My wife and I have a mallard duck—a hen—sitting on eleven eggs that she’s camouflaged well in our landscaping. You really have to know where she is to see her. On occasion, she’s gone, seeking food, I assume, although now Cathy has made that easy for her by putting out some cracked corn. Mostly the hen just sits, incubating those eggs while she waits for them to hatch.
From time to time, I consider her patient task. It takes twenty-eight days for the eggs to hatch. That makes for a good deal of time spent sitting and waiting, which, apparently, is exactly what this hen knows how to do.
Oh, if the same were only so when it comes to writing. There, we’re sometimes too hasty, too impatient, too forgiving. We let our creations go out into the world before they’re ready, and when they fail to take wing and fly—when they come back to us, unaccepted, rejected—we often question whether we should have let them go in the first place.
To avoid that regret, please allow me to suggest a few ways to make sure our work is mature enough to compete in the marketplace:
1. Wait, wait, wait. Write a draft. Then put it away while you write the draft of something new. If you’ve just drafted a book-length piece, spend some time writing shorter pieces. Try your best not to think about the piece that’s waiting for you to come back to it.
2. Resist, resist, resist. Don’t go back to that original piece until you find it coming into your mind without your trying to think about it—those moments when you’re doing something else like running, or vacuuming, or waking from sleep; those moments when all of a sudden, much to your surprise, that original piece is vividly there.
3. Slow down. Read your original draft with an analytical eye. Now that you know the overall shape, and now that you know where it lands, think about the work each part (scene, chapter, poem) is doing to contribute to the overall effect of the piece.
4. Open it up. If you find something in the original draft that strikes your interest but needs further development, follow it to see where it will go.
5. Close it down. If you find that something absolutely doesn’t fit, be ruthless. Take it out. Save it for something else. Again, the question is always, “What work is this doing for the overall effect of the piece?”
Finally, wait, wait, wait, again. A second draft doesn’t necessarily mean a piece is ready for submission. Put it away and repeat steps 1-5.