|Photo credit: Jonathan L D Bennett on Flickr|
So on that count, I apologize for that accidental insinuation, because as I’m sure many of you know, getting that kind of distance from your WIP is not an easy feat. However it’s not impossible.
I mentioned this briefly in a post I wrote a while back about the cooling off period, but I’d like to talk about it again both because I’m currently in that torturous don’t even look at your WIP phase and because I think it’s important enough to talk about twice.
You see, in order to glean the best insight on how to improve your WIP, you need to “forget” that the words on the page are ones that you put there yourself. You need to be able to read the words with a critical eye and look specifically for weaknesses—whether it’s a cliché phrase, a shallow character, lack of motivation, too much or too little explanation, etc.
The question, of course, is how? How do you distance yourself from a novel you’ve practically memorized, from words that you agonized over to get on the page?
Truth is, achieving the kind of wow, I entirely forgot I wrote this distance from you book takes time—a lot of time in fact, as in months to a year of doing everything but looking at your WIP, which probably (but doesn’t have to) includes writing other stories and reading a lot. Don’t panic though, I’m not suggesting that you have to take a year away from your WIP in order to edit it correctly.
I do suggest that you take a month off after you’ve finished writing a draft before you start editing. Although you most certainly won’t forget the words after a month, I’ve found that 30 days tends to develop enough distance so that you can look at your work more critically. Even then, however, you need to go into editing mode with the right mindset.
You see, after a month you will have developed distance from your WIP—distance enough to start editing, at least—but you need to be aware that despite that agonizing month of not looking at your WIP, you’re still about twenty thousand times closer to your manuscript than any outside reader who comes across it. When you start editing your WIP, you need to look specifically for weaknesses.
Before you start editing, ask yourself:
What do I already know needs fixing?
What do I hope to achieve with this round of editing?
Once you’ve answered those questions thoroughly, you can start reading. Even while you’re going through your WIP though, there are more questions you need to ask. Questions like how can I make this situation worse? Did my character respond realistically? Is this situation believable? What are my characters’ motivations? You need to be on the lookout for clichés and lazy shortcuts like information dumping and telling rather than showing.
You need to be aware that unless you proactively search for mistakes, most of them will hide from you.
Let’s be honest, subconsciously, most of us don’t want to find weaknesses in our WIPs. And it’s only natural—we love our stories and we’ve probably already worked on them for ages and the thought of having to do even more work can be a little scary.
Don’t let it scare you.
When you hone in on the weaknesses in your story and it starts to become overwhelming, think of how much better your WIP will be once you’ve finished. Tackle one issue at a time and don’t worry about the other things. Prioritize what needs to be fixed first and cross it off your list when you’ve finished.
Then, when you’ve finished, let your critique partner have at it and start all over again.
What tips do you have for distancing yourself from your WIP?