Writer's Craft Article
Fiction Fundamentals: Writing Elbow Grease, Part 3
Involving Critique Partners and Setting the Final Draft Aside
by Karen S. Wiesner
Based on Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2: 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
In this three month, in-depth series, we're going to go over what could be considered the grunge work in building a cohesive story. Revising, editing, and polishing require a little or a lot of writing elbow grease to finish the job and bring forth a strong and beautiful book.
In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the revision part of the process. This time we'll go over involving critique partners and setting the final draft aside.
STAGE 2: INVOLVING CRITIQUE PARTNERS
Everyone knows writers can get too close to their own work. It's an occupational hazard. While you may feel that you've got a story beyond compare, it may need a little more work and you simply can't see it. That's why it's so important now to turn your beloved opus over to a trusted spouse, friend, or, preferably, a critique partner (or three) for a critical read. The opinion of others is very important. You're not ready to send that book out to a publisher/editor or agent until you've had enough reader reactions to judge the strength of your accomplishment.
I highly recommend that you give yourself this time to digest the comments a critique partner made about your beloved baby, too. At this stage, your desire may be to haul off and lay her out flat. Don't do it! After you've initially read her comments, send her this note without any embellishments: "Thanks for all the work you put into critiquing my story. I'll get back to you in a few weeks if I have any questions or comments about your evaluation." Then folder-up that project again with her comments. Put it away in your story cupboard and do something else. I guarantee that her comments, if left on a low backburner in your mind, will do their work. When you return for the final editing and polishing, hopefully for the last time before you begin submitting to publishers/editors or agents, you might even agree with your friend on several points. You'll also feel better about everything, and you'll be able to evaluate, unbiased, what needs to be done to shine up that book.
STAGE 3: SETTING THE FINAL DRAFT ASIDE
Letting your projects sit, out of sight and out of mind, for a couple weeks--or even months--in-between stages will provide you with a completely fresh perspective. Distance gives you objectivity and the ability to read your own work so you can progress further with it, adding more and more layers and dimensions to your characters, plots and settings. Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers may reach a point where their motivation runs out, and they want to get away from the story as fast as they can. Sometimes the author may not feel inspired to write a book he's just spent weeks or even months outlining, or revise something he's spent weeks or months writing.
Setting a project aside between the various stages the project goes through also allows your creativity to be at its peak. The process becomes easier, too, and your writing will be the best it can be. Putting a WIP on a back burner for an extended period of time will allow you to see more of the connections that make a story multidimensional.
To set your project aside between stages, return everything to your story folder. For as long as you possibly can, put this book on a shelf and keep it on the backburner in your mind. Get to work on something else so you won’t concentrate too much on this project and it becomes the center of your attention again.
In the introduction to this series, I mentioned that Stephen King calls this a “recuperation time”, and it really is that, considering the blood, sweat and tears you’ve expended thus far (half-done in the writing in stages process!). When you take the manuscript down again to begin revisions, followed by editing and polishing, “you’ll find reading your book over after a…layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours…and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else. …This is the way it should be, the reason you waited…”
As a general rule, every book I write gets a few months between stages, and I really need the break from each project. I can't imagine going through all the steps in finishing a book back-to-back. I get so sick of a story when one stage carries into the next without pause, I can no longer see whether anything I'm doing is improving or ruining. When one stage of a WIP is done, I'm eager to get away from it. Many times I leave a stage certain the whole thing is fit only for burning in the nearest fireplace, but, when I come back to it months later, I discover that all my hard work previously was well-worth the effort. The layers of the story are building up beautifully into something I know will be even better when it's finally done.
The basic reason for any shelf-time for a project is obvious: You just finished one big stage, you’d have to be insane to want to read the book again right after you just finished going over it from start to finish yet again. You’ll have gained no distance from it if you jump directly into the next stage at this point. So give yourself another few weeks or more if your deadlines allow before moving on.
One other thing I alluded to earlier is not wanting to get burned out when it comes to any specific project. When writers say they’re burned out, they mean they’ve been working too much and not taking the time off to refresh themselves and keep their creative energy flowing. (This is completely different from writer’s block, which can stem from situations like a story not ready to be worked on, not enough brainstorming or inspiration, or sheer laziness usually attributed to a fickle muse.) This is especially true if you're working on the same project, doing all these stages back-to-back, without taking a break from the same project specifically or from work in general. You bring back your own love for a project each time you set it aside and then come back to it fresh. Don't underestimate the importance of doing that. You and your stories will suffer for it eventually if back-to-back stages becomes a habit.
There's another reason for avoiding burnout whenever you can. The soil in your brain is like the soil farmers sow crops in. It needs rest and rotation (writing in stages, for the author) in order to become fertile and nutrient-rich again. I strong suggested working up yearly goals prior to every new year. On this sheet, you're not only deciding what you’re going to be working on during that year, but you should also be planning your breaks from writing. If taking weekends off doesn’t refresh you, take a week, weeks or even a month off during the year. Read, watch movies, relax, and re-energize your creativity. (This doesn't mean you can't be brainstorming or researching for upcoming projects during this time.) By the time your vacation is up, you’ll be raring to go on your next writing project. Take your scheduled vacations when you’ve planned them unless something wonderful happens (an editor contracts a series from you, you're asked to write a screenplay of your book; you fill in the blank for your own idea of wonderful) in your career or life, and you can’t let the opportunity pass you by. As soon as that thing is finished, take the vacation you planned. Reward yourself by allowing your creative soil to become fertile again.
You might be wondering how many times you can set your book aside before it goes to an editor. I suggest you set it aside for a few months after the outline is complete (before you begin writing the book) as well as after the first draft is done and, of course, before you begin revising. I also suggest you set it aside again after the critical reads and before you complete final editing and polishing and send it off to a publisher/editor or agent. As with a good wine or cheese, the more shelf-time you give each book, the stronger it'll be--and the better for you to see your story clearly, my dears.
Next week, we'll go over Stage 4: Editing and Polishing.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Cohesive Story Building, Volume 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.