Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Unnamed Step--The Rest That Isn't Restful by Susan Oleksiw, Guest Blogger

My guest today is mystery writer, Susan Oleksiw, who was published in hardcover by Five Star/Cengage and now in paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery. Under the Eye of Kali is set at the cozy seaside Hotel Delite in southern India.

According to her website bio, before turning to crime fiction, Susan received a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from the University of Pennsylvania, and lived and traveled extensively in India as part of her studies.

Welcome, Susan. And congratulations on having Harlequin pick up Under the Eye of Kali for their mass market paperback edition.


The Unnamed Step--The Rest That Isn't Restful by Susan Oleksiw, Guest Blogger

Writers have habits and practices that we rely on to help us complete the manuscript we're working on, and some of them are quirky and some are just good practices. Others seem too obvious to mention, but these can be crucial. I am in the middle of one of them right now that is especially frustrating but necessary.

After I've finished a major first draft, which means I've been over it twice and made changes to the plot, modified or added characters, and started on serious revisions, I set it aside and send it out for a critical reading by two people I trust. This means I send out two hard copies and then I sit and wait. I do no rereading, revising, editing, or rewriting. I try to let my mind move to other things, to let myself get some distance on what I've basically been immersed in for weeks and months. I force myself to wait. This drives me crazy but I do this with everything I write.

During this waiting period I might try writing a review or doing research into a related topic for another writing project, work on some promotional efforts, work on a short story, or dust my bookshelves. I weed through the paper in my files, or make plans for research trips. But I won't let myself start on anything major, and I won't pick up the mss that is being reviewed.

My restlessness while waiting is something I just have to live with because I think this set-aside period is extremely important for the finished book. For writers like me who work by getting into the story and living it as I write it, it is hard to pull back and see the story and how it's written with any objectivity. And yet if I don't change gears, I'll never be able to bring a truly critical eye to the work. I have to move on myself enough to see and think differently or I will never see the mistakes and gaffes and omissions in my work. I have to feel differently from when I was writing, and that takes time. This can mean three weeks or three months.

Given enough time, I become objective about my own work, able to judge it clearly, and do the hard work of finishing and polishing. This often means I have to cut scenes or characters without hesitation, and tighten passages that I originally thought were absolutely crucial. With enough distance, I can see at once that a particular character is unnecessary and her contribution to the plot can be handled by another character. Or I can see that the setting I once thought contributed great atmosphere is just a muddle of cliches.

I hate the waiting because I don't want to do anything else (impatience is a weakness I confess to) except finish the book, but I know I can't really finish the book until I can see it as an editor and not as a creator. Waiting patiently, letting the book settle, letting myself change and move forward all mean that when I do sit down again with the mss, it will seem new to me. I will see the characters develop and stumble into the holes in the plot, the inconsistencies in the villain or the protagonist, the lagging pace in the middle of a chapter, the abrupt leap between scenes. I will see the flaws and know what to do.

Seeing these flaws is half the job of fixing them, so I'm willing to wait to let my eyes adjust so I can come to the mss fresh. Writers talk a lot about revising and rewriting, but we are able to do that work because of something we talk less about--the time of rest between the writing and rewriting, when we pull back and wait and then rediscover our own work as if we'd barely seen it before.


Thanks again, Susan. This is great advice.

You can learn more about Susan and her writing at her website and her blog, One Writer's World. The paperback edition of Under the Eye of Kali can be purchased at the Harlequin Worldwide Mystery online store.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Susan.

Susan - Thanks for reminding us of how important it is to step back and wait sometimes. I think we actually get a lot more objectivity about our work when we set it aside. And as you say, it's easier to look at it with fresh eyes. I wish you much success with your work!

E.J. Wesley said...

Great thoughts, Susan. "I can't really finish the book until I can see it as an editor and not as a creator." So hard. So true!


Susan Oleksiw said...

This is a tough lesson to learn sometimes because I want to keep working and working and working. But over the years, I've learned. Thanks for checking in, Margot and E.J.

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's great advice, and I'll be spending December making one more pass through that suspense novel of mine. It's sitting quietly, waiting, while I focus on NaNoWriMo.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

What's cool is when it does come back from critique partners, it's like a whole new story with fresh ideas!
At least that's been my experience.

Susan Oleksiw said...

You're right, Alex. Beta readers come up with fascinating questions that push me in a new direction or show me where I missed a great opportunity. A good reader/critique partner is worth more than money.

Dean K Miller said...

Thanks again, Pat for a great guest blog. Your ability to get/book such great authors and advice for us is much appreciated!

Now...back to your Nano!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, Dean, but I'm the big winner here because I get to meet so many awesome writers like Susan!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

William Zinsser makes the comment that we should first write our work, then at a later date put on our editor's hat. I agree with you and him. First, we must simply write the best book we can. Then we critique it with fresh eyes at a future time. Congrats on the sale to Worldwide!