John Walters currently lives in Greece with his Greek wife and some of his five sons. He attended Clarion West way back in 1973 when the instructors were Harlan Ellison, Terry Carr, Peter Beagle, and others. A lot of life intervened, though, and he didn’t start publishing until the late 90s. Since then he has published over a dozen stories in magazines and anthologies, and four books: a novel, “Love Children”; a memoir of his hippy travel days in the 1970s, “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search”; and two story collections. Four more books are upcoming this year. His website/blog can be found at www.johnwalterswriter.com.
Every parent knows that it is difficult to let the kids leave home, even when they are grown up and ready. When is it the right time for a writer to let go of her literary progeny?
When I complete a piece of work I read through it quickly for any obvious mistakes and then set it aside. I don’t look at it or even think about it again for a few months. Instead, I concentrate on new work. I need this time away. Often while I am in the midst of the writing I have this nagging voice telling me it’s no good, but I slog ahead anyway to finish it according to one of Heinlein’s mandates. Later, when I can see it as a reader, I am usually pleasantly surprised. After I have let it sit, I read it carefully and often find little things to patch up which I missed in the heat of creation. I teach English grammar; I can usually catch my errors. But grammar is not always the most important thing. Continuity of style is most important: pacing, ambiance, the ability to lead the reader on from point to point, emotion to emotion. I long ago turned off the grammar check on my computer; it was annoying and I trust myself more.
However, the process is still not over. Sometimes I let it sit again for a while, but sometimes I format it right away for submission. After it is complete and ready to send off I read it through carefully one more time, scanning for anything amiss. Call me a perfectionist if you want, but this is what works for me. I constantly have stories in various stages of proofreading, and the ones I send out for the first time have usually been written at least six months before.
All writers are different, otherwise the literary world would be incredibly boring. What works for me may not work for you, but I offer my own example in case it might be helpful. What’s your system?