The Importance of Time Away as You Revise

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As I’ve been working on revisions, I’ve noticed that 30 pages a day works well for me. It’s usually 4 hours of actual time at the computer making changes.

Which may not sound like a lot, but that’s just the initial work time.

When I’m revising, I like to do a chapter and then walk away from the laptop. Work out for an hour or do chores or work on something else.

Because that time away is when my brain can turn things over in the background. And usually that’s when it can figure out what is bothering me in a scene. I might notice at my laptop that something is feeling slow in the pacing, but I’m not exactly sure on the fix.

That time away is when my brain formulates a solution. I can’t always do it on demand in the exact moment.

The time away lets my mind focus on something else, while in the background it gently and repeatedly comes at the work.

There have been times it’s taken me an entire day to get a scene right. I actually spend 8 hours on 4 pages mulling them over and rewriting them until they work.

I’ve also noticed that feedback is hard to handle (as usual). But if I just leave comments that don’t make sense on the initial read and deal with them later, then they do eventually make sense on my second pass through the book.

These sound like simple things, but for some reason I forgot them in my rush to be on deadline. I forgot to trust myself and the process. I lost sight of the fact that I can get it there.

So I’m writing this post. Not just for you my lovely readers, but for me, as a reminder.

Have you noticed you need a balance of down time as you revise so that things have time to percolate or do you like to get in there and just go?

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I’m giving away two signed copies of The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts over on Goodreads–it’s an international giveaway of the paperback.

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/168397-the-girl-who-ignored-ghosts

 

 

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36 Responses to The Importance of Time Away as You Revise

  1. Good to read that even when revising you are pacing yourself.. and I so get what you are saying here Kourtney… Its like when you can’t remember a name yet it should be there on the tip of your tongue and yet for the life of it you cannot recall it.. Then you do something else for a while an in it pops ๐Ÿ™‚ Its like unclogging a gear when it gets stuck in your brain.. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Good to know all is going well… Sending Love as you begin a new week.. Sue xxx <3

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I find much of my ‘writing’ doesn’t occur at the keyboard at all. A lot of time it’s during other activities or downtime, as you point out, that ideas come to me, things I need to include, delete, etc. Our brains are complex systems. Sometimes they work when we least expect it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I completely get that. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sometimes I read something and I know it’s not working, but I don’t know why. It’s just a gut feeling. When I step away and start folding laundry, then suddenly I see how it messes up my worldbuilding and I come up with a tweak. It’s funny because people ask me how many hours a week I write and it’s like well 4-5 hours actively at my laptop and then 4-5 hours with my brain working on it in the background. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. No just with writing revisions, but in general often I wish I had let things percolate for a while and then come back to them! I often doubt my ability to improve on my initial thoughts about something, but I need to trust it more because it’s usually the case that I can.

    • Very true and applicable to many things in life. Perspective can shift on an argument too over time. I think we fall in love with our initial thoughts and then we worry that we might ruin them. It helps to save them as they were and work on a draft just so you know you can revert back to the original. I never do, but I like that safety net. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Pete Denton says:

    Sounds like you have a good routine for making your revisions. I wish I could do 3 pages a day! I’m sure once I get back into a routine I will be able to get back up to speed.

    I like the idea about stepping away after reviewing each chapter as well. Your brain needs the time to soak everything up and you get other stuff done at the same time! Result ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks. It’s my full time job, so I don’t have anything I have to prioritize above it. Writing really is like a muscle, the more you do it, the faster you get.

      That time away is when my brain does a lot of the heavy lifting. I found that especially true with this manuscript. ๐Ÿ™‚ And you can still have a life–clean room, clean clothes, clean dishes. I used to neglect all my chores and think just write. But now I see that the chores are necessary for my writing too!

  5. Lori says:

    We usually teach what we need to learn. At least it seems to work that way for me.

    I’ve entered giveaways for your book on goodreads before. I’ve also entered for Carrie Rubin and others. I never seem to win. Do they contact winners via email? I rarely check my goodreads account.

    • Reminds me of a saying–we don’t always get what we want in life, but we usually get what we need. ๐Ÿ™‚

      The Goodreads giveaways attract a ton of entries. I’ve gotten 2500 entries for 2 copies that I’m giving away. Goodreads alerts the authors and we mail the books to the winners. As long as your mailing address is updated on Goodreads, will receive them. Not sure if Goodreads contacts winners, you’d have to check with them on that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mayumi-H says:

    This is especially timely for me, personally, Kourtney, so thank you for posting this! I absolutely need the time to step away when I revise. I think our subconscious brains help a lot when we come across a problem area, or a part of the story that somehow just doesn’t feel right, and the downtime away from the page – even if it’s only stepping back from that particular page or section – helps us see things more clearly. I’m currently revising/rewriting huge chunks of my second grimy sci-fi story, and my step-back moments have been invaluable in figuring out how to build the relationships between the characters in more dynamic ways, much better than the mess of the first draft.

    Here’s to strong writing mojo as you continue your revisions!

    • I love when I post something that someone else is experiencing at the same time. Very cool. My crit partner provided awesome feedback but each day I make changes and step away and those step away times are when I work out or do chores and my mind solves some story issue. I used to try to write more and undervalued that non-writing but thinking time. Hoping for the same in 2016 for you! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Revising with feedback is tough because you have to alter your perception so that you can see your work as others do and fix the things that aren’t working. I think it applies to a novel, short story, poem, even a report. You have to see what is and isn’t working. Flow is key for drafting to get it down. With revising, I used an approach where you actually categorize every line and dissect the writing. It really helped me see what was and wasn’t on the page. I’ve got a few more days I can give this project before I have to move on to the next one. But the next one is really critical and has hard deadlines so if this needs another round of revision down the road that’s okay. Aw thank you. Sending lots of hugs!

    Kourtney

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    Time away is definitely important. Although at times it seems like the time away can get away from me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But even though I still haven’t set any words down on the page this year, the story is running through my mind as I ponder options for various scenes. Reviewing some writing books is also helping!

    • That’s definitely something that can happen. Usually, I’m on a deadline for another project so I can’t actively work on that manuscript so I’m giving myself lots of time to process feedback. It’s funny, I find I have to review writing craft constantly because it’s impossible to keep it all in my head all the time. I need to be reminded of all the nook and crannies. What’s cool is when you reread something and suddenly it makes way more sense than it did before.

  9. Sheila says:

    Time away definitely helps. A lot of my writing is done in my head while out walking or trying to sleep. I should probably do both of those more often. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It really does. ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh the worst is the right before I fall asleep insights. You know if you get up and write it down you’ll be up another hour but if you don’t, it’s gone.

      BTW, I’m reading Eleanor and Park right now and adoring it!

  10. Useful advice Kourtney, as I’m about to embark on revising my first draft! Time away to ponder always gives you a chance to work things out ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Good timing then! I think it’s amazing what that away time does for the writing. I reworked an entire novel in 6 weeks but it didn’t kill me because I took it at 30 pages a day and worked on that throughout the day. ๐Ÿ™‚ Gave me enough time to get through it 3 times. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. It’s always best to step back and walk away. The brain just gets hyper-focused and sometimes on tiny specs that aren’t really all that important. Oddly, some of my best writing come after jotting stuff down, then getting on the treadmill, walking the dog, or even more weird, getting in the shower and somehow words, phrases, and ideas shift into better order. Too easy to get stuck working something to death and it still isn’t right. totally frustrating – must be worst for you real novel authors!
    Enjoyed this post

    • I think it’s almost ingrained in our culture to only value the “productive” time. Or maybe that’s a New York thing. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I’m learning that the time away is essential. The downtime makes the uptime happen. Sometimes focusing too much causes panic–like if I can’t fix it right now I never can. By letting myself walk away and do other stuff, I let that awesome back of my brain tinker away without actively thinking about it. So glad you enjoyed the post!

  12. diannegray says:

    You’re so right, Kourtney. I spend far more time percolating ideas than the actual writing (but I can also work on a sentence for an hour!) ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Dianne, I hear you! I spent an entire day on one scene. But I kept walking away to do other things and coming back when I knew what else needed tweaking. I got so much done on my to do list and I got the writing done. I think it really helped to realize it’s not an either or but a both when we do chores or work out. Because our brains are working differently in the background and will keep working on the problem when we stop focusing on it.

  13. Whenever I hit a moment in my story where I feel like I’ve written myself in a corner, I step away from the keyboard and do something else where I can let my mind just wander. I either realize that I have to completely tear down the problem and start it anew, or I come up with a solution and get myself out of there. Walking around my house so that I can talk it through, out loud, is most effective for me. If I can’t do that, anything mindless works.

    I do believe that writing isn’t just the act of writing. It includes the writing that goes on in your head, which probably makes up for more than half of our book’s content!

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