PDA

View Full Version : The benefits of letting a story wait



seun
01-27-2010, 11:59 PM
A few weeks ago I had an idea for a short story which I liked but knew wasn't perfect. It wasn't that there was something wrong with it. There was something not quite right with it (and I didn't realise there was a difference until now).

So I let the story wait and thought about it off and on, and last night I worked out the story wanted to be slightly different. Not in a massive way but enough to change it for the good. If I'd gone with the original idea, I think it would have been OK, but it wouldn't have been great. This new one - fingers crossed - will be.

There's a lot to be said for letting a story wait, for letting it grow in its own time. I've always believed the story is in charge, anyway. This just makes me believe it a little more.

Jamesaritchie
01-28-2010, 12:08 AM
Depends on the writer, I think. For some it works very well. Waiting before or after never has worked for me. When I get an idea, I need to sit down and start writing immediately, and when I finish a story, I find waiting before editing or submitting doesn't help anything.

Then again, I subscribe to the old 18th ans 19th century theory that the writer is always in charge of the story, and never the other way around.

Chris P
01-28-2010, 12:10 AM
This for sure. I am nearly always happier when I let an idea incubate and find where it wants to be.

willietheshakes
01-28-2010, 12:14 AM
I find that novels can (and sometimes need to) wait.

Short stories, though, I've found that I have about a 72 hour window before they disappear back underground.

seun
01-28-2010, 12:30 AM
Then again, I subscribe to the old 18th ans 19th century theory that the writer is always in charge of the story, and never the other way around.

Interesting. I'm the exact opposite.

Phaeal
01-28-2010, 12:44 AM
I tend to leave story ideas in the plot bunny hutch for quite a while. I find that my original bunnies need to accrete complementary ideas, to cross-breed with other bunnies, and, most importantly, to find the character who needs to tell the story. Very often, they also need to find that second character that sparks the story to life through his interaction with the core character.

I don't rush things. I have lots and lots of bunnies, and two or three are always mature enough to work on. The rest can wait and grow.

DeleyanLee
01-28-2010, 12:52 AM
Story ideas are usually just single ingredients I need to toss into the giant stock pot in the back of my mind.

After a while, various thoughts, facts and ideas from various points in my life and bubble to the surface all complex and too wonderful for me to ignore for long. Single ideas, straight off the top of my pointy little head, are never in-depth enough to keep my interest long enough to write a complete novel.

'Tis better for me to let it all stew.

PoppysInARow
01-28-2010, 01:45 AM
I find I'm a bit of both. I usually have to wait before I start writing a book, but I have to ork with the idea. I don't write outlines, but I hound out cultures and the way the world works and I play with characters and such.

I think the writer is in control (because who would write the book?) but I also believe that we all get a little outside help now and again.

scope
01-28-2010, 04:49 AM
What's the rush?
After spending months or years writing a story doesn't it make sense that it be as good as you can make it? Most often that means editing and revisions, both of which take time. It also means distancing oneself from the story for a while before making any changes (let it sit as first done-before editing and revision-for at least a couple of weeks). And IMO that also means thinking the story through before you even put pen to paper at the very start. If there are some writers who don't have to go through this process and wind up with their best work, I don't know them, but I sure envy them.

Rhoda Nightingale
01-28-2010, 09:04 AM
Depends. Usually I let ideas hang out in the back of my head for a long time. In fact it's almost an exercise in not letting myself write until I absolutely cannot wait another minute to get to know a certain character/setting/atmosphere/whatever. Nowadays, I'm not so adamant about it. My NaNo I chucked out just a week or two after I first had the initial idea for it. (That is a very short gestation time for me.) My current WIP has been stewing in my brain for twelve years.

seun
01-28-2010, 05:55 PM
I've got a couple of ideas I've been letting stew for about ten years. When the time's right for them, I'll get them down. That's what I mean about the story being in charge.

Rhoda Nightingale
01-28-2010, 06:11 PM
Well every story is different. Some of them come to you almost fully formed; others take a long time to take shape and start to make sense. And still others simply fizzle away.

Jamesaritchie
01-28-2010, 08:06 PM
What's the rush?
After spending months or years writing a story doesn't it make sense that it be as good as you can make it? Most often that means editing and revisions, both of which take time. It also means distancing oneself from the story for a while before making any changes (let it sit as first done-before editing and revision-for at least a couple of weeks). And IMO that also means thinking the story through before you even put pen to paper at the very start. If there are some writers who don't have to go through this process and wind up with their best work, I don't know them, but I sure envy them.


I know many pro writers don't go through such a process. If you spend months on a short story, or years on a novel, you aren't going to get many stories written.

But distance does not help me. It just doesn't. Besides, when I reach the end of a novel, it's been quite a while since I've read most of it, so any distance I need is already there.

The last thing I want to do is think any story through before I start writing it. I can't see how that does anything but take away from where the story would naturally go during the writing process.

I do want a story to be as good as I can make it, and, for me, this means not thinking it through before writing. It means writing, knowing structure, and allowing the story to develop quickly and naturally, rather than forcing the story into a preconceived path.

I tend to take the Ray Bradbury approach. I find a title I like, and I sit down and start writing. It takes Bradbury one week to finish and submit a story after he gets a title. If it takes me longer, I can be pretty sure that story is going to suck. It shouldn't take week.

The two best pieces I've ever written, a short story and an essay, each took four hours from idea to finished, polished, ready to submit draft. The most widely reprinted essay I've ever written took half an hour to write.

With novels, I am slower, of course, but I still use the same process. I know the genre, I find a title, and then I just start writing. My first novel took exactly three weeks to write and submit. My best took just about two months, but it was quite a bit longer.

Slow doesn't mean better, and more often, in my opinion, means worse.

I could easily name a hundred novels that were written in a month or so, and quite a few that were written in two weeks or less.

Good is in the writing, not in the time it takes to do the writing.

An awful lot of pro writers just don't have the time to sit and think about a story, or to take months or years to write one, and wouldn't do so, even if they did have the time.

As for revisions, I do edit, but I revise only when and if an editor asks me to revise.

Rhoda Nightingale
01-28-2010, 11:09 PM
^That right there is the reason I kind of dread selling a novel, because I know there's no way in hell I can get anything done that quickly. One month for an entire novel? I've heard they get easier the more you do, but that is a sheer impossibility for me at this point.

scope
01-29-2010, 12:20 AM
I know many pro writers don't go through such a process. If you spend months on a short story, or years on a novel, you aren't going to get many stories written.

And I know many who do go through such a process. This doesn't make me or you right or wrong.
I'm speaking of books only, not short stories. I'm always working on at least two books at any given time. I'm not knocking your process and beliefs but for me mine are right. As an author, co-author, or ghostwriter I've been fortunate to get many books published.

But distance does not help me. It just doesn't.

Key words ".....does not help me."
Fine, but it absolutely helps me. When I go back and read what I first wrote I find a lot I can improve upon -- some of which I believe must be improved upon if I want to have a shot at getting published. I'm glad you don't have to go this is process, although I must admit that you are the only person I know who doesn't.

Besides, when I reach the end of a novel, it's been quite a while since I've read most of it, so any distance I need is already there.

The distance I speak of relates to improved quality. It has nothing to do with time alone.

The last thing I want to do is think any story through before I start writing it. I can't see how that does anything but take away from where the story would naturally go during the writing process.

Again, although I'm sure there are others with your ability, I don't know any who can sit down at a computer (or wherever) take "idea" invisible messages from their brain which go to their fingertips and subsequebntly, as in magic, their fingers type the words perfectly (maybe just a little editing) onto a piece of paper. I wish I could do that, hionestly.

It takes Bradbury one week to finish and submit a story after he gets a title. If it takes me longer, I can be pretty sure that story is going to suck. It shouldn't take week.

Beyond what I'm writing, I have lots of good titles for other works and a seed of an idea. But they certinly aren't ready for prime time.

The two best pieces I've ever written, a short story and an essay, each took four hours from idea to finished, polished, ready to submit draft. The most widely reprinted essay I've ever written took half an hour to write.

I once wrote a nonfiction book for kids that took me 2-3 years to complete. Many reasons why, but I imagine you'd find them unimportant since 2-3 years to you is outlandish. Bottom line, this book became a bestseller and achieved enormous critical and commercial success. It launched me into the publishng business in a host of ways. So I ask you, should I not have spent 2-3 years on this project and instead churned out 2, 3, or more mediocre-even good-books?

With novels, I am slower, of course, but I still use the same process. I know the genre, I find a title, and then I just start writing. My first novel took exactly three weeks to write and submit. My best took just about two months, but it was quite a bit longer.

Fabulous. Hey, if it works for you that's all that counts. However, I'm sure you understand that the overwhelming majority of writers can't do this.

Slow doesn't mean better, and more often, in my opinion, means worse.

Slow, fast, I don't think that intinsicly they mean anything.

I could easily name a hundred novels that were written in a month or so, and quite a few that were written in two weeks or less.

And millions that took years to write. So what?

Good is in the writing, not in the time it takes to do the writing.

No one is going to disagree with that, I hope.

An awful lot of pro writers just don't have the time to sit and think about a story, or to take months or years to write one, and wouldn't do so, even if they did have the time.

I guess we simply know different writers.

As for revisions, I do edit, but I revise only when and if an editor asks me to revise.

s

Jamesaritchie
01-29-2010, 01:53 AM
Well, I don't understand that the overwhelming can't do anything. Most don't try, and the way I write is very, very common. The millions that took years to write? That's just not true. First, there are not millions of books that took years to write, and even most that did take years were usually written pretty darned fast, but with long breaks between writing sessions. A book a year is pretty darned slow.

You keep saying you don't know any writers who can do this, that, or the other, which means to me that you need to study the writing methods and habits of far more selling writers. Nothing I've said is new, unusual, or the least bit uncommon.

Start with Shakespeare, who write many of his longest plays in two weeks with a quill, and follow the classic writers all the way through the 1ays9th century. Most wrote extremely fast, and extremely long.

Now, I personally know only one writer who wrote a 90,000 word, publishable novel in under two weeks, (Though I, the Jury, was also written in nine days, but while I talked to Mickey Spillane a couple of times, I didn't really know him) I also know nine days is hardly a record.

The majority of writers can do exactly what I do, many better, as fast as I do it, and faster, and a great many do. These notions are not mine. I took them from many, many writers and simply do as they do.

But the writers do have to believe E. L. Doctorow when he says, "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."

And they have to believe that first drafts never, ever have to be crap, no matter who says otherwise, and going in believing you will have a lousy first draft and will have to do revisions is why you'll have a lousy first draft and will need revisions.

All I do is follow Heinlein's Rule For Writing. Just as many, many writers did long before he coined the rules, and as many writers still do.

It's not magic, it's just sitting down and writng. I think while writing, not before. I plan while writing, not before.

As for distance, who first thought of this, anyway? Where did it originate? Doesn't anyone ever challenge the need for distance? Just because some writers sit their work aside for six week does not mean it's automatically helpful. Especially if all the second draft needs is minor editing and a little bit of polish. It strikes me as one of those things, like first drafts are going to be crap, that's believed only because so many say it's true.

I know it didn't originate with all the writers of the past and present who never had time to sit a novel aside for six weeks. Or six days. When an editor says "I need it in four week," you give it to him in four weeks, and you're probably giving him a better novel than if he said "I need it in two years."

Really, all I do is follow Heinlein's Rules to the letter. No magic, nothing unusual, and I suspect nothing any other writer can't do, if they want to try.

scope
01-29-2010, 03:56 AM
James,

Since I have no idea where to even start, much less any desire to meander, I won't. I wish you success with your writing method, and I wish myself and others who approach writing as I do continued success.

Dungeon Geek
01-29-2010, 05:35 AM
James,

Since I have no idea where to even start, much less any desire to meander, I won't. I wish you success with your writing method, and I wish myself and others who approach writing as I do continued success.

It's not tremendously uncommon for writers to make stuff up on the spot. I do that at times. At other times, I outline. Both methods work--though of course it depends on the person.

However, I don't agree with James' notion that a book would be better if written in four weeks rather than two years. My books get stronger when I take more time and care with them, as do my short stories. It gives me a chance to strengthen many elements and reduce wordiness.

scope
01-29-2010, 07:55 AM
Dungeon,

Of course, no matter what our method we all get ideas on the spot. Writing is a creative art and whether or not one outlines, new ideas (or changes to make current ideas better) are always part of the active writing process. And then when the work is done most will edit, revise, and find that additional changes are needed to make the manuscript stronger for all.

WildScribe
01-29-2010, 07:59 AM
I find that novels can (and sometimes need to) wait.

Short stories, though, I've found that I have about a 72 hour window before they disappear back underground.

For me, it depends. Sometimes a short story pops up and tells me that it will be wonderful and compelling, but I just can't get a handle on the angle. After it simmers for a while, suddenly I will say "Oh, wow, that's what it wants to say!" and have a whole new way of looking at it to write it.

Miss T
01-29-2010, 10:23 AM
I've actually read some interesting pseudo-psychology about how our automatic creative mechanism kicks in when we relax after long periods of focused thinking. I think waiting can be good as long as it doesn't lead to abandonment.

KTC
01-29-2010, 04:06 PM
I don't let a story wait at all. But I do allow it to sit for a while once it's here.