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Time and Space: Creating a Long Distance Relationship With Your Manuscript

I see you over there, Space Needle.
You've completed what you think is a polished draft of your manuscript, and now it's time to consider your next steps. Depending on where you are in your process, sending the manuscript to beta readers, to your agent, to your editor or querying might be your next intended course of action.


Take a breath.

I've learned many things over the course of my processes. One of the most useful bits of knowledge is the sure understanding that time away from my manuscript improves my work. The longer I stay away, the better.

Closeness with a manuscript dulls our ability to see the whole work objectively. You may be too focused on a single issue, or on tinkering with dialogue. You may feel like you know a character so well that you can't see how her actions are inconsistent over the course of the story.

Think of your story as a city skyline. When you are standing in the city, all you see are the buildings around you. Skyscrapers block the view of the other side of town. But get on a boat and head away from the city. The further away you get, the bigger the picture. You are able to see how buildings and open spaces and color and light interact through the entire skyline, rather than in one spot. You can see things you would never have been able to see if you hadn't put distance and time between you and your work. Move back from your manuscript. Stop obsessing over that one scene or dilemma; wait to return to your manuscript until you can see the interplay of your characters, your plot, your crafting, your pacing.

How long with that take? In my experience, the longer the better. The couple of weeks it might take for beta readers to get notes back to you is good. The time it takes to write an entirely different novel while your first is fermenting in a drawer is even better. I've been away from manuscripts long enough to forget characters exist. Which makes it easier to chop the losers when I realize they don't belong. I've been away from manuscripts long enough to forget the plot twists or phrases that really do work. My delight in these cases becomes an assurance that This Is Good. The ability to delete and the ability to love our work is essential for writers.

LDRs are torture. They are a test of patience, endurance, love and trust. Apply patience to your writing process, knowing it will get better the more time you spend on it. Prove your dedication to your craft by enduring the time apart from your work. Love your work enough to want it to be the best possible. Trust that time away from your work will result in a joyful reunion with a manuscript whose flaws you can see objectively, but that are no longer overwhelming.

How long do you stay away from your manuscript before returning to revisions?
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I totally agree. While settling and acquiring closure on personal things in my life, I'd been away from my manuscript for about 6 months. Having returned to it, I've been fine tuning it where I feel it actually flows better now.

    When I pass it out to the beta readers, I plan on beginning another novel so when I receive the feedback, I can see it with "fresh eyes" again.

  3. I make it a rule to stay away from my WIP for at least two weeks, but I often push that to a month. Coming back too soon makes any waiting at all completely worthless. It's hard to resist the temptation, but nonetheless the best thing you can do is take some time away from your manuscript so you can edit it with a detached perspective.

  4. I'm currently in the "I love you but please stay away from me" phase with the novel I finished writing in August. The first week or two is really difficult, but once you edge closer to a month (or longer), it becomes a relief. And it's refreshing to work on something new for a while. By the time beta readers send you their feedback you're able to accept it with less sensitivity, and then do the necessary revisions without remorse.

    Excellent post. :)

  5. I have the problem of staying away so long that I never go back. I have one that has been sitting in the drawer for over a year. At this point--I don't even think about it anymore.

    So my goal is not to give my ms too much space. I've been trying to make sure that I only leave something sitting for a few months at the most.

  6. My real problem is that I need that break between the first draft and the revision run, but when I'm in between those two stages, it's really not ready for a beta reader yet. I just need to step away so that I can take off my 'I am god' hat and put on my 'I will cull the wheat from the chaff' hat. With a beta reader I can wait, but when it just is self-enforced separation there is so much adrenaline and self-doubt that I have a really hard time stepping away.

    Considering ways to solve this problem.... hmmm.

  7. Great analogy! My crit group formed because we all had first novels that we were determined to whip into shape for publication. We each had spent some years working on our books before we formed the group, and then spent another 1+ years working through them with the group.

    But now most of us have simultaneously reached a point where we NEEDED to work on something else, it just wasn't a healthy development any longer. I guess that's the equivalent of wanting to see other people, but you want to keep that original option open?

  8. The more time, the better, is definitely right. I edited my first novel in pieces as I wrote the rest of it, then went back and edited again. Then I thought surely it was ready to send out. Which I did. Then I let it sit awhile. Now I'm finding all kinds of small things I would have liked to change before it went to be read by an agent. *sighs* Well, live and learn. I'll try to give the second book more time to sit before sending it away.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. More than a year passed between when I first started on my current novel and when I started--just recently--sending queries. In that year I spent much time away from it, on and off--especially while people read it. Every time I came back to it, not only did I get excited about it again, I would find things to fix. Now, as form rejections come in, I still wonder if I edited it enough.

    There's a question for you published authors: when did you feel your manuscript was as good as it could possibly be? When you queried it? When an agent accepted? When it sold? Or are there still things you might change?

  10. That was a lesson I had to teach myself. At first I was in too much of a hurry. But I've learned the value of putting something aside- working on something else- and then going back to that first one later. Much later.

  11. Great post! I start a new MS between first draft and edits--I try to finish at least the first draft of that before starting a new project. The problem is that now I have 3 manuscripts that are all only on their second draft! LOL


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Item Reviewed: Time and Space: Creating a Long Distance Relationship With Your Manuscript Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook