Wednesday, October 27, 2010


How much distance do you put between yourself and your writing to create objectivity?

For me, write rough draft, set it aside for 2 - 3 weeks, then begin edit phase. Complete first edit phase, set aside for 2 - 3 weeks, then begin next edit phase. And so on . . .

I mentioned to a friend of mine, who is also a beta reader, about needing to create the necessary distance. What I said, well, wrote, since it was in an email, was this . . .

As much as I love writing, as much as I believe in what I write, I always fear that I cannot create the necessary distance between myself and my writing to look at it objectively, i.e., with the eyes of a reader and not the eyes of the writer/creator.

The response I received is . . .

And Scott, honestly, don't be so critical of yourself. You have such a talent in your writings. When you write....I am literally there. I can visualize the characters, feel the mood, and become enthralled. Not many have this talent. And don't distant yourself from the writing....that again is what makes it very very special and wonderful!!

Now, stop thinking: oh, it's a friend, she has to be nice. You don't know my Suzi. This is the woman who told me one day: You look like crap!!! Yes, she did! She's brutally honest with me, and with everybody . . . which is one of the things I love about her. She's not going to hold back, she's not going to coddle me, she's going to tell me a) if I look bad, b) if my writing sucks, and c) what the hell were you thinking wearing that outfit.

Yes, I know, writers shouldn't let friends beta read because friends - allegedly - can't be objective enough. I beg to differ. If a friend can tell me I look like crap, said friend can be honest about my writing.

Anyhow, back to this distance thing. What do you think of her statement - and don't distant yourself from the writing . . . that again is what makes it very very special and wonderful!!?

Are we creating too much distance between ourselves and our writing in the editing process? Is the whole distance thing just a big myth used to create havoc in aspiring writers lives? Do we, as writers, create too much distance in the different phases of writing, and is this a good or bad thing?

I don't know. I always fear I'm too much in love with my writing to be objective. If I'm too much in love with my writing, can I edit objectively? If I create too much distance, do I somehow, during the editing phase, edit out too much and somehow diminish the work? Is there a fine balance between distance and objectivity that we, as writers, as humans, can somehow find so that we don't lose what makes our writing very very special and wonderful!!?



Tess said...

No, I think distance is important. I used to give it a week or two and still always felt too close to see the issues in the work. Through my editing experience this past year the wait times have been more like 4-5 weeks and it is amazing how much I can see after that extended time. Even simple things like double words or type-o's that I was blind to before.

It's an interesting process.

Domey Malasarn said...

First off, I wonder if the type of distance you were talking about is different from the type of distance your friend is talking about. You want to just be able to see your writing. I think that's healthy. What your friend is loving is the immediacy of your writing, and that's more like authorial distance. I feel like you can keep that even if you set your work aside to let it cool off. You might even be able to improve that once you see the writing objectively.

But, the two things are definitely related. It's possible that by giving yourself distance from the writing, you will somehow lose that emotional heat you have with it, and that could make the writing more sterile somehow. But, I think avoiding that comes with talent. As we get better, hopefully our editing gets better so that we don't lose the good stuff!

Elana Johnson said...

Well, when you get an editor, they'll tell you which words you love too much. For now, just keep on writing them and do your best to make them the best words they can be.

Scott said...

Tess – I agree that distance is important. I think I’m more concerned about too much distance. Now, on to a response to Domey, where I’ll finish this train of thought . . .

Domey - I think you’re right. I also think that, if given too much distance, we lose the emotional intensity. I think it’s a very fine line and we have to learn how much distance is enough distance to a) maintain objectivity and b) not lose our emotional intensity (and/or connection) to our writing . . . which is pretty much what you said. Good advice bears repeating. Ha.

Elana – great advice which I – hopefully – follow every time I sit down to write.