Lesson 5

Stepping Back After the First Draft

Stepping-Back after the first draft

Once you’ve gotten the story out on paper, you’ll probably be very excited to make a few improvements and get it out into the world. Don’t. In this lesson, we’re taking a brief pause to talk about why you should also take a break after your first draft. If you think your story is ready for readers, take a deep breath and reconsider.

Many writers are driven by a need not only to create but to share their creation and to be praised for it. They box themselves into very short deadlines that match their impatience. This is a terrible idea. Here’s a very simple tip when it comes to writing: chill.

Pushing your half-baked story out into the world doesn’t help anybody. It doesn’t help your career, it doesn’t help you to grow as a writer, and it certainly doesn’t help whatever poor reader has to sift through it. It isn’t anything but a waste of everyone’s time.

The only way forward is to forget

If you have any hope of seeing your story objectively, you must forget all the reasons you filled it up with this or that little unnecessary detail in the first place.

As writers, we justify including a lot of information on the page, information that we think is imperative to the story. But the reader doesn’t see it the same way. The very things you think are essential, the reader will find cumbersome and redundant. Your reader is smart and picks up information the first time you either say it or imply it.

Give yourself time to think

Also, remember what I said earlier about most of the writing happening off the page? Stepping back provides a good opportunity to think about your story and how to improve what you’ve already done. And there’s always room for improvement. I love this quote from an interview with the poet Charles Simic, who said, “Many of my shortest and seemingly simple poems took years to get right. I tinker with most of my poems even after publication. I expect to be revising in my coffin as it is being lowered into the ground.”

Of course, you’ll always see your story from the perspective of its creator, but by stepping back and coming at it with a bit of distance, you’ll get closer and closer to the view of your reader.

It’s all about building good habits

If indeed, we are writing short stories to become better writers, then we’d be doing ourselves no favors by cutting out the most crucial part of our craft: the edit. If your goal is to eventually publish, then you need to teach yourself how to write, re-write, and edit your own work. When you publish early and often, you will get people reading your work and offering praise on a regular basis, which can be addictive. It is, however, not the way to greatness.

Come back for the next lesson, where the real work begins. That’s right: we’re talking about editing.


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