I was reading this blog post and found myself disagreeing strongly enough to write my own post about it.
There’s a common bit of advice that when a writer finishes a piece, they should put it aside for a while before editing it. This is often referred to as a “cooling off” period. I’m a big proponent of it, because it works for me and I’ve seen it work for others. Your mileage may vary, of course, since every writer’s process is unique (some writers barely edit, some writers don’t edit at all, more power to them but I edit like crazy).
The post above advises against a cooling off period because 1. if you’re thinking about your story you should be working on your story, 2. you’re not going to forget your story anyway, no matter how long you put it away, and 3. it pretty much just serves as further procrastination to keep yourself from finishing a piece and getting it out there.
My issue with 1. might be a more personal thing. When I edit, I very rarely edit story. The plot and the characters pretty much stay the same from the first draft. So while I may be thinking of my story, that doesn’t mean I should be editing for my story. It doesn’t help, and in fact can actively hurt, because:
2. the “cooling off period” has nothing to do with distancing yourself from your story. I has everything to do with distancing yourself from the way you tell it. When you first have a story in your head and write it down, you know exactly what you mean. What every description is describing, what every bit of dialogue is getting at. Because you know, it is easy to fail to recognize when your writing will not express what you want to express to people who don’t know, a.k.a. your readers. You’ll remember your story, but with time you will forget the details. It will be that much easier to recognize the description, etc, that doesn’t work, that’s confusing or ambiguous.
Allowing that time also aids another bit of editing wisdom: kill your darlings. When you’ve just finished a story, you’re still patting yourself on the back over that flowery description of the setting, that clever turn of phrase in your dialogue. It helps immensely to have time for your pride to dissipate and allow you to recognize those things just aren’t serving the story.
As for 3., yes, the cooling period can be used for procrastination. So can any number of other useful writing processes: research, outlining, writing character backstories, etc. Such things can be abused, yes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be put to good use, perhaps even most of the time. And as good as it is to get your work out there, you will have more success, and therefore more encouragement and less despair, if you send out good stuff. Yes, it’s very possible to get so caught up in editing your stuff that it never sees the light of day. But that doesn’t mean you should send out raw first draft material that more often than not is going to get rejected. There’s a middle ground, of course, where you edit your work effectively, and a “cooling off” period helps your editing to be effective.
So, readers, do you put your manuscripts away for a while before editing? Why or why not? And if you do, how long do you let it sit?
3 thoughts on “Cooling Off”
I really like your points here, though they differ from mine. They make a valid point about writing, or any art form, there are a lot of ways to get to the end product.
I think you make a great case for why the cooling off period works for some (if not most) writers.
Thank you! I do think it’s the sort of thing that should be tried before discarded out of hand, but I think that of most writing advice, even the ones I’ve discarded myself (like Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a story a week. I’m sure it works like a charm for some people, but I just can’t do it).
I’m also an obsessive editor – sometimes I have a cooling off period. It just depends.
I doubt Ray Bradbury got much sleep at night! I like sleep…