Last week we went to my daughter’s open house at school. In the little fifteen minute spiel given by her health teacher he said that one of the units they’d be talking about next marking period was “Aging Gracefully.” He went on to explain how important he thought it was that the kids had this information: taking care of oneself with diet and exercise while young, would only benefit oneself in later years. Of course, I made an instant connection to my writing, one that has really hit home this week.
It isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s probably one of the oldest rules of writing. The words need time to sit, to cool on the page, before being self-edited. As a writer, we need to step away from a new work, give it and ourselves time and distance before revisiting and polishing it. If I remember correctly, Steven King says in On Writing that he needs a year to feel completely distanced from the work. I tend to find four to six weeks is enough time for me. (But then again, I’m not Steven King and maybe his approach is better!)
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been going over a recently written manuscript, giving it that final edit. It’s one I’ve been through twice before, but this is the important one. The one that comes after the words have aged. The one where the words I’m reading feel fresh and new… and yes, sometimes completely wrong for the job I meant them to do. A snip here, a cut there, maybe some extra exposition sprinkled about and hopefully in the end this perfectly aged manuscript will be ready to see the light of day.
Of course, the words will never be completely fresh to my own eyes, and I will never have a completely neutral perception of their quality. Sometimes we can write truly obnoxious or extremely wordy phrases that we think are genius at the time. We may know better later, but by then we’ve become fond of our little children and can’t seem to find the heart to kick them to the curb. This would be why critique partners are a good idea, but that’s a completely differnt topic all together.
So, like fine wine and really good chili, time is the magic ingredient that will assure a better end product. The words we write aren’t nearly as good when they are young, but instead must be aged to perfection.