Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writing: Give it Time

By Sangu Mandanna, @SanguMandanna

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH: Today I'd like to welcome Sangu Mandanna to the blog to help us slow down. Like just about every other writer out there, I was in a hurry to get published and rushed my early manuscripts. Which were then rushed right back to be with big fat NOs on them. I would have saved myself a lot of pain had I known what Sangu is going to share with us.

Sangu was four years old when she was chased by an elephant and wrote her first story about it and decided that this was what she wanted to do with her life. Seventeen years later, she read Frankenstein. It sent her into a writing frenzy that became The Lost Girl, a novel about death and love and the tie that binds the two together.

Sangu now lives in England with her husband and baby son. Find her online at or on Twitter (@SanguMandanna).

Take it away Sangu...

As writers, we’re often told to give a manuscript time. To finish it, and work on it a little more, and then to simply put it away for a few weeks, or months, and completely ignore it. And when we come back, it’s like magic! We’re no longer jaded, exhausted, sick of looking at same pages over and over. We have a lot of enthusiasm and fresh, unweary eyes. We find little flaws, awkward sentences, poor usage of words—a whole slew of problems that, briefly, make us wonder what the heck we were thinking in the first place.

This is great advice. In fact, sometimes I think this is the best advice you can possibly give a writer. Time and a fresh perspective can work wonders for your manuscript.

If you’re like me, though, this is hard. I’m impatient. I don’t want to put my manuscript away for a few weeks. I want to get moving, get things done. Bringing everything to a standstill feels like I’m moving backward. I’ve even cheated in the past. I’ve put the manuscript away and then, a mere few days later, whipped it out again to do a little tweak here or a little nudge there.

Which doesn’t help me at all.

Here’s the thing: time doesn’t just help you find mistakes and flaws. Time can remind you of just how good the book is. And that’s the most incredible thing of all.

I’m a perfectionist. Even a little obsessive compulsive. When I’m working on a book (and I mean writing-ten-hours-a-day, can’t-think-about-anything-else working on a book), I get a little lost in it. And not in a good way. I stop writing and start correcting. I edit, and I edit, and then I edit some more. And when I’ve been doing it long enough, when I’ve looked at the same pages enough times, even the good stuff starts to look wrong. I start fixing things that don’t need to be fixed. Changing sentences that don’t need to be changed. Making a little tweak here, and another there, which then means I have to change something else later on...

...and on and on it goes. I’m wasting time and squandering my passion because I’m editing for the sake of editing. Sound familiar?

Let’s break it down using some of my actual numbers.

First draft: 2 months
Edits: 3 months
Time away from manuscript: 3 days
More edits: 3 months
Total time: about 8 months

First draft: 3 months (this time the first draft included a lot of tweaking and editing along the way)
Edits: 1 month (because so much was already edited while I wrote the first draft)
Time away from manuscript: 1 month
More edits: 2 weeks
Total time: 5.5 months

Guess which one was published?

(I’m not saying doing this means you will be published, of course! I’m just saying that that time away helped me write a better book in the end.)

And the irony here is that not giving my book its time actually cost me more time in the end.

So, time. With Manuscript A and many others I’ve worked on, I inevitably drowned in my own work. Until I came to a point where, sometimes, I thought ‘this book isn’t working at all, I’ve been trying to fix it for weeks and nothing’s any better. Maybe I should just forget about it and write something else.’

Or worse, ‘I’m tired. I don’t even know why I want to write at all.’

But then there are the times when I did put the book away (like Manuscript B), and I forgot about it for a little while. I got on with my life, wrote other things for fun, charged up my batteries again. And when I came back to the book, yes, of course I found small things I could and should fix. But I also skimmed through pages like it was the first time I was reading them, and I thought, ‘huh. I remember why I loved this so much.’

About The Lost Girl

Eva's life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her "other," if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it's like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this.

Now she must abandon everything and everyone she's ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she's forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive.

What Eva finds is a grief-stricken family; parents unsure how to handle this echo they thought they wanted; and Ray, who knew every detail, every contour of Amarra. And when Eva is unexpectedly dealt a fatal blow that will change her existence forever, she is forced to choose: Stay and live out her years as a copy or leave and risk it all for the freedom to be an original. To be Eva.


  1. Excellent advice! I put my manuscript a way a week ago and I keep having to fight that itch to go back and tweak it, so this was an encouraging read. :)

  2. Such great advice. So need this right now! Thanks to both of you!
    And your book sound really intriguing!

  3. Thanks so much for having me here today, Jan!

    E.Maree: that itch is soooo hard to ignore! I have to admit sometimes I still cheat and take a quick peek (but I'm trying not to!)

    Amelia: thank you! Hope it helps :-)

  4. Excellent advice! am definitely going to take it when I finish this draft!

  5. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the book that you had more patience with, that took less time because you gave it more time to marinate - that's the one that got published. :-)

    But seriously, your advice is spot on. And I'm so thrilled The Lost Girl is out in the world for all to enjoy, Sangu!

  6. Ohh, I needed this. I definitely go with the "it's been three days, that's gotta be plenty!" point of view.

    Or, perhaps worse, I start feeling guilty for not working on this particular manuscript, because I never remember that leaving it alone is (should be) part of the writing process. Thank you!

  7. I have so much trouble letting a manuscript sit for weeks. Thanks for reminding me why it's necessary.

  8. I have heard such great things about Lost Girl! And thanks for this amazing advice.

  9. So very true! And I wish I'd had this to read three weeks ago, when I insisted on ploughing ahead rather than letting the work rest awhile.

  10. I loved your post on taking time away - but then I read what your book was about and kind of lost my train of commenting thought. The book looks so great I'm off to Amazon to get me a copy right now!

  11. Timely advice for me. I've just finished my first draft of my latest wip and had decided to "wait" on it a couple weeks before revising it and sending it out to beta readers. I plan to take my time with this one and hopefully get it "right."

  12. Just came across this excellent post! I loved it so much I had to blog about it here:

    I can attest that a "resting period" is essential for any story - I don't think my novella would have turned out half so well if I hadn't ignored it for weeks and months at a stretch, lol.