Incubation: the forgotten step

Part of this wonderful pre-Singapore sifting and sorting and organising is going through boxes I haven’t opened in quite some time. Within these boxes I’ve found a vast selection of unmarked data CDs and I spent Wednesday going through the many, many documents and files. Talk about flashbacks!

I found stories that I’ve been looking for and wondering where they got to, and I found stories and poems I don’t even remember writing. What amazed me, though, was the fact that I read through these – years later – and some of them were good. It was quite a strange feeling to go through something and realise that the idea is clever, that a certain sentence is perfect, that some plots are unique. Sure, there was a lot of crap, but it was so strange to read something so objectively and realise it’s mine.

There is a stage to writing that I firmly believe in, though I don’t often see it talked about and it isn’t a process I hear people refer to in their writing process. I call it “incubation” and, especially after this experience, I think it’s a fantastic part of the writing process – if you do it properly.

So you’ve written your novel. Edited it. Asked people to read it. Edited it some more.

Now incubate it.

Don’t shove it in the bottom of a box for five years and forget about it, but DO set it aside and don’t look at it for at least a month. Yes, a month. Minimum. In this month, do something else – something not related to your novel. It’s tempting to “tweak” it during this time, or have an idea you want to rush and include in it … write it down in a notebook, but don’t touch your novel.

Then come back to your novel and look at it with fresh eyes.

It’s a process I’ve forgotten to incorporate in my writing recently. I tried to do it with my dissertation but time became an issue and it simply wasn’t a realistic option. I regret that, because a month after submitting it I went back through it and saw, glaringly, things I would change for the better. Oh, well.

Now, after reviewing all this stuff I’ve written, I feel like I can view it not as a self-critical perfectionist or as a dillusional wannabe writer, but as a reader. And if you can’t read the work you’ve written and enjoy it, then how do you expect your readers to do it?

Since going through the old documents I’ve been inspired – not to write novels and conquer the world through words, but to keep writing. Every day. And some of it will be crap, but some of it will be good. Istead of giving up, I’m going to take a break from one idea and move on, and instead of ignoring the work that bored or frustrated me, I’m going to come back to it – later, after I’ve left it to incubate.

Have you ever “incubated” your work? How often do you (if ever) look at work you wrote a while ago?

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2 comments on “Incubation: the forgotten step

  1. I just finished NaNoWriMo and I’m doing just what you’ve described – I’m incubating it for at least a month so I can edit it with fresh eyes – great advice =)

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