Friday, May 30, 2014

FRESH ON FRIDAY: Letting it Rest

MOST SATURDAYS, WHEN I'm home in Florida, I go the same place for dinner: Shannon's Casual Cafe, in Orlando. The Saturday special is prime rib, and recently I called the owner in the early afternoon because my daughter needed to be at work at five; I asked him when the first prime rib would be ready.
   "We just took it out of the oven," he told me. "Now it has to rest. Give us half an hour to forty-five minutes."
   When chefs talk about resting cooked meats, most people assume that is so the food can finish cooking on stored heat. While that is true (to a very limited extent), there is actually another reason that a smart chef does this.
   Cooking a roast or even a steak forces the juices of the meat into its core. Immediately after cooking, the core is super-saturated with juice; cut it then, and most of the juice will run out, leaving a dry and tough cut of meat behind.
   But let it rest for several minutes, and the juices will migrate back to the outer regions of the meat. After resting, the roast or steak will be tender, moist and succulent.
   I mention all this as the prelude to saying that your fiction needs to rest as well. Not to redistribute the juices, but to allow what you thought you wrote to migrate out of your head. If I re-read something I wrote the same day that I wrote it, I will miss even basic errors (such as typing "and" when I meant "an," or "top" when I meant "to"—things I do all the time).
   But if I wait until the next morning to read my work, I'll catch a lot of stuff that needs revision. And then, if I set that work aside and revisit it a couple of months (or even a couple of weeks) later, I'll be objective enough that I can edit it as though it was someone else's work.
   Many novelists procrastinate. It seems to be the nature of the beast. And that being the case, there might not always be a few spare weeks or months in which to let the work rest. In that case, my preferred option is to change the line spacing and the font so the work looks different from what I keyed in. That, or I will prep it as a down-and-dirty ebook so I can read it on my Kindle. And of course, at some stage I'll always set up my MacBook so it can read the work back to me. Those tricks give me at least a shade more objectivity when I'm reviewing something I just wrote.
   But even better is to develop the discipline to write ahead of schedule, so you'll have time in which to let the work rest.
   Give that a try.
   And as for me, for some reason I find myself daydreaming about tomorrow ... and prime rib.

No comments:

Post a Comment