One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve heard is, “Leave your writing in a drawer for at least a month and come back to it with fresh eyes.” I call this, simmering. Just like sauce, soup, or stew, simmering stories adds flavor, richness, and tenderness to the finished product. And like in cooking, you cannot simmer a story by watching over it constantly. Sure you need to check it now and then. Give it a stir. Taste it. Add more seasoning. Turn down the heat. But ultimately, you need to cover it and walk away.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to let a story simmer. I actually received a lovely rejection note from an agent I had submitted to THREE YEARS ago! Having that manuscript land back in my inbox was like finding a forgotten recipe. I read it over and laughed at my naiveté. I saved the story and rejection letter in a file and I walked away from it. But the story didn’t leave me. It began to simmer and bubble in the back burner of my brain. I opened the file and reread it several days later. I thought about what changes could be made to save it, make it more palatable. I took my fresh ideas to my critique group. I outlined and storyboarded. I wrote a new draft using the heart of the original story and deleting the unnecessary ingredients. I’ve got two weeks before my next critique meeting. Time enough to let this draft sit. Time enough to allow myself fresh eyes when I open it up again. It won’t be long before I take off the lid, sample another taste, and decide what spices need to be added.
Simmering uses all five senses. I encourage you to do the same in your writing. Evoke the sense of smell and taste as well as sight and sound in your readers. The way to a man’s heart may be through his stomach, but the way to a reader’s heart is through your words. Touch your readers in their hearts.
Writing, like cooking, takes practice. You have to write a lot to get good at it. Try different styles, points of view, genres. Find what you like. Just like chefs, agents and editors have different tastes. Some like it hot; others mild. Some like complex spice pallets; others like simple flavors. So my best advice to you, is to make it the way YOU like it. Then find someone who likes it the same way you do and share it with them.
Bon appétit, or as my mother always says, “Buen provecho!”