I normally like to look at a piece for revision after it’s sat for about 5-6 months. A good long break helps me to see the story objectively again. When I go back too early, I have difficulty to seeing the story any differently than when I left it. Or so I once believed.
I’ve again been sidetracked from my new stories and gotten knee-deep into a couple of revisions to make submission deadlines. It was surprisingly fruitful to work on stories that I’d no urge or inspiration to revise. It’s only been 2 months since I last looked at them. There’s a kind of “story burnout” I go through at the end of a revision. By then, the ideas prompting the revision have lost their earlier luster, and the grueling work of writing and re-writing has taken its toll. Editing at that point is no longer about discovery.
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma…In the afternoon — well, I put it back again. –Oscar Wilde
However, there is something to say about forcing yourself to sit down and apply workshop feedback or editor recommendations to a piece that you have an aversion to at the moment. I think you’re actually more open to changes, because, let’s face it, you really just want to get it over with and go on to something else. Something more, well, inspired.
I think because your inspiration is asleep, your mind is tuned to a kind of anti-story state. It becomes your toughest critic because it’s been freed to unveil the blind spots and flaws in the piece that you couldn’t see by the end of the last revision process. I also think when you’re not inspired to work on a particular revision, you can approach it with a clearer sense of truth – not just about the piece as a whole, but also with voice, point of view, tone, characterization and imagery, inevitably leading to sentence structure and word choice. Anything not in line with the truth of the piece sticks out.
Then something extraordinary quietly happens. Small adjustments lead to big changes, and vice versa. And you end up with a more authentic, more believable, and if I may say, a more inspired story.