Each time we complete a first draft, we probably celebrate or post a status on social media. Yay!
After that, we might want to dig into the story right away because we’re still excited and passionate about the premise. But many writers say they do a better job revising and editing if they first do something to gain “distance” from their story.
For many of us, ensuring our readers’ impressions match our intentions is one of the hardest aspects of writing. *raises hand* Distance helps us see our story objectively so we can revise ruthlessly, not clinging to our intentions but seeing our story’s potential.
What Is Distance and How Can We Get It?
I’m sure this isn’t the “official” writing craft definition for distance, but I say distance is anything that allows us to analyze our stories with fresh eyes, seeing what’s really on the page and not just in our head. There’s often a difference between what we meant for the reader to understand and what we actually get across with our words. Distance is whatever helps us see the reality.
Unfortunately, there’s no “always right” formula for being able to see our story objectively, so advice to set it aside for a week/a month/whatever might not help us. We each might need to use a different technique to gain that distance.
Personally, I struggle with gaining distance. I have an odd form of near-photographic memory related to spatial relations that makes it very difficult for me to see my story with fresh eyes. (And I just discovered last week that my mom has the same memory quirk.)
No matter how long I set aside my story, I still feel too close. I’ve set aside one story for years and yet feel like I could quote it from beginning to end. (I’m sure I couldn’t actually do such a thing, but my point is that the words still feel too familiar.)
This quirk means I’ve had to find other ways to see my story objectively. So I figured I’d share my thoughts and see if anyone else has more ideas. *smile*
5 Techniques for Seeing Our Work Objectively
#1: Set It Aside for X Amount of Time
This is the tried-and-true advice that most people recommend. The idea is that over time, we’d forget the details and specifics of our intentions and be able to see the story as it really exists.
Roz Morris joked about her memory being so terrible that she can barely remember a book she read two months ago—whether her own or anyone else’s. As she notes, that’s usually a negative trait, but it might make revising easier.
If this technique works for us, the only question is how long does our work need to be set aside for. That answer is going to be different for everyone, and it might change depending on what else we’ve been doing in the meantime. Reading, drafting, or revising an unrelated story (such as in a different genre) might “reset” our brain more than working on something related.
If we’re able to step back from our memories of drafting (and what we think is there) and instead see the actual words on the page (or the story’s pacing issues, plot holes, etc.), that’s probably long enough. As Roz said, “Leave your book until you’ve forgotten it and are no longer reliving your intentions as you read.”
Whether our answer is a week, a month, or six months, we have to find what works for us. That’s yet another reason why we can’t feel pressure to imitate anyone else’s writing or revision processes.
#2: Get Outside Opinions
Using beta readers and/or critique partners (or editors) is another popular way for getting insights into what’s really on the page. If we’ve ever given ourselves a head-slap after reading a comment about something we could have sworn was included in our story (but isn’t), we know how these outside opinions help us see our story objectively.
Because of how my memory works, I rely entirely on my beta readers to point out issues. Once they point out an issue, then I can see the possibilities for how to change it. But before they point it out, the words might as well be stuck in glue.
Where others might know they need to build in a month or two of “resting” their story, I build in time for my beta readers to share their comments. And due to my memory issue, I’ll never “outgrow” the need for beta readers, no matter how my skills improve.
#3: Read Our Story Aloud
Our brains process auditory signals differently from visual signals, so we’re likely to notice issues when reading aloud that we wouldn’t notice by silent reading. If we don’t relish the idea of going hoarse with a long novel, we might also try text-to-speech (TTS) software.
This blog post gives the rundown on many TTS software options. Some are free, and others work best with a certain operating system or internet browser. Depending on our word processing software, we might already have a TTS feature built in.
Note, however, that for many of us, this technique works better for finding small errors (missing words, extra words, poor rhythm, etc.) than for exploring our overall story.
(Bonus Tip: If we’re at that nitpicky stage, we can also read our work backward to avoid getting caught up in the story. Start at the end of the story and read one paragraph or sentence at a time.)
#4: Change the Look of Our Words
This is another technique that’s often mentioned as a way to proofread our work. However, I’ve also found this helpful for reading my work as “new” overall because the different format doesn’t match my visual memory.
We can change the look of our words by printing out our story, sending the file to our Kindle or other ereader, or by changing the font in our word processing file. For me, the last option is the easiest to do (and saves trees *smile*).
In MS Word, I just Select All and choose a new font. I’d recommend something easy to read but different enough that the words “look fresh.” For me, Bookman Old Style is different enough from my usual Times New Roman, but others might want to choose something even more distinctive. After we’re done editing, we can simply change the font back to what it should be.
#5: Analyze the Story Structure
If we plot our story on a beat sheet (even after it’s been drafted), we can see how the story builds and ensure that each event connects through cause and effect. This might help us find plot holes, unnecessary scenes, or dropped plot threads. Seeing the overall story can help us write a synopsis or query letter too.
However we find distance, we want to recognize the words as they are on the page without remembering, seeing, or thinking about our intentions. Only then can we see our story as it really is. And hopefully, that insight will help us determine how we can revise and edit to ensure readers will see the story we want them to see. *smile*
Do you struggle to get distance from your stories? Do you notice a difference in how well you’re able to revise and edit when you have distance? What techniques help you find that distance? Are there any techniques that don’t work for you? Do you have any other suggestions for me to try with my writing?Pin It