How Simmering Makes for Better Writing

This is me coming at my story with “fresh eyes,” which isn’t actually true since my eyes are tired. FIGURATIVELY.

Simmering doesn’t just work to effectively thicken sauce, but also, our stories! Or uh, dilute, depending on your writing objective.

As I previously mentioned on the blog, I wrote a new fiction story on Feb. 12.

However, I believe I failed to mention that doing so represented perhaps my first fiction story I’ve written since at least November 2020? Other stories I’ve written as of late or since then have been creative non-fiction or poetry.

Fiction is a rough game! I feel like I can mine my brain “easier” than I can my concoct a story out of whole cloth.

Anyhow, I let my story from Saturday simmer. I always do that. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing, I need mental separation from the thing once I “finish” the first draft. I do one rough draft and walk away. I don’t want to see it. I need to “forget” about it inasmuch as I can, so that when I come back to it, I have fresh eyes and can appropriately scrutinize its deficiencies. That’s the hope. Our brains are goofy and still might miss something!

That’s what happened moments ago. I returned to the story after about 48 hours without looking at it, or thinking about it. And whew, it’s weird how effective that strategy is for me at least.

Upon reading it again, I cut out entire sentences, changed around some words, added words to make sentences more clear and most importantly, moved around paragraphs either earlier or later in the story to help (hopefully!) with the flow of the story.

One of the items I noticed that I was glad to catch: I used the word “seem,” or its variation “seemed,” way too much. Direct language! Instead of saying my character seemed to notice something, I got rid of the seemed and just said what she noticed!

I also have a tendency to be redundant with my words, where I’m trying to almost hold the hand of the reader too much and overexplain, if that makes sense (see?!). They know it’s cold! I’ve said it’s cold! I don’t need to put this other sentence within the context of the fact that it’s cold! They will get it, okay.

The main two things I’m looking for big picture when revising and coming back to a story after the simmering process: Does the overall story make sense and does the overall story flow?

On the former, my consideration is more the structure of the plot and the characterization. Have I written something that makes sense and is true to the character(s) within it? Is somebody going to read it and think … Wait, what?

With the latter, again with the reader in mind, does the story flow well? Readers know well-structured flow and its opposite when they see it. Are their clunky sentences disrupting the flow? Maybe sentences that are too choppy (hence, my feeling I needed to add words)? Doesn’t this paragraph make more sense up here, or down here? That sort of thing.

Eventually, though, there’s the letting go phase. I could repeat this simmering process for another year. I could let it simmer now for 48 more hours and come back to it and repeat this process, wherein I find things I’d want to change. Then I could let it simmer again; rinse and repeat.

But, yes, eventually, I have to let the story go, particularly if there’s a deadline afoot (and there is with this one!) or for my own dang sanity.

If it was a book, that process would take longer, but even then, you’d have to reach an endpoint of letting the baby go.

Does this simmering process work for you and if so, how long is your simmering process? How many revisions of a draft do you think you do?

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