Why Your Writing Needs Distance

Monday, July 22, 2019

As the saying goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Or sometimes, more critical (especially with writing). Recently I read over two short stories that I had not read in at least three or four months. One had been rejected by a literary magazine and one was sitting in my drafts folder. Let me tell you what happened when I read over both:

Exhibit A: The Short Story Rejected by the Literary Magazine

Months ago when I read this story over one final time before submitting, I thought for sure that I would be nicely surprised with a lovely "we are publishing you" email. Well, I didn't get that.

In fact, when I read it over, I thought...wow this needs more work. Now, I've tightened up the language, fixed some sentence structure, and added descriptive language. Is it ready to send back out into the world? Maybe. I've realized that "brew time" with writing is as necessary as any other writing process. Chalk this under the "waiting" category. Yeah, I don't like it much either.

Exhibit B: The Short Story Rejected by Me

A few months ago, early spring, when the season isn't so blisteringly hot and sunny, I wrote a short story. When I finished, I had that satisfying sense of completion. Ah, done. Yet, at the same time, I wanted nothing more to do with it. I thought revising would be far too much work.

Then over the weekend, thanks to a fit of "I don't know what to write or revise," I skimmed this story. It wasn't nearly as bad or tossable as I first thought. No, it isn't totally perfect and it needs work, but it definitely doesn't belong in the trash.

What I Learned: Distance is a Necessary Part of the Writing Process.

In both situations, distance gave me the perspective I needed on my writing. In the first instance, I realized my story needed work (checking my ego at the door, of course). In the second instance, I realized that the story I rejected before anyone else read it had tremendous possibility.

No matter how you feel, whether you hate it or love it, give your writing some distance. Want to submit? Wait. Want to throw it away or hit the delete button? Wait. As hard as it is, distance is important. I am certain that even after the nicest compliment or the nastiest critique your writing needs distance. Don't delete. Don't submit.  Wait. 

How long to wait? Well, it depends. I say give yourself at least a week. Give yourself a longer time to wait if you've been in the revising weeds a long time. In writing, it's often very difficult to give yourself a unique perspective of your own writing. We often are our best cheerleaders or worst critics. The distance you give your writing will allow you to have fresh eyes and that means everything in the revising process.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some waiting to do.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I never delete. There is at least one salvageable line or paragraph--in my opinion--even if the rest of the piece sucks.

Yes, waiting is hard. We finish it, and then are chomping at the bit to send it off, so we can begin a new one. However, so many things are better once they've sat overnight--chili, homemade vegetable soup--and writing pieces are like that as well.

I love your last line. It reminds me that I need to wait, too. Along with padding myself with lots of patience...

Nicole Pyles said...

@Sioux - so true! I guess I don't officially delete but I can sometimes delete the possibilities of a story in my heart. Writing is SO like chili. Best when it's sat overnight :) And I need so much patience. Soooooo much patience.

Margo Dill said...

I couldn't agree more. Even when I'm on deadline, even getting up and walking away from the screen for 30 minutes (if possible) brings new perspective.

Nicole Pyles said...

@Margo - Absolutely! Walking away even a little bit helps so much.

Renee Roberson said...


I feel like I've been much of this past year waiting in some way, shape or form. I have experienced both of these things you talk about. Thinking a piece is great only to have it bypassed multiple times . . . or getting sick of something and putting it aside for a few years ("Between"). I'm the queen of waiting, even if I don't like it much! I'm glad waiting gave you a fresh perspective on both pieces.

Nicole Pyles said...

Thanks Renee! I feel like this is such a hard lesson for me. I am not too great at waiting, especially with stuff I expect positive results from. But waiting is good! Even though I hate it lol.

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