Getting Critical Distance when writing

Photo by Justus Menke on Unsplash.

It’s very difficult for writers to get true critical distance from their work, especially when the work in question is a novel that has consumed almost every waking moment for months. Unfortunately, critical distance is exactly what’s needed in order to view a piece of writing objectively.

First draft

After completion of the first draft, one approach is to put that novel away in a drawer for a couple of weeks and forget about it. I did this after finishing my most recent novel, A Different Path, and it was an effective technique. The first draft took three months to write, so some of the earlier chapters were already unfamiliar to me, and this extra two week break gave me some much needed distance from the work as a whole.

Subsequent drafts

That first distanced read-through is a crucial one because it gets progressively harder to obtain any real critical distance after each pass. I’m currently trying to get a couple of weeks of distance after making changes for my second draft, but this will be the fourth time I’ve read the work through, and I’m worried I’ve now become so familiar with it, a two week break won’t be enough.

As I write this, the second draft has started calling out to me from inside the leather portfolio case it’s been trapped in for the last ten days. I’m now tempted to unzip it, caress the pages, let some light fall on them for a few minutes, maybe even read the first sentence…

Work on something else

A possible solution to the problem of diminishing distance might be to put every second draft away for six months and work on the first and second draft of a new idea instead. Six months is a good chunk of time, and that should be enough distance to bring back the objectivity.

Twenty six years of distance?

I recently re-read a novella I wrote twenty six years ago during the winter of 1993/94. The story was about a particularly dangerous type of computer virus, hence the image at the top of this post.

Reading it back after so long was a wonderful experience in many ways, but the critical distance I managed to get from the writing was unbeatable. I was able to come back to it purely as a reader, without remembering anything about the writing process, the plot, or the characters, apart from one or two names.