We Will Publish No Book Before Its Time

Is it ripe yet?

I’m at that awkward stage right now with my current work-in-progress: the first draft is done, and the first editing pass (the one where I make sure that, for example, the guy who I’m calling Robert in Chapter 2 hasn’t become Bob – or Sam or Phil – when he shows up again in Chapter 12) is now complete, as well.

My instinct is to jump back in at the beginning and start Editing Pass Number Two. But I’m forcing myself to wait. I know from experience that the book needs time to sit quietly on my hard drive before I jump in again and start tearing it apart.

I like to call this process “ripening.” Like fruit, cheese, or wine, a story needs time to mature. I do actually enjoy this stage, when I can tamp down my enthusiasm to get on with it, already, because this is when I get to think about the book at odd moments. This is when I examine whether I’ve made my characters’ motivations clear to the reader. (For example: Why wouldn’t the main character’s best friend let her get away with an excuse in book 3 that the MC’s boyfriend accepted in book 2?) This is also when I get to grin to myself when remembering a passage that was fun to write. (Nobody’s moved away from me on the Metro when I do this. Yet.) And it’s also when I start writing cryptic notes to myself on my phone. (Real-life example: “When does Quetzalcoatl show up?”) The point is that my subconscious needs time to go over what I’ve done and make sure it all hangs together before I send the book off to my editor.

The problem is what to do with my conscious self while my subconscious is editing the book for me. Starting another writing project seems counter-productive; I’m afraid my subconscious will get sidetracked onto the shiny new project and delay thinking about the original WIP. Cleaning the house is a viable option, especially as the place probably got neglected during the several weeks I spent writing the first draft in a rush, but it’s not a lot of fun.

Often, I’ll knit. The motions are repetitive, the instructions are (usually) clear, and the math isn’t too hard (although you’d be surprised how easily you can screw up while counting to two multiple times in a row). If the project has great swaths of an easy stitch – say, the torso of a stockinette-stitch sweater – it can even be a boon to my subconscious. The knitting becomes a sort of Zen exercise while my subconscious mulls over my story. And I get two things out of it – a decent book and something new to wear.

I’d love to hear how others handle this.

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

19 thoughts on “We Will Publish No Book Before Its Time”

  1. Lol, yes I relate to this. I simply get on with everything I’ve neglected during this phase, clear away my latest dog’s skeleton, get the snow shovel out to clear away the dust that’s settled under my desk, become overly invested in reality TV personalities and go and argue with people on CNN forums under my avatar there that no one will ever know is me. Somehow I just know when it’s time to go back to the MS I got so sick of looking at (as I’m doing this minute) to stuff all those sub-conscious titbits that’ve gathered like a box of Halloween candy from Costco into my goody bag.

  2. I’m bad about having trouble putting my main WIP to the side sometimes. Though you have mentioned that it wouldn’t work for you, I have to have another writing project to divert my attention enough to actually be able to get my main WIP out of my head for a bit.

  3. I know what you mean about the sub-conscious process, except for it’s works during the actual writing of the first draft. It’s great in the summer when i can garden – winter not so much.

  4. I”m with you Lynne, I can’t go on to a new project until the old one’s finished either. My therapy is gardening and gaming – not gambling, online mmo’s – and a little bit of cleaning. At the moment I’m in-between WIPs because book 1 of my series is done and out there in a sense. I should be getting on with book 2, but after all this focused effort my brain feels stale, so I’m going to do nanowrimo in a few weeks time to freshen myself up.

    1. You could use your book 2 as your NaNo novel. 🙂 I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year, but I might get through the edits on this book in time to do it, after all. Oh, wait, NaNo starts in three weeks, doesn’t it? Yikes…

  5. Interesting… For me, I am always juggling at least two projects. Often three. Right now, I am outlining one book, writing another book, and revising a third. I have another book written and ready for revision in that queue, and another outline already done for the sequel to the book I’m writing ready for that.

    I’ve had a rough couple of months, which put just about everything writing related on hold. But I can’t imagine just sitting there not working on any projects at all for any length of time. That would be too slow a pace, for me.

    My usual process is to create a rough outline (this might be a couple of pages, it might be less). Then I write a draft. Then I send the draft to beta readers to get feedback: what worked? What didn’t? With that in hand, I can begin revision. So I revise the book to clean up any spots where what I wrote didn’t quite work. Then it gets an editing/proofing pass. Then it gets published. Doesn’t always work quite that fluidly; sometimes I’ll finish a book and realize it isn’t very good, and I’ll set it aside to work on other things – for years, even – with the idea of coming back to it later on to do a completely new draft once my skills have improved enough to tackle the story properly.

    1. Ah, Kevin, you’re a multitasker! Good for you. 🙂 I tried working on book 2 of this series while I was releasing and promoting book 1. It worked, for the most part, but I found I had to concentrate on remembering what happened in which book, so I didn’t give anything away. 😀

  6. Lynne, this is great. I’m there. I’m usually involved with three or four projects at the same time, but toward the end of the day, my brain gets too saturated and will not form sentences to save my life. Or I get stuck in one place or another. Or like you said, something needs to compost until it’s ready for the next draft. When this happens, I like to do dishes. That’s my one of my therapies. It’s lovely and meditative and the hot water soothes my hands, drying and putting them away is a great chance to move and stretch. If that doesn’t work, I’ll take a walk or go for a swim.

  7. I let my book marinate for 6-9 months while working on other projects-another novel, short stories, farm work, etc. Then when the time comes, I break it back out and go for it. Seems to work, I’ve published 7 novels in just over 2 years and close to 20 short stories. But whatever works for each person might not work for another.

  8. I drive…for 14 hours….did that Tuesday coming back from seeing the hubby in ND and was able to think all about my next set of books/short stories in a series and about how I was hopefully going to make it work. I did throw in a thought or two about the current WIP, but the series of books/short stories kept coming back, so now I may work on them while I ruminate of the WIP I’ve set aside. I’m like Laurie though in that I usually have several going at once so I don’t get writer’s block…except for the blocks I place on myself. Great post Lynne.

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