Friday, July 24, 2020

Taking a Vacation

In normal years, July and August are prime time for summer vacations. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, that is not the case in 2020, but I hope all of you can nonetheless find some room for relaxation amid the lockdowns and quarantines.

For myself, the summer is prime writing time: with a week or two free of constant work-related demands, I can ease into the company of a new set of characters. The end of a workday can be productive in terms of revisions—as are weekends, especially the three- and four-day variety. But there’s nothing like an uninterrupted span of days to get the creative juices flowing. Characters come alive, start nattering in my head at night, and direct the plot in previously unimagined ways that spark new directions and possibilities.

Yet neither of those kind of vacations is the subject of this post. One often overlooked but invaluable tool in producing a finished book is to set a full draft aside for a couple of months, then go back to it with fresh eyes. Complicated explanations, twisty plot points, and characters who suddenly react in a way that is entirely out of character—all these flaws become visible after a writer creates enough space between the world inside her head and the response from a reader whose ability to understand inevitably depends on what actually gets onto the page.

By taking a break, the writer becomes that reader. I’m going through this process now with Song of the Sisters, the third novel in my Songs of Steppe & Forest series, and it’s a wonderfully rewarding experience. Unlike Songs 4, which exists in the ether and requires me to capture it with the author’s equivalent of a butterfly net, Songs 3 has a beginning, a middle, and an end; a protagonist and antagonist(s); a character arc. It’s been read by knowledgeable readers and critiqued from start to finish. I would have sworn it was done except for some last-minute vetting of the wording to avoid repetition and anachronisms.

But coming back to it, I can see that it’s not. I’m finding plot points that don’t connect to those around them, character reactions left over from previous versions, doubled letters or meetings or conversations where one would serve just as well. And that’s not counting the few problems that the fine folks in my writers’ group already picked up but I held off on entering until I had time to read the whole.

It’s a fun exercise and, I hope, will lead in the end to a better book. If you’re a writer who rushes to publish, I strongly recommend that you too take a break in the middle. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? If your novel was perfect to start with, it won’t become less perfect over time.

But few novels are perfect at the end of the rough draft—or even the fourth draft. For those that aren’t, a vacation or two can work wonders.

And because it’s July, and with the help of our wonderful Five Directions Press cover designer, Courtney J. Hall, we now have a final cover for Song of the Sisters that I not only love but that reflects a crucial incident in the story, here is my “Christmas in July” cover reveal. The book itself should be available in January 2021.

Well, unless I make good use of that Christmas vacation …

And if you need a book cover (romance preferred, whether historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, or other), you can find Courtney’s terms and portfolio at The Magenta Quill.

Images: cat on beach purchased on subscription from; butterfly public domain via Wikimedia Commons; cover design property of C. P. Lesley, Courtney J. Hall, and Five Directions Press.

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