Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nugget: The Virtues of Sleep

We discussed this at the Inland Empire SCBWI conference in Spokane on Saturday. It's a very small golden nugget of writing wisdom, but highly valuable.

Once you finish the first draft of your manuscript, let it sleep.

(This was from author Claire Rudolf Murphy's very awesome Do's and One Don't List. I'll share the whole list later. Promise.)

So I raised my hand (it's a small conference, so it was totally acceptable in this session to raise one's hand.)

"How long do you leave your manuscript alone?"

One woman near the front tossed up Stephen King's advice: letting your manuscript rest for six months.


But Ms. Murphy chimed in with a much more (in my opinion) judicious "at least three weeks."

So, there you have it. We all knew we needed to let that manuscript sleep, but we were all wondering how long.

The point of letting your WiP sleep or brew or bake (or whatever it's doing when you walk away and leave it alone) is to give you emotional distance from the work. While it's in your face all the live-long day, it's too easy to go cross-eyed, ignore small flaws, speed read, and so on.

Time gives distance.

And this was the most interesting part to me:
Once you go back and re-read your first draft manuscript, read it twice.
And then decide: is this something in which I want to invest my time?
Am I going to go the distance with this story?
Am I going to polish this thing to death and eventually query it?
Or am I going to pick out some good parts and start with something different?

You know, I'd never thought about abandoning a project after letting it sleep.
By the end of the first draft, it seems created already.
I already feel committed.
But wow - what a great tip:
The freedom to abort mission, before you give any more of your life to something that won't go anywhere.

Give yourself the freedom to let it go, to start something new and fresh, OR to even take the excellent parts of the original idea and spin it into something different.

That's good stuff. Definitely a hunk of pure gold.

What do you think? Have you thought about this aspect of resting your manuscript before?


  1. I'm like you. If I actually make it through a first draft, it means I'm hooked/committed. But if I let it sleep for six months while I worked on something else, that might test my commitment. I don't think I could let an unfinished project alone for that long though.

    Thanks for the nugget, Amy!

  2. Wow. I think the advice is great. But I also can't imagine being able to let it go six months. Six months? Again, wow. Oh, to have that kind of patience. Now... three weeks? Yes, three weeks I can handle. I think. I mean, I know. Because I should know, that if it's best for the MS, then that's what I should do. If only these lessons were easier to learn from. ;)

    Sounds like you learned some great writerly wisdom at that conference, Amy. Thanks so much for sharing. Can't wait to read more nuggets of writing wisdom on here. :)

  3. It's crucial to let it rest - 3-4 weeks seems to be the right amount of time to get enough distance to be able to look at it fresh. I've picked mine up after several weeks and at a glance can see solutions to problems I had only been vaguely aware of before.

  4. Great advice, I always have to take a break from my ms before I do any revisions. Six months would be a bit difficult, I'd be more likely to go with the 3 weeks.

  5. Oh, that pesky "Let it rest" advice. I always hate it when someone brings this up, although that probably means I need to do it:)

    Thanks for this reminder, Amy. I think it's a little too late for Bob, but with my next book, maybe I'll think about trying this. (Okay, so that's not much of a concession, but it's the best I've ever done when it comes to this particular writing tip.)

  6. So, we can all agree on the three- week-minimum thing, that it's a good habit. Krista, girlfriend, you really should try it. Yes, next manuscript. :) I can't imagine six months, either. I guess when you have books published and maybe you go on tour frequently (like I'm sure Stephen King does), maybe you enjoy six months away from something. And I'm sure he's always writing -- just not that particular manuscript. If I had enough bookish stuff to distract me, and several projects, it might not be that bad. But right now? Nah. I have to stay focused or I wouldn't get anything finished EVER.

    Thanks for the comments!

  7. getting so rich from the gold nuggets you've been offering... =)