If God hadn't rested on Sunday, He wouldn't have had the time to finish the world. -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
He wouldn't have had the energy, the patience, or the perspective either.
We all need to rest. Writers need to rest, and manuscripts need to rest, just like wine, and cheese, and flowers, and trees, well, like most good things in life. For a writer, the daunting tasks of self-editing and revision become an exercise in futility if we don't step back and step away from the work for a period of time.
This isn't anything new. Most who teach the craft advise that a manuscript, after the first draft is finished, should be shelved for a time -- a few weeks to a few months -- so the author can detach themselves from the words and from story. Without that detachment, we can't see the forest for the trees, if you will pardon the cliché. Admittedly, I didn't do this with the first editions of my early novellas, and sadly, they were lacking. My readers didn't think they were, but when I looked back on them during the reformatting process -- when I switched distributors/printers -- I noticed the err of my ways. I saw areas that could be improved dramatically. Improvements that could only strengthen the work. I am not talking about a proofreading here; I did numerous revisions before releasing the first editions. I am talking about structural improvements that dig down deep. Subtle things I hadn't noticed in the thousand times I read through the manuscripts.
This happens to every writer -- the blindness -- and the only effective remedy is rest. I rest a manuscript for a few months between the first draft and the start of revisions. I also take a rest during the time the work is out for Beta, which can also take several weeks, and I rest it again for a week or two before the final proofread. I also rest myself. I don't write anything but blog posts and articles while I am resting a manuscript simply because I have to rest it out of my brain as well.
Rome wasn't built in a day; Eden certainly wasn't either, so how can we expect to create a fully three dimensional world full of vigour and emotion if we've lost our objectivity because we have been desensitized by our own words?
Often self-published authors can get overwhelmed. Multi-tasking is great and all that, but it does affect our ability to focus. Scientists are doing a lot of studies on this right now because we are crippling our brains on the net. The craft of writing is all about focusing. We feel pressure to get the books out as fast as we can. We feel pressure to be a brand with presence, to market and sell ourselves on the virtual street corner, and we feel pressure to keep up with all the latest and greatest industry news. It's exhausting to have your brain hyper-focused on a thousand things all the time. And soon all this becomes distraction. We cannot concentrate to write quietly without interruption, and the writing suffers.
So rest, my dear authors. Rejuvenate your senses. Breathe deeply of life, and reconnect to the world. Our imaginary worlds will grow stagnant if we don't feed our own souls from time to time. While you are resting, read. Nothing puts words into perspective more so than reading someone else's. I go offline at weekends. I also set time aside to read and write each weekday in solitude. If I didn't, I'd have been carted off to the booby-hatch by now. And speaking of rest, I will be on vacation next week to work on the final proof of my novella Logos among other fiddly garden and house things that need to be done.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
This week's art is Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, circa 1860, and yes, if you didn't already know, I like to study art in my free time. The art I choose for each weekly article is relevant to the subject matter even if it's in some obscure way only I can see. This version of Eden is striking to me in that it strays from convention by using a more tropical environ. Oddly, Field was an American Folk Painter never straying more than 200 miles from his birth home in Massachusetts, and yet he imagined, through reading scripture, an Eden far different than we see in most biblical paintings.