I am delighted to host fellow International Thriller Writers member Elena Hartwell here today! Her debut novel ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO was released last month. I absolutely love the writing lesson she shares.
Time is a writer’s best friend…
By Elena Hartwell
We live in a culture where faster is better and now is too late. We are plugged into our phones for immediate responses to texts and emails and Facebook messages. We write a manuscript and have been promised we can have it available for our readers in less than a month.
Sounds great, right?
Slow down! I say. Time is your friend.
During the last rewrite of my first novel, my brilliant development editor said to me, “You have got to give this process time. When you rush through a rewrite, you aren’t always making it better.”
She was right.
Her suggestion? Mail a copy of the draft to myself. Don’t do anything until it arrived at my house, then read it on the page as if for the first time.
It forced me to see the manuscript in a new way. It also allowed me to experience it as a reader would, in a way that reading on the screen, or even printing it off and immediately reading it in my office, couldn’t do. It was like having someone else’s book show up on my porch.
We’d spent months working on my rewrites. I’d fix one thing and spin something else off in a new direction — and not in a good way. I started to panic, what if I never got it “right?” What if my publisher got fed up and dropped me? What if I was going to fail, right here on the cusp of my first success?
I did the exercise. I waited until it arrived. Then I let it sit on my desk a day or two for good measure.
Then I went back and read it again. Fresh. Only then did I start to rewrite.
It felt good, but would my editor agree? Had I finally gotten it “right?”
She was thrilled. I’d finally relaxed into my work, stopped worrying about anything other than “is this the best choice for the characters and the story?” I’d given the work time to sit and my mind to open up again. I’d gotten tunnel vision from trying to rush a completed manuscript. I had stopped seeing the book as a whole. I was scrambling after small pieces without stepping back and taking in the full picture.
What did I learn from the process? Publishing takes time.
Time to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Time to submit to the agents or publishers with the best fit. Time for them to respond. Even if you get a “yes” — it may be almost two years before the finished book arrives on a bookstore shelf.
But time is your friend.
There’s a whole list of things that happen – work with a development editor, work with a line editor, work with an art department to develop the cover art, books have to go out to advance readers for blurbs, to bloggers and reviewers, and all of this happens long before the “launch” date.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see your work now. The fact we feel driven to complete our projects is part of why we’re actually able to complete them. But sometimes, I think, the need for immediate gratification is doing a huge disservice to a lot of books.
Take a moment. Breathe. Let a “finished” manuscript sit for a month without looking at it, then go back and read it again. Get it out to your beta readers, take in their feedback, sit with their advice for a bit before you rewrite. Sometimes we need to let feedback percolate in our brains. We don’t always understand the true meaning behind a critique, “That can’t be right!” we think to ourselves. “That part of my book is just fine!” Except — somewhere back in our creative minds a little voice says, “Well … maybe the Beta reader has a point about …”
Take the time to listen closely.
Try mailing it to yourself and don’t use overnight express.
Typing “the end” is just the beginning.
Elena Hartwell is the author of the Eddie Shoes Mystery Series. She has also worked as a playwright, director, and educator. She currently teaches playwriting at Bellevue College. Her favorite pastime is hanging out with her horses, her dog, and her husband. She lives in North Bend, Washington. For more information visit: elenahartwell.com.
ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO by Elena Hartwell
Private Investigator Eddie Shoes’ most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. The mistress ends up dead and the client disappears. Aided by her card-counting, poker-playing mother, who shows up fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas, Eddie has to wonder, is her client the latest victim? Or the killer?