IWSG: My Least-Favorite Writing Rule

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a real thing. It’s hosted by Alex Cavanaugh, with a rotating firmament of monthly co-hosts. This month’s cohosts are: Eva @ Lillicasplace, Crystal Collier, Sheena-kay Graham, Chemist Ken, LG Keltner, and Heather Gardner. Be sure to check out their websites, and sign up for next month, if it sounds like your thing, or if we sound like your crowd. The more, the merrier!

This month’s question is “Which writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?”

I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t really hate any of the writing rules I’ve heard, and nothing really stands out as being something that led me the wrong way. Nothing really wrong-wrong.

But, the one that stands out as a rule that needs more explanation is “Before you revise, set your manuscript aside for (a month, a year, some length of time), so you can look at it with fresh eyes.”

I don’t think that’s wrong.

But I do think that–as a beginning writer–I could have used more instructions about how to put a manuscript aside in a way that would actually help me look at the thing with fresh eyes.

After I wrote my first novel, I went through a phase where I felt like I’d done this amazing thing. This enormous thing. And I was proud of myself, but at the same time, there was a part of me that thought it was a one-time deal. That writing a novel was something so big, and so monumental I might never do it again. I barely believed I’d done it, in the first place.

And that first manuscript was THE manuscript. The ONLY manuscript.

I put it in the drawer, of course. Follow the rules, you know. But I wasn’t really setting it aside. I was putting the physical thing away, but the story itself kept running through my head. Parts of it, word-for-word.

I worked on that novel for a long time. And I kept putting it away when I got stuck, or when I knew I wasn’t being objective about it.

I never really got to the “Fresh Eyes” part of setting it aside. My mind always got hooked on this detail or that scene.

It’s not that “set it aside” isn’t good advice. It’s just that I didn’t really have the experience to take that advice. I didn’t know how.

I needed to have it spelled out for me. Set that manuscript aside, and go write another novel. And a bunch of short stories, and then, come back to it, when you’re excited about the next novel. Or the one after that. Come back, when it isn’t the ONLY novel, anymore. Come back when you have enough options to be objective. When “work on this” is really a choice, as opposed to “work on the only project you have.”

That would have saved me a lot of time.




  1. Reply

    Indeed. Nothing like working on something else to get the first one out of your mind. I’ve got stuff I wrote five years ago that I still go back to. The problem then is ending up with about 20 WIPs.

    • Reply

      I have lots of things that aren’t finished… but I’m not sure you can call them “in Progress” anymore. Some of them are just things I’ve outgrown. But then, I can’t lecture on letting go until I’ve learned how to do it! πŸ˜‰

  2. Reply

    I quite often have to learn things the hard way – no matter how many times someone tells me, it isn’t until I’ve sent a story out and had it rejected that I can see what’s wrong with it. Up until that point my rose tinted lenses are firmly stuck in place

    • Reply

      Me, too. Guilty. But I think the more work you do, and the more you have to choose from, the easier choosing gets. And yes… that made sense, when I said it in my head.

    • Reply

      Very true! I think a lot of writers start out their biggest dream-project first, when they have the least experience, and only half the skills they need to complete it. I know I did.

      • Reply

        Half? I had maybe a tenth of the skills I needed… I’ve recently picked up a project I abandoned almost six years ago for that very reason.

  3. Reply

    I had not quite thought of it like that before, so I just learned something. Thank you, Happy IWSG Day

  4. Reply

    Indeed, that further explanation would have saved me a lot of time and frustration the first time around. I had to figure it out the hard way. πŸ™‚

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