Vision: A Resource for Writers
Bridging the Gap
By Marianne Eady
ost writers will have heard that it's good practice to let longer manuscripts lie dormant between typing "The End" and starting to edit the work. Many writing books advise printing them out and locking them in a drawer. Whatever you do, the aim is to achieve the distance that unfamiliarity brings. Revising is more effective when the writer is looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes.
Advice varies on how long this gap should last, and it's often a matter of personal judgment. Whether you leave it for two days or six months, after you've been working hard at a piece for months on end, chances are you'll find yourself at a bit of a loss once it's out of bounds.
I have just been through a gap of three months after the first draft of a novel, of which a good two weeks were spent panicking at the loss of my 'baby' of eighteen months[EBW1] . To help bridge the gap and come through the other side, here are three suggestions that I used to get through the withdrawal symptoms:
1. Start work on another project
This is perhaps the most common way to distance yourself from the manuscript you've just written, and it's also arguably the best. If you have another idea waiting in the wings, starting work on it will take your thoughts off the first manuscript while getting you a head start on the next one. Whether it's planning, writing, or editing, the effect will be the same.
Personally, I decided that I would plan my next novel, with the aim of being able to go and write it as soon as I'd finished editing the first one. This worked well for me, as it took my mind away from my original characters and set it loose on a whole new set of problems and interactions.
One proviso to this that I would suggest is that the project you work on should be totally independent. A sequel might be on your mind, but writing in the company of the same characters will probably not give the distance you're looking for.
Another way to spend the time between drafts is to let your writers' hair down and try something completely new. Ever fancied your chances at epic poetry? Screenplays? Murder mysteries?
Now some of you will probably look aghast at the idea. Experiment? Isn't that a waste of good writing time?
No, it's not. I'm not going to tell you that all practice is good. You already know that. But in the weeks where your 'real' manuscript is sitting patiently in a drawer waiting for you, the overriding aim is to achieve distance. And how much more distanced from your work can you get if you're indulging your urge to write spaghetti westerns?
A lot of writers use exercises or workshops to stimulate experimentation. On Forward Motion, try the daily exercises posted in the 'Workshops & Exercises' board by Justin Stanchfield, or read any good how-to-write book for ideas. I spent a week or so playing with these myself, and had a great deal of fun. Go a little wild. You'll as likely as not hit on something you really enjoy.
3. Catch up on real-life
What? Do nothing?
Catching up on real life can mean that, yes. In the excitement of finishing that last novel, there are bound to be people you love and activities that you enjoy that you have neglected. The 'gap' is your chance to pay them forward for your neglect next time.
There's also another benefit to this idea. Remember that old chestnut 'Write what you know'? Well, writing what you know involves some footwork. If you've never climbed a mountain, how are you going to write about your character's assault on Mt. Snowdon? The gap is the time to try new experiences. Your writing will be the stronger for it.
I took up jogging in the gap. Not a thriller, you'd have thought, but what it did was get me in the open air in the countryside I'd been taking for granted for too long. Who knows when I might use that thick feeling in the air one night when I was outrunning the rain?
If mountain climbing (or jogging!) doesn't appeal to you, how about trying something more mundane?
What about reading? Fiction, non-fiction, the newspapers, the cereal packet, the kids' essays on 'what I did on my holidays,' anything. Call it research if you feel like working and fun if you don't. Reading will broaden your horizons and should ultimately stoke your love of writing to new heights. If you pick badly, then you're learning about what not to write, too. It's win-win.
So, don't panic once that manuscript's locked in the desk drawer and you face the blank page again. Instead, enjoy the break. Use the time well and you'll come back a little wiser and clearer than when you saw "The End" the first time.
And do tell me how that mountain climbing goes, won't you?