In our early marriage, date nights with my husband were often watching saved episodes of Good Eats with Alton Brown. We learned how to make the perfect pancake, which kind of oil is best for home frying chicken and how to make everyday possessions work in our culinary favor. But one of the greatest lessons we learned was the value of letting a piece of cooked meat rest.
What tends to happen in real life is that dinner is made in a frenzy with the hopes of feeding the people in my charge something resembling an appropriate dinner before they head to homework or dance practice or to work on one of the many instruments being learned at my house. However, when a piece of cooked meat is allowed about 15 minutes to rest before serving, the juices stay in the meat, improving the overall eating experience. The time to rest lets everything come together in a just right way, making mouth and tummy very happy.
Something similar happens when we let our manuscripts have a rest period as well. I’d heard about this and tried to practice it with a month break (usually while beta readers were working their critique magic) but recently, I’d been removed from a manuscript for several months due to querying and have found something amazing about letting a book rest.
Like meat, it gets better!
That’s not to say that I’m reading it with rose-colored glasses and copious amounts of self-praise. But it does mean that I’m discovering the quality of the book that I’ve written is a bit better than I’d given myself credit for. AND I’m discovering all sorts of ways that I can improve it.
You see, when writers allow themselves a break from their work, they have the opportunity to return to it more as a reader. I’ve been able to see where my characterization could be better, moments in the plot that were funny at the time, but no one would consider them so now, and that I am better able to tie all the plot lines together because I’m seeing the new with knowledge about the book as whole. I can see where I’d been too subtle, where I wasn’t subtle enough, and I get to re-experience the emotional tension ebbing and flowing throughout the prose.
So, in the spirit of Alton Brown and his instructional brilliance, I’m sharing my recipe for a perfectly prepared novel.
Cast of Characters
Compelling characters (include primary and secondary)
Micro & Macro conflicts
1. Blend together plot and character and setting. Mix in both conficts to taste.
2. Taste test the manuscript with an edit factoring in suggestions from first readers.
3. Marinate manuscript in blend of quality beta readers.
4. Chop, dice, and season manuscript based on feedback from betas.
5. Apply heat of scrutiny via query and synopsis creation.
6. Let manuscript rest at least two weeks.
7. Cut and serve to agents, contests, and editors.
Just as letting a steak rest too long can result in a cold piece of meat, so too can a dismissal of a book. Don’t forget about your book while it’s resting. I recommend taking this time to toss together the idea of the next book you’d like to try preparing.
Have you had positive experiences letting a book rest? What lessons did you learn from your moments away?
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids living in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.