Friday, 3 July 2009

Coffee Morning: Distancing yourself

Thanks all for being so welcoming and chatty last week! I really do feel part of the gang now.

I promised something shorter, and different. Here goes....

Everyone* knows that the best thing to do when you've finished writing is to put it away for a good long while to get some distance from what you've written. Then, so the received wisdom goes, you can see your work with a fresh eye. See what works, what doesn't.

For most of us, though I'm guessing it doesn't always work out like that. You start writing with the best of intentions, think 'I'll be finished in plenty of time to submit to that competition' (or 'I'll be done way before that assignment is due in', for those who have done writing courses!). But - then life gets in the way, and you haven't got as much time to put it away for as you'd hoped.

Are there any ways round this?

How do you get distance from your work?**

* Probably.
** I kinda feel like Carrie Bradshaw, looking for the important questions. Hee.


liz fenwick said...

I need quite a bit of time. Six months to a year in truth which being unpublished I have. I know that I need to work at shortening this because that is too long. In an ideal world of writing one book a year I work take 3 mos for the dirty first draft,two months offto begin research of next, two months to rewrite,one month begin new, rewrite again, another month away from it then polish......

I know in reality it will never work that way :-) I hope the more I write that I will need less rewriting and less time but ....

Good question.

DOT said...

Having written all sorts for different audiences, it is a matter of being able to look at the text from the reader's POV. It's a mental switch to go from writer to reader and takes practice. Sometimes I find it easy to do, others not.

Debs said...

My way of distancing myself from the book I've just written is to start working on another one.

It's interesting to come back to something, usually about four months or so after putting it aside, and see glaring mistakes where before you couldn't find them.

With competitions, I either write something as soon as possible, simply because if I don't I'll then forget that I was going to enter, or if I'm being organized I'll make a note and try to think of ideas for a day or so, then get writing something.

Usually I forget until it's too late.

Fia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fia said...

Great question.

I always left the OU assignments to the last minute because I need pressure to finish anything but, as you say, there is little time to check it.

I also find that I am stll changing as a writer and if I leave things for too long, my voice (I know that sounds a bit pretentious but I don't know what else to call it), changes and what I've written no longer belongs to me.

In an ideal world, a month or so is what I'd really wish for.

Ellie said...

This is so relevant for me right now - I'm just a smidge (the technical term) away from 'The End', and am desperate to start reading it from the beginning. I haven't read it at all, and I wrote the first 50k in November, so really, I've left that for a long old time, but the final chapters will be much more recent. I'm hoping to finish it tomorrow or Sunday, then leave it for a week and start working on Draft 2 a week tomorrow. I hope this is enough time to give me some distance!

Caroline said...

Ah, another hard question! I guess there aren't any rules and every writer will do what's right for them.

I tend to distract myself with another project, taking the novel away from full focus and then drift back to it (this may only be after a couple of weeks). I also tend to set my own deadlines, before 'actual' deadlines, to give myself additional time to reflect on a piece of writing. But it's taken a long time to achieve an almost tricking of my mind.

skywind said...

When work because also this tensed and relaxed, cannot be too anxious, also cannot too relax. Grasps depending on oneself.

Leatherdykeuk said...

It depends!
poetry - a few days; short stories a day to a couple of weeks and novels up to three years.
I'm currently re-writing the novel I wrote in 2007.

Flowerpot said...

I think it's probablya personal thing but also dependent on what life allows you to have. As a journalist my fiction time is constantly interrupted by non-fiction, so that in itself allows for gaps though not concentrated ones! But I agree starting another novel is def a good way to get that distance.

ChrisH said...

Good question and very interesting to read everyone's thoughts... no one 'magic' answer yet! I always tried to get the OU assignments finished a week before the deadline to let them simmer. Sometimes going through a third party helps - as member of the RNA new writers scheme I used that for a few efforts and when I really wanted to get serious I put the novel through Hilary Johnson's Author's Advisory Agency. Otherwise I think the answer is get on with something else.

Lane said...

Good question and certainly one in which there are no hard and fast answers. Isn't that always the way with writing?:-)

I think writing something else is a good ploy in order to distance yourself. Then, as DOT has said, go back and read as a reader.

Have a good weekend chaps.

Rowan Coleman said...

Good question!

First of all sorry for not showing in Birmingham on Saturday. Do you I know I genuinely forgot all about it!!

Now distance. This is hard for me, because there rarely seems to be the time to get that distance and perspective. I largely rely on the fresh eye of my editor and agent to provide me with some distance, but also I have gotten into the habit over the years of thinking of the reader during the process, of re-evaluating what I've written from a readers perspective. Sometimes I'm good at this, sometimes not! What I have found is that the required distance come when I am working in the US edition of a book, which is the first time really I can read it with real perspective.

Karen said...

Great question and relevant for me too as I'm almost at the end of my novel.

I'd like to leave it for six months, but in reality that ain't gonna happen! I'll definitely leave it for a few weeks though and get on with writing more short stories. With those, I find a couple of days is enough for me to see what needs changing.

With novels I find reading it in a different format, either printed out or on the screen in "reading layout" helps trick my mind into thinking it might have been written by someone else. Someone either not very good, or quite brilliant (the latter, I'm hoping!!)

Calistro said...

To distance myself from my work I:

a) Spend as much time away from it as I can. Ideally six weeks if I've got time

b) Start writing a new, different project (ideally with a very different voice and on a very different subject)

c) Read widely. I tend to absorb other writer's voices into my head so when I come back to read my work (which is in my own voice) I have some distance from it.

Calistro said...

Oh - a couple more things I (when editing)

1) Use Natural Reader software to read it to me. Doesn't sound like your own work when there's a computerised voice reading it back!

2) Change the font and layout and print it out. Not seeing it in Times New Roman, 12 points helps me see it differently.

3) Something I read in an editing book - try putting another author's name at the top of it. That way, in theory, you'll read it more objectively (not sure how well this one works to be honest but it might work better in conjunction with #2)

JJ Beattie said...

Ooh, great question. I've no idea with the novel, but I know I'm desperate right now to start reading from the beginning (I mustn't.) But with articles, even the day after can be enough time to see some of the problems. (If I weren't always so last minute maybe a week/a month/a year would be even better, but that ain't gonna happen!

L-Plate Author said...

For me, Liz's comment was about spot on for what I do. I like to get it all down, do a month's research and then do draft two. After I've edited this, I get feedback and this takes time so that is when I start something new. Then I'll tweak it from the feedback as many times as is needed.

I also buy myself a couple of books I've been waiting to read and read them as a treat when I have finished. I find this gives me distance as I tend to read another genre than the one I write in as well.

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

I have often been forced to lay work aside for significant lengths of time - by life stuff like pregnancy, full-time work, childbirth etc.

I always think that I'll be able to be all objective and methodical when I return to it, but I rarely can. I get a small amount of perspectivebut can only ever see small subsets of the big picture.

My best way of getting objectivity / distance is by borrowing someone else's. I get other people to read it, and they spot things that I may instantly agree with (I don't always - if I don't, then I reject it) and 'see', but would probably never have spotted left to my own devices.

KeVin K. said...

How do I determine when to go back to a story I've written? Usually when the editor sends it back with notes.

My usual routine is type "the end," spell check, and send.

People often ask me to consider that I'd write better fiction if I let it fester for a while and then came back and poked at it. And it's true not every story I've typed and sent has sold. But every story I have sold has been a type-and-send.

I've got floppies -- remember floppies? -- full of stories I kept trying to "refine" just one more time. There isn't a spark of originality or life left in any of them.

I know wait and rewrite works for many, many writers. For me it's death.

ChrisH said...

Ooh, I like that from KeVin! Tread boldly!

B said...

Liz - I think many books would be better if other people worked like this! Oh and your ideal world sounds loooovely :)

DOT if you can do that ever I am jealous! I need a switch in my head.

Debs 'usually I forget until it's too late' - oh God, me too. Nearly always! And yes, working on something else is the best method I've ever found.

Fia, oh god yes. Ask Jen about my TMA6. After an email from her after she heard me panicking on facebook, I started again with just over 4 hours to go. It was horrendous, but it got me my second best mark. High stress strategy though....

Ellie, your 'smidge' made me laugh! That's my kind of technical term. Good luck with finishing and revising!

Caroline, I don't mean to be hard :) It's reassuring that it's possible to do the mind-tricking thing! although i wish it didn't take so long. oh well!

*ignores skywind*

Rachel, you make me feel better for all the fragments over my various computers. There's still hope! :)

flowerpot you are so right!

ChrisH I ALWAYS intended to do that. i NEVER actually did so. if you ever so see anyone with a magic right answer please do report back! :)

Lane, hi, I've not talked to you in forever! It's too true. One day I will find a hard and fast answer. Honest ;) Nice weekend to you too!

Rowan we were sorry to miss you at the weekend. I will get to meet you one day!

Karen I have short stories from 18+ months ago that I am only just beginning to get right :o

Cally - some excellent points - I'm going to investigate 1) especially!

JJ - you and me both....

L-plate - nice to see you - hope you're feeling better?

squiggle (can i call you squiggle? squirrels run in squiggles) - getting someone else to read often does help. getting someone else to read who will a) spot what's wrong and b) actually tell me, well anyone who does that is worth the square of their weight in gold.

KeVin - I am jealous as hell. Jealous as hell I tell you! :)

Cathy said...

I like to leave things for a week or two then get someone else to read it if possible. But I also find that I then get into a cycle of almost too much polishing and picking at it and I need to learn when to take KeVin's advice and just press send, rather than agonise over it.

Anonymous said...

I find distancing myself from a project is easy. There's always a million other things to do, including other writing projects. What isn't so easy is deciding (or allowing) the appropriate amount of time to elapse. I'm not even sure what an appropriate amount is in my case.

An examination of the modification dates on my files, would suggest the following:

Bridge Across Forever and Fugue in D Minus have been festering for a year (gulp).
The Wild One's Hideout for eight months.
Asteroid for two months and Kim & Mark for ten months.

Far too long, I think, though I've obviously bitten off more than I can chew to begin with.

Annieye said...

I've found that reading for pleasure fits the bill nicely. I don't write the type of books I like to read (why is that?)and so it is easy to escape into a good thriller or crime novel.

Then again, writing something else helps to distance me from my novel too.

Un Peu Loufoque said...

I tend to leaev for a few months adn sometimes then forget it! For em teh writing is the thing so I really need to push myself towards tryignt o get a publisher or at least an agent to psuh for me.

Liane Spicer said...

I can't think of a substitute for putting the novel away for some time other than working on something completely different and then coming back to it with (hopefully) fresh eyes.

Love Karen's suggestion that you read it in a different format. Going to try it out asap.