You may have heard writers speak of the “honeymoon” phase in their writing. If you haven't, it's that period right after you write a piece, where you are totally in love with it. Your characters are amazing, your scenes are vivid, the dialog would make a Hollywood screen-writer jealous and you are certain that this is that one plot that no one has ever thought of before.
Unfortunately, just as in a relationship, over a relatively short time, the bad habits, thoughtless behaviors and warts begin to appear. You have left it sit for a minimum of three or four days, preferably three or four weeks.
You open the file to put a final polish on it, and send it out to your admiring Beta readers, but wait. What's this? Pages of utter drek. The characters are one dimensional, the settings at best blasé, and the brilliant dialog now sounds more like a couple of wasted Valley Girls. What in the hell happened to your masterpiece?
The simple answer is, nothing. These are the words you put on the page. Now, you are seeing it in the same cold harsh light that an editor would, and aren't you glad you didn't send it to him? This is where the real work begins.
You read through the entire file just to make sure that it really is your story and not some decoy placed there by the pirate who lives in your computer. Nope. It's yours alright. As you read through, you make a couple of notes about plot holes and passages which make you stop and read them twice … or three times … sometimes four. You notice that the grammar and punctuation were perpetrated by a ten-year old, but that is to be expected from what you now rationalize is “only a first draft”.
You begin again at the beginning. Where’s the hook? It’s your piece, and you can barely force yourself to read the first paragraph. Does anyone really care that the heavy winged paw-footed Queen Anne sofa with the scrolled crest and arms hardly goes well with the delicate spare lines and elegant marquetry of the Duncan Phyfe sideboard or the plain stark utility of the Shaker chair? You scratch it out and write, “Jeremy sat in a room furnished with a mish-mash of worn-out antiques, scribbling in a leather-bound journal.”
“Are we like going to the theater or what?” his wife, Carol, asked as she entered the room. Oh, my God. Again, you strike the offending line through with our red pen and recraft it. “Darling, we have to leave in thirty minutes if we’re to get to the theater on time.” Carol, peeked into the room as she attempted to hook the clasp on her pearls.
You continue with the bitter task of painstakingly repairing and rebuilding your creation. You carefully insert more tension. You develop your characters, giving each of them more depth, personality and unique speech patterns. You scatter bits and pieces of background and setting being careful to show and not tell. You add here and cut there until finally your piece is nearly as good as you originally thought it to be.
At last, you put your pen (or keyboard) aside and read your story aloud. Inevitably, this will turn up a few missing, misspelled, or awkward words. You make the corrections. Just to be sure, you run it through spell-check and Grammarly or Hemingway to find any little odds and ends you missed. Now you can send it out to your beta readers. If they are any good, it will likely come back looking like a cowboy friend of mine who once walked into a Samoan bar and made a few disparaging remarks about music that wasn’t Country and presumably those who listened to it. In his defense, he had already consumed a fifth of Jim Beam after being mauled by a bull with the same name.
You park yourself at your desk and carefully make the indicated changes, or at least the ones you agree with. You will probably choose to ignore a few. Others, you will literally beat your head against the wall for not noticing yourself. A few, will be so brilliant as to make you say, “Whoa.”
You send your piece to your editor. Do another round of changes and have your proofreader look it over. Finally, you are ready to submit.
When you come back to your work after a time, there are always things which escaped you before. Even after all the above steps and having submitted a piece, I often will pick it up a week or two later and find something that all of us had missed. That’s why, if I have a piece rejected for publication, I will immediately put on my editor’s shade and read through it again. Almost always, I will find a little tweak here or there that it needs before I send it out again. The point here is that, just like with new love, you couldn’t see any of this until you laid it aside, and allowed the honeymoon to pass.