I heard recently that Joyce Carol Oates puts a manuscript into a drawer and leaves it there a year after between drafts.
I can totally see that. Revising is a lot about putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, and experiencing it in a fresh way. Putting a draft in a drawer would really help create that kind of distance. If nothing else, you wouldn't remember half of what you wrote, or at least I wouldn’t. So, you’re experiencing the story anew.
I don't think I could put away a manuscript for a year, but looking from the reader’s perspective is so important, and time is great for that. I think it's great for getting the rhythms and tensions right, taking care of the reader, making sure you show them around properly, give them a sense of the people, the surroundings.
But one thing is, what kind of reader are you inviting into your story during revision? I think some people dislike revision because they see it as the frowning editor/judge phase of writing. That can be hampering. When I think of a reader's perspective, I think about my creative allies, like my critique partners, and sometimes supportive readers. I never envision harsh editors or frowning readers.
My mindset is like, there is a hidden perfect story in there and I am hard at work finding it, and the drudge work is done, and I’m getting closer and closer. And I have this feeling that they will be excited for what is working and they will tell me what isn’t, and that will help me get closer to my goal.
There are these twitter/blog things where you post parts of your work in progress—six sentence Sunday, Snippet Saturday. These have really taught me a lot about how much more I can revise when I think I’m done. Like, I’ll find what I think is a really fun, good part to put up, but then when I imagine everyone reading just that tiny part, I see more and more new things to fix and change.
I used to laugh about this story about a famous author actually changing his book IN the bookstore. He would take a book he’d authored and cross stuff out and revise. I don’t remember who it was but it in was in the Paris Reviews Interviews series. It's a favorite story of mine, because I do love to revise.
Anyway, last year I put up this novella about my character Simon. I was really happy with it. I kind of thought it was my best work and I still sort of do. But then this summer, I started feeling like it needed an epilogue. And what is scary about digital publishing is that you can change the stuff after it’s been in the bookstore. You never have to be done!