Grillmasters say you should let a burger rest for a few moments between the grill and your mouth; otherwise, the sandwich will fall apart. The more eager you are, the more likely things will go to pieces.
Depending on the project, I’ll give a few hours between the first and second drafts. Ideally, I’ll give it a few days and, in a perfect scenario, months. There is never enough time between drafts. Deadlines always loom.
Novelist Stephen King would write an entire draft of a novel and then lock it away in a file cabinet for a few months before looking at it again. In those few months, he might work on another draft for a different story or watch the Red Sox slog through the playoff or, well, he might do nothing at all. By the time he got back to the draft, it was like he had a whole new story to work with. Problems with plot and character that might have plagued him before had, well, vanished. Meanwhile, all of the issues with the manuscript showed up plain as day.
Fresh eyes make all the difference. Your brain is an infinite space; we all need to step outside of ourselves. Writing is a craft, and every craft needs time and space and room to let things grow.
What looks like a frustrating mess today might be easier to clean up tomorrow.
With time comes opportunity.
Admittedly, I nearly published my essay collection Bad Neighbor too early. Fortunately, in the weeks between when I thought I was done writing on it and when I officially published it, I had to pack up my entire house, moving 1,500 miles across the country to live in a city I had visited one time years ago.
In those 1,500 miles of driving across the American midwest, my mind wanders (because what else was it supposed to do? It was the Midwest.). I thought of a dozen ways to tie together some of the chapters. In all of my searching for movers, stagers, and realtors in Denver, I came across hundreds of articles with stories and research I had missed before. Stories need time to develop and show you what else they can be - give it the time.
When I had a moment to catch my breath, Bad Neighbors received two more drafts before I put the final stamp on it. Was it worth it? Would my readers have known what was missing? Maybe not, but I’ll know the extra time allowed the book to be more complete than it would have otherwise.
Everyone has brilliant ideas in the shower, but first, you have to stop everything and get in the shower.
Give it time. Find the space. Let it rest.