Fresh Eyes or a Fresh Load?

We’ve all gotten bad writing advice at one time or another. Most of us eventually shake it off and move on. Heck, I bet there are a few of you out there that have given bad writing advice. I won’t point fingers, you know who you are. What I want to bring to light is a piece of good advice that could be bad if done wrong.

Fresh Eyes

At one time or another you’ve heard someone suggest this. I’ve heard it and suggested it. The scenarios differ — You’ve just completed your first draft; A scene has you stumped; You can’t seem to figure out what a character is doing or why; the story has lost momentum. Then when you reach out for help you get this response (in some form or another):

“Put it down for a while. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.”

This type of advice should only be given out along with explicit instructions. A doctor would go around writing prescriptions without instructions. If that wasn’t enough, the pharmacist also  has to tell you how to take it when you pick it up. I consider this piece of advice as a prescription. If you abuse it, you risk flat-lining your entire work.

So how do you keep it from doing harm, you ask? First off, let’s split into two groups. Unfinished works and finished works.

When you get this advice for solving a problem that’s keeping you from finishing your story, it often time means you’re too close to the situation. Maybe you can’t see the novel for the characters. You can get so focused on a single character, setting or event that you can forget what story you set out to tell. Then on the flip side, you could be so engrossed in the big plot or theme that you forget that each character has their own life to be fleshed out on the page. In this case, “fresh eyes” could mean jumping to a different part of the story or revert to an outline (I just saw all the pantsers out there clench). Working other parts of the story can solve the whatever roadblock you’re currently facing.

As for the lucky ones who are dealing with a finished manuscript, fresh eyes is usually meant as, “Take a break. Relax. Drink some wine. In a few days, weeks or months you can pick up the finished draft and work on revisions. That way you can view it somewhat anew.”

I’ve seen more stories die from this mentality. Sure a break seems just. A celebratory glass of wine is a great way to cap off the big THE END you just typed. But putting off edits and revisions for more than a day can be a big mistake.

Let’s be real. If you wrote the story chronologically (most do), that first chapter was printed and dried months and months ago. Even if you are a NaNoWriMo winner, you’re still thirty days from your first words. I’m sure your eyes will be plenty “fresh” to start again. Also, with the ending so fresh in your mind, the beginning chapters should be easier to tweak knowing your end game (again, talking to you pantsers out there).

Either way, finished or unfinished, if you just can’t stand the thought of diving back in right away, do yourself a favor and start something else. Immediately. Even one day away from writing, is one more day to create excuses to not go back the next.