Go Ahead—Ignore Your Novel!

Today’s guest post is by author and writing professor Catharine Bramkamp, who has really great advice for novelists!

I’m in the middle of ignoring my novel.

It’s a full-time job.

One of the most difficult parts of creating a novel is knowing when to leave it alone. But growing and nurturing the space between the first draft and the second draft is the most important thing you can do for your work.

Once we finish our novel’s initial draft, the first thing we really want to do is fix it—make it better, polish it. We want to tinker with the opening, spell-check the middle, and mess around with the pronouns in the final chapter. We review font options, then we compare the whole enterprise to Margaret Atwood and turn to drink.

Don’t.

Put the novel down and slowly back away. Show me your hands; drop the pen.

Give the novel and yourself a break—a big break

By resting between the first and second drafts, we allow our subconscious and our muse time to figure out plot points and character options. Giving you novel some breathing room will actually make writing the second draft easier.

Don’t rewrite that first chapter over and over: therein lies madness and bourbon for breakfast.

How to Ignore Your Novel

After finishing the first messy draft:

  • Research. A little research before writing a novel is good; it will provide some inspiration and deliver a few organizing principles. But as you know, too much research at the beginning of a project can become the project, and you forget to write the story. So first write the story.

Between the first and second draft is the time to indulge in further research. Now that you know what is going to happen and to whom, you can research the details.  

This is also the time to map out your fantasy world, or the streets of 1892 Paris. Create the maps, find the historic details, figure out once and for all what lies north and what lies south. Many writers think they need to create their whole world or small town as well as every possible historic detail before writing that first draft. That’s not the case.

That first draft should be all about the energy of the story and the passion of the protagonist. Get the plot points down, capture the energy of your vision. In the quiet between the initial adventure and the rewrite, you can map out the details and insert them into the second draft.

  • Have another project ready. Do you have another book that needs editing? Switching out the work is very helpful. Moving from pure crazy creation to the work of syntax and descriptions helps polish your craft, of course, but it can also be so dull and enervating that it will inspire you to launch back into the bliss of writing so you will be appropriately anxious to return to your second draft.
  • Read something by an author you love and figure out why she is so good. Make notes. What is it about the work that is compelling? Read your favorite authors—again. Consider what appeals to you. Character? Place? Style? Don’t change anything in your draft yet; just think about how you can incorporate some of techniques of your favorite authors into your own second draft.
  • Create something different. If you are a novelist, write poetry. If you are a poet, learn to play the ukulele. If you are blogger, create a big collage. Sure, it will be difficult to explain to your inquiring friends and family that you are actually “writing” as you glue tiny sequins to your self-portrait, but the switch in medium will offer surprising insights.
  • Don’t spend too much time agonizing over the awkward working title. The additional research, working on the second draft—oh, and that forced hiatus—will all contribute to a better title. Relax, just don’t announce the title. Keep it to yourself—you’ll be glad you did.
  • Plan your social media and promotion so it becomes more or less automatic and only takes a half hour or so a day.
  • Now is the time to take a class in social media, or a writing class, or a one-day seminar.

Save the Date 

Choose a date when you will start the novel again. Just as NaNoWriMo is successful because it has a deadline and a focus, give your second draft the same courtesy. If you are able to plan it, two months between drafts is ideal.

Take life into account. Are you on vacation? Good, take it. Are the holidays looming? Good, schedule the work to accommodate parties and family.

Don’t freak out when I suggest this: nap.

 Remember the Rest of Your Life?

Artists need time off. We need to wander around, ruminate, and allow ideas to merge in their own good time. We need to create space for serendipity and inspiration. Forcing it can be completely disastrous. But scheduling for it can be utterly successful.

When you ignore your book for a set amount of time, during that time your brain will help you; your muse will help you. And when you return, you will write faster and better, and your brilliant insights will surprise even you.

Catharine Bramkamp, author. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Catharine Bramkamp is the writer part of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach and author of a dozen books, including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series and Future Girls (Eternal Press). She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct professor of writing for University of Phoenix and JKF University. Visit her at her website here or on Twitter.

Feature Photo Credit: chrisjohnbeckett via Compfight cc

28 Responses to “Go Ahead—Ignore Your Novel!”

  1. Kathy Schuknecht May 5, 2014 at 7:21 am #

    I was getting ready to drown my Lucky Charms in brandy this morning when “Ignore your Novel” popped up in my email!
    Thank you, Catharine! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    As a newbie writer, I was ecstatic to learn that I was good at something. I have a natural talent for procrastination between the first and second drafts. I found it difficult to explain to my husband that I was actually rewriting (in my head)while I scurried around doing anything and everything to avoid sitting down at the computer.
    Can’t wait to check out the Newbie Writers Podcast.

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 8:45 am #

      Glad it helped Kathy!

      I have a difficult time explaining my “writing process” to my husband, a man of action and spread sheets. But we do need to spend time just thinking, which also rhymes with drinking and I’m not sure if that’s accidental or not!

  2. Skye-writer May 5, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Perfect timing with this post. Thank you not just for giving me permission to ignore my novel, but also to offer ideas on what to do with the between time. I just typed the end to the first draft of the second book in a series and sent it to a critique partner/beta reader for commentary. Over the weekend, I found plenty to keep me busy, like the piles of things I’d been putting off in the focus to finish. But it’ Monday – a whole new week and a new focus. Thanks for a great post.

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 8:47 am #

      You are welcome! I clean, dust and if I can, take a trip, all in the service of leaving those drafts alone! Some writers have enough to do that they can ignore their manuscripts for months at a time. I have to build up to that.

  3. Melinda Viergever Inman May 5, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    So true! We have to step away, but it’s so hard to do. We tend to think if we just jump in and work harder we can transform that rough draft. TIme away to let it rest is THE best strategy after the draft is pounded out. Great aticle!

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks! Time away is a great practice, in our culture we just need to find a way to make thinking appear busy!

      • Belinda Pollard May 5, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

        “Walk fast and carry a clipboard.” This was the advice given to me in my first job centuries ago, for how to look busy. Could we adapt that to the thinking process???

        Great post! Going off to practise some ignorance now. (That didn’t come out right.)

  4. Greg Strandberg May 5, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    Good points, and ones I don’t I always follow.

    I tend to finish a book, edit it, and then publish. Then I go on to the next one. I work on multiple projects at the same time however, usually taking a day or two between them.

    Works for me, but probably isn’t for anyone. My sales suck too by the way, so there’s that.

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      I hate waiting between writing and publishing – makes me crazy! But I found that time spent away from my third or fourth draft is time well spent. Patience, in light of self publishing, ebooks and the rush to constantly produce material, is not a virtue anymore!

  5. G.G. Andrew May 5, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    Great post! I try to follow the rule to let books rest between revisions, and aim for around two months as well. Right now I’m about to finish a gothic romantic comedy novella that’s a companion to another novella I wrote (the first one is from the female perspective, the second from the guy’s). Do you think after I finish this rough draft of the second novella, I can start revising the first? Or should I let it wait a bit, given that while it’s not the same novella (because no two characters tell a story the same way, and have their own lives), it has many of the same characters and plot twists? I’ve been curious to hear your thoughts on this!

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Hi
      I think that you can “ignore” one work while working on another. I’m waiting for edits back on a YA Sci Fi novel right now. And to keep from going crazy (it’s like an enforced vacation) I am working on another book. Ideally, while THAT book is vacationing, I’ll return to the edits for Future Girls. Long answer to your question, yes, often just switching projects can be beneficial and allow your subconscious to do it’s best work!

  6. Traci Krites May 5, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I usually do six weeks in between, maybe I should go longer. I never thought of doing more research in the time you’re waiting, perhaps another thing I should try.

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      I liked doing research while the main story “sat around on the beach”. Give it a try, particularly since the story can help focus the research.

  7. Monet Jones May 5, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    This is very good advice. I find it important to seek periods of “quiet time” during this inactive period. Research everything. Strive for perfection only after the thirtieth draft.

  8. scott hunter May 5, 2014 at 10:57 am #

    So true! I’ve been ignoring mine for months! The subconscious is a powerful thing – the more room you give it the better.

    Great post – enjoyed reading it.

  9. Marie Lavender May 5, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Awesome. Great tip! Thank you. I definitely tried to do this with my last manuscript. It was infuriating, but I know the necessity for it. And I will definitely step away and try to enjoy life more next time. I think that is why I’m so burnt out right now. I am taking a major break before I focus on the next book in the series. Thanks again. 🙂

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

      You are welcome! Enjoy your break. I find that wonderful inspiration comes to me once I’ve stopped stalking it with a big club (sorry Jack London).
      Have a good break!

  10. Sherry Marshall May 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Catherine. What a timely and great post. I feel so much better! I have stopped writing my 2nd book, a romance novel after 60,000 words, not finished yet though. A 2 month break and have been writing weekly guest posts/columns and radio and newspaper interviews. Also I have started writing a commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching on my blog and love doing it. Never dreamt I could ever do that.
    However I have been wondering why I have put the novel aside? The guest columns and blogs certainly teach me how to be more essential and edit, for sure.
    I do need to set a date, so it’s the 1st June for me to return to the novel and I will start doing some research now as you suggest. But I need to keep an eys on it, because I put it aside for 12 years! I can’t believe that as I write it but I got being busy as a Process Oriented therapist. Determined to finish it and publish by the end of the year. Thank you as I am really a newbie writer and found your post most helpful.

    • Catharine Bramkamp May 5, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Glad to help! One thing to do when you’ve ignored your work for a while, is to just make the effort to pull it out again and just look at it. Then read it and see what is still great about it. Sometimes we abandon our books because we run out of steam or we’re not excited any more. So read what you have, you may be more brilliant than you think!

  11. Christine Campbell May 5, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    Loved this post. Love the concept of ‘ignoring’ your novel. I agree that while you get on with something else, your subconscious seems to go to work on that first draft and sorts out the sticky bits.

  12. Susannah MacDonald May 5, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

    Great advice all of which I am doing! You never know, some day soon I may publish! Many thanks.

  13. cslakin May 6, 2014 at 5:27 am #

    Thanks so much, Catharine, for sharing your great tips and encouraging writers!

  14. Mahrie G Reid May 6, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    Excellent advice. However, I do get a crawling uneasiness when I approach the computer and know work on THE BOOK isn’t on the agenda. Naps I can do. And I have a “think first do second” husband so he’s not surprised to see be lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling. Thanks for the insights. My writer’s life is better when others share.

  15. Robin Leigh Morgan May 6, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    One must definitely ignore one’s completed manuscript for as long as possible. Someone else might have already said what I’m about to post; but it’s worth repeating.

    The more you read your manuscript the more you’re able to anticipate the words to follow. You almost become like the “book people” in Fahrenheit 451, where individuals have memorized an entire book so they could recite it by heart.

    Each time you read it the chances are you’re going to miss a simple error in grammar solely because of your familiarity with what you’ve written. Instead of trying to do some more editing yourself; once you’ve completed a third complete re-read, let go of your manuscript. Giving “birth” to a novel is almost akin to a woman giving birth to a child, and then holding it back going to someone else who will nurture its mind. And just like this mother you need to let go of your manuscript and place it in the hands of an experienced editor.

  16. John Nicholson June 2, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    We all do what works for us.

    I’ve found the trouble with giving yourself licence for time off is it quickly turns into laziness, de-tunes the writing brain and puts you outside the creative zone. Consequently, when you want to start again, it takes much longer to re-enter the process and inhabit the writing mind. And you also have to be aware that you might not really need a break, you’re just not prepared to work as hard as you need to work.

    I subscribe to the notion that for most of us nothing ever happens unless you put in a ton of work and put in a ton of work all the time. As in sport, the most successful players tend to be those who work hardest, who are persistent and keep on keeping on, long after those with less drive and ambition have quit.
    I even find that writing through creatively barren periods works far better than quitting. It keeps fuel in my tank and keeps the engine going. I just wanted to add this to the debate as an alternative strategy.

  17. Sonja Yoerg June 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I have no patience. I have to buy it at $235 an ounce. If you don’t believe me, ask my husband, who said, after I’d written my second novel, “I never thought you’d have the patience to write one!” So, I struggle with this. But it is excellent advice. Most of what I write looks less sparkly after spending some time in a drawer. It’s sad, but true. And it’s okay, as long as you willing to sit down and try again. And again.

    Thanks for the lucid post.

  18. Jessica July 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Solid advice. The longest I’ve ever been able to wait between drafts is about three weeks. The break sure helped. I have to wonder if longer would be better, but it’s SO hard to put down the keyboard.

    • cslakin July 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

      I’m about to finish writing my fantasy novel, which I haven’t looked at in six months. I really like to put months between drafts to have a fresh look at the story, pacing, and writing. It really helps. You can go work on something else for a while. I usually have a few projects at various stages and I prefer working that way.

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