Put it away (or how Angry Birds can help your writing)

So, I found this article via Wired the other day:

How Do We Identify Good Ideas?

And it has so many amazing things that apply to writing (and really, any creative endeavor) that I wanted to highlighted here (in case you missed it).

Here’s the gist:

A new study led by Simone Ritter of the Radboud University in the Netherlands sheds some light on this mystery. In the first experiment, 112 university students were given two minutes to come up with creative ideas that might alleviate a mundane problem: improving the experience of waiting in line at a cash register. The subjects were then divided into two groups: Half of them went straight to work, while the others were first instructed to perform an unrelated task for two minutes. (They played a silly little videogame.) The purpose of this delay was to give the unconscious a chance to percolate, to let that subterranean supercomputer invent new concepts for the supermarket queue.

The outcome? Those who’d been distracted were twice as good at picking out their truly innovative ideas.

The article also quotes Zadie Smith. And the quote is so full of all kinds of wonderful, I need to share it here as well:

When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do…. You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions.

This is my go-to writing advice. What do you do with a finished draft? Put it away. No, really. Do not look at it. Do not think about it. Mind you, hardly anyone ever follows this advice. In fact, it took me years to follow it myself. Now? It’s like my religion.

My drafting process goes a little something like this:

  • Workup/draft like crazy until I reach the end of the draft (this is important–get to the end)
  • Put it away for 4 – 6 weeks, at least
  • Do another draft.
  • Continue the process until it’s ready for someone else to read.

Sometimes I take something out too soon. How do I know this? Because it literally hurts my eyes and ears to read it. I loathe every. single. word. If I’m feeling the hate, I put it away until … well, I don’t feel the hate.

What to do in the meantime? Well, you could:

  • Write another novel (no, really, I’m serious about this)
  • Write a short story
  • Write an article for a trade magazine
  • Blog
  • Take a class in some form of writing you’ve never tried
  • Read

The list is endless. You don’t have to stop writing. The goal is to stop picking at your novel like it’s a scab on your knee.

1 Comment

Filed under Reading & Writing, Writing

One response to “Put it away (or how Angry Birds can help your writing)

  1. While this is excellent advice for the writer, the waiting can be torture for the one who can’t wait to read it 😉

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