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Let it Simmer

Tim O'Brien reminded us of an important writing practice in his chat with Mediabistro on Monday. On the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Things They Carried, he worries that the ease of digital publication in blogs, online articles and even books, will adversely affect the quality of writing. He fears it's too tempting to "push the button" and launch freshly written prose that hasn't had time to marinate. Whether you're writing an angry letter to your boss or the first three chapters of your new novel, it's always a good idea to "let it simmer." Most of us have had the experience of revisiting a piece we once thought quite brilliant and discovering that it's mostly crap. When you're caught up in a burst of creative energy, it's easy to overestimate your own originality. Always, always let your work in progress sit for at least a couple of days and preferably a couple of weeks until you can read it with an objective eye that is not influenced by the heat of the moment.

And if you haven't read The Things They Carried, it's an amazing look at war and its effect on the human psyche. One of my favorite writing assignments was asking my students to write an informal journal entry on "The Things I Carry." Through the years I read the most amazing pieces that ranged from discussions of how the contents of one's purse define its owner to thoughtful discussions of the emotional baggage we carry from our life experiences and how those biases shape our actions and relationships. If you take the time to try it, you might learn something new about yourself. And don't forget to let it simmer, then revise it.

Posted in March, 2010

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