Letting It Soak

By the time you’re done reading this, you will walk away with two great tips.  One that can help keep your laundry stain free, and another to aid in the editing process and your overall productivity as a writer. 

I know, I can tie anything together…

So, for almost two weeks I had a bowl sitting on my counter.  It was filled with cold water and one of DH’s shirts.  His brand new, silk button-up had obnoxious blue stains on the collar.  It wouldn’t have looked so bad if the fabric itself wasn’t a soft cream and the blue the color of Superman’s tights.  Did I mention the stains were the size of silver dollars?

I did what I do best.  I walked away from it.  Literally.  I put the shirt in cold water and left it.  No chemicals, no scrubbing and no cursing involved.  Just infinite patience.

In my experience, cold water will soak out anything: including fresh cherry juice, pomegranate juice and blood. 

Time can do that for our manuscripts. 

During an AQ chat the other night, this question was brought up: when do you set aside your manuscript and start working on another? 

For me, the answer is simple.  After a few edits, I put my WIP in my metaphorical bowl of cold water and walk away.  Every once in a while, I check in on it and notice the stains are starting to fade, but are still there.  In that case, I give it another edit and leave it to soak. 

Enter a new manuscript into this waiting period.  Between edits is a great time for me to write something new.  It uses a different part of my brain than editing and it changes my focus.  When I return to my stained manuscript, I can assess it with a fresh persperctive.

I know this is a bit unorthodox and some writers may be cursing me through their screens.  (Sorry, but my webcam isn’t fully functioning so I can’t see your head shakes of dismay.)  However, I think the process has merit. 

Here’s why.

  1. Once fully written, a manuscript undergoes a series of major edits.  This should be done soon after the ms is complete.  It helps me keep the voice, remember what I knew was missing, etc….  For me, the initial edtiting phase can take about four months and anywhere from 2-6 passages.
  2. After such careful scrutiny, I am no longer able to assess my manuscripts effectively.  I am too close to them.  Henceforth setting them aside and walking away.
  3. It would be a waste of time for me to sit around and stare at the bowl holding my soaking manuscript.  So, I write. 
  4. When I come back to my original manuscript, it feels new to me and I am better able to see the remaining flaws stains.
  5. Sometimes my counter is full of soaking manuscripts.  Which is good.  It means I’m being productive on some level.  And this is really my whole point.  I have heard of writers who spend years (many, many long and painful years) on a single manuscript before they even contemplate writing something new.  Holy Man Of War, unless you start writing at two, who has that kind of time to waste?
  6. Anyway, this writing, soaking, writing, soaking, writing process becomes a cycle of unwasted time, fresh perspectives and productivity.

The sad reality is that not everything we write will be published.  Especially if we a) send off stained manuscripts, or b) only concentrate on one story forever and ever, amen. 

For almost every manuscript, the stains eventually fade and disappear.  When this happens, send it out for the world to see.  However, if for some reason a manuscript remains unwearable in public, it’s okay to retire it to the painting shirt pile.  You’ve learned valuable lessons along the way regarding the writing and editing process.  And, if you have followed my advice on writing and soaking, you should have another manuscript ready to go.

How do you increase your productivity without compromising quality?  Do you write between edits or simply concentrate on one WIP at a time?

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14 responses to “Letting It Soak

  1. The only problem is…I keep on writing and never get back to the manuscripts that are still soaking. I now have four unpublished ms. I told myself I would not start one more new thing until I’ve wrung those babies out and queried a hundred agents or publishers. 🙂

    • Patricia, that seems harsh! But I might need to follow that advice as well. Like you, I have a lot of bowls on my literary cupboard…

      But ONE HUNDRED?!?!? You better get cracking on those submissions.

  2. I like your analogy 🙂

    I’ve currently got one ms soaking. I’m waiting until the 2nd one is finished up then I’ll go back to it.

  3. You promised a tie-in and you did it! I agree that soaking in cold water is best (But I usually stick some soap on the stain first). And I agree that getting some distance (soaking in cold water) after some major editing is a good idea. In the past, I’ve failed to do that, and submitted. Then I get rejections with comments, and realize that there’s more to do. Great post.

    • Theresa,

      Thanks for visiting my site and commenting. I think we all get excited when we finish a manuscript that we want the world to see it. Our I-just-finished goggles are very poor at showing us the flaws in our writing and we have a tendency to submit far too early. I think that’s why they say the whole process for writers takes about ten years before they are ready to publish. Ten years to hone our craft, make major mistakes, learn from those mistakes and write rockin’ manuscripts.

      I hope to see you around!

  4. jmartinlibrarian

    Can the soaking process wash away the stink in my MS? I hope so! 😉

    BTW, you are my Courage contest winner! E-mail or DM your address and I’ll send you’re autographed copy of SAVVY. 🙂

    • Jenny,

      I think a little vinegar will take out the smell. This is the eighth wonder of the world and takes care of any problematic cleaning that contemporary cleaners fail at. Not sure how the ms would fare…. Except, maybe, a beta reader = vinegar.

      I’ll hop to that, as your description of the book made me want to read it right away. Thanks!

  5. I like to let a ms sit for awhile, too, but I write new stuff pretty fast, so I’m able to get back to it rather quickly. I like that, as I like to query while I’m still excited about it.

    • Barbara,

      Excitement can be a huge motivator. Sometimes when we leave things sit too long, we can be disappointed upon our return and lose all interest in polishing it to its potential.

      Great point.

  6. Great point about letting your MS sit for awhile! Very true.

    (I’m wondering what the blue stain was. If it was ink, hairspray works in about ten seconds, if you saturate it until it disappears and then run cold water through it.) 🙂

  7. I couldn’t agree more. I need to do a major re-work on one right now but just can’t get myself in the frame of mind to do so. It needs to soak a little longer, I’m thinking. 😉 Great analogy!

    • It helps me keep the process in perspective and is a reminder that manuscripts don’t go from finished to published overnight. They require time and effort.

      Best luck when you’re ready for the major edit. They can be difficult to get started on sometimes. I’ve put mine off long enough and have just started my NaNo from 09. I think the major reason it has been hard to get into is that it requires some major hole-fixing. It’s a gazillion pages long and I haven’t printed it out yet (my typically first edit method) but have been attempting it on computer to save trees. I think I might have to kill a sappling or two to get through it the first time! Sheesh. Old habits die hard.

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