. Then you’ll revise the next and the next. This technique is also helpful if you have multiple POVs or shifting timelines because it will easily allow you to review one POV or one timeline in its entirety.
- Write a letter. This step is courtesy of John McPhee, author of 30 books. He suggests pretending to write a letter to your beta reader summarizing each major scene in a sentence or two. If you have a hard time developing a brief description, the scene’s purpose may be unclear. This also allows you to determine if a scene is not essential to the story.
It can be difficult to step back from the story you’ve invested so much in, but following these steps will help you gain a more objective perspective to lay the groundwork for a smoother transition from writing to revision.
Jacquelin Cangro is a book editor, creative writing instructor, and writing coach with 20 years of experience at Penguin Random House. She helps writers develop the confidence and skills they need to get their stories on the page. Visit her site to find many resources to improve your writing, including her new free program, How to Read Like a Writer. She tweets @jackiecangro, and Instagrams @jcangro and has a Facebook group for writers.