Some of us have been writing so long that we find ourselves going through the motions and not really seeing or expecting as much as we’d like from it. But—and this is the few times you’ll ever hear me say this—sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to stop writing. Sometimes the best thing we can do is take out hand off of it, long enough to reclaim ourselves, renovate ourselves; look at our piece of work, our collection of works, and in some cases our goal or dreams again and examine them through new lenses.
While doing my normal weekly web surfing—for ideas about writing from unexpected places, for my other writing blog at SamTheWriter.com—I ran across a home renovation site, and these guys got me thinking about a simple yet essential practice that writer’s often forget about, or neglect. In neglecting or pushing it off, for ‘a better time,’ writers often end up suffering some very severe consequences that show up in quality of work, quantity of work, accessing creativity, and/or desire to continue their pursuit of a writing life.
The Lesson: Fresh Eyes, Fresh Mind
As writers, we suffer a creative form of literary bipolar disorder. It not only affects us writer’s but all Artists and Creatives. Some, like myself, see it as a frustrating rollercoaster-like relationship with our Muse. Other’s describe it as ‘being in’ or ‘falling out’ of touch with the Spirit of Creativity. However you define or describe it, you know what I’m talking about.
We love our WIPs (Work In Progress) one day and the next day we’re looking at it thinking, ‘What was I so freakin excited about when I wrote this?’ This is how many really great story and article ideas end up in the waste-basket-graveyard when they were good enough to be published—if only its creator had spent a little time away and had come back to it with fresh eyes it wouldn’t have died so premature. This is also the reason that many great story and article ideas get reject when the ideas were publish-worthy; the article or story’s creator, this time submitted it too early because they were so excited about the idea that they just couldn’t wait to send it off after the needed edits or rewrites.
A break, mini vacation…something—just get away from you work. I don’t care if you have to book a flight to Las Ventanas Del Mar [I’ve even highlighted the link for you], just get away from you work for a few days, even a week. When I finished my first 60,000-word novel, I literally hated it the day after I typed the last sentence. I was about to erase the whole thing when instead I decided to save it to a new flash drive I had been given, put it in my desk drawer. I didn’t look at it that week. One week lead to a month and that lead to forgetting about it for seven years!
About a year after I had written and saved the novel onto that flash, I moved to St. Louis to host a rock video show. Once I’d finally gotten around to setting up my office again I found the drive, popped it in and, after a few hours found myself, mouth gaping, in total shock and amazement at this work of fiction. Even more amazing to me was the fact that I had written it.
Yes, I took way too long of a vacation from it, but no I didn’t regret it being so long since I’d read it because it was like the manuscript has matured and evolved into something beautiful. IT hadn’t matured, of course, I had gained an important and essential writer’s resource. I was reading it through brand new specs: Fresh Eyes, a fresh mindset, and a fresh perception.
Everytime I write short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, blog posts (like this), articles for news sources or magazines and, especially posts or content for clients — as soon as I finish writing the piece I set it aside for as long as it needs to be; usually the time I spend away from it depends on length of word count, my emotional connection to it, or deadline.
I know several professional photographers and, it’s crazy how many photos they shoot, of the same subject, and crazier the time they spend going through each picture to find the perfect one to represent their work. You can tell a great photographer by, not only the quality of their work but, the quantity of quality work they put on their website. One could look at The Wright House Photography website and say that it’s a nice, clean, simple site. But when I look at it I see a photographer who has spent countless hours mulling through mountains of photos to represent herself—and her skill—through many hours of personal sacrifice.
Artists don’t just create a work and throw it out for all to see; they know that what they put out is a presentation of who they are. It’s the same with every single piece of work we writers complete. They don’t say, “Writing the first draft is easy, it’s the 20 to almost infinite following that’ll drive you insane,” for no reason.
If you really want to put your best work forward — take a break from it. Read it through the filter of fresh eyes. Time away will show you many things—both great and not-so-great—about your work; things you need to see with fresh eyes to edit properly.
Try them on now…
Maybe you have some great pieces of literary work right under your nose that you’ve filed away in a cabinet or computer file because you didn’t give it a chance. Maybe you stopped a project right in the middle because you decided it wasn’t what you originally thought that it was; it wasn’t turning out as you hoped it would. Maybe you need to pull those things out and look at them with fresh eyes and fresh mind. You never know, you could have the next best seller on your hands; or at least some really great idea to use as the framework for some new idea. You may just shock yourself at what you wrote and walked away from.
Maybe you’ve been staring at your monitor for the last few days frustrated because you don’t know where to take the story. The best thing you could do for that work is get away from it for a few days or week.
Try it. Let me know if you find a hidden treasure. I won’t be shy about accepting a finder’s fee if you end up at the top of a New York Times Best Sellers list. Just kidding, but not really.
Cheers to you writers!
As always: Write, Write, Write as if burning on fire…then submit!