Whenever I write words, be it an article for NewMusicBox, a post for my own website, or sometimes even emails, I usually allow a few hours—or preferably a day— to let whatever it is “stew,” and then take another pass for editing purposes. The act of stepping away and getting a little distance from a piece of writing helps me to view it differently when I come back to it later; I can read it from a more detached standpoint and see things I hadn’t noticed when I was wrapped up in its initial creation. The longer I can let it be, the more clearly necessary tweaks come to light. (Yes, chronic editor here. Can you tell?) I find this “stewing” step to be especially important in situations where there is not the benefit of awesome editor colleagues to catch things I might have missed!
This is also something that I have found to be extremely helpful when composing—once a work is “finished,” I put it away for a while (at least a few days and preferably a couple of weeks) and then revisit it for final edits. Usually, small things I hadn’t noticed before jump off the page yelling “Fix me! Fix me!” and when massaged a bit, make the composition stronger. For me the changes often involve extending choice lines and/or phrases; when I’m in the throes of composing, my brain gets impatient and wants to move on to other ideas too quickly, but from a distanced viewpoint it’s easy to hear when a bit of material just needs to be stretched a little. I realize that the opposite is true for many composers, but my lifelong battle with both music and words lies in the general need to expand rather than contract. (I come from a quiet people.)
Clearly, allowing for this sort of extra time in our world of constant deadlines and rush is not always—or, let’s be honest, hardly ever—possible, but I’m determined to work this stewing time into my composing schedule. It’s slightly easier to do with the writing of words, but it’s a serious challenge for composers who tend to work right up to a deadline. Finishing work on time is one thing, but finishing something early? Oof. Somehow I need to trick my brain into believing that the firm deadline for a work is actually a couple of weeks before it actually needs to be finished. Like when you tell people who are always late for meetings that the start time is 30 minutes before the actual meeting! For many years I have used this formula for scheduling purposes (and indeed, most things that need doing in life):
How long I think this project will take x 3 = How long this project will actually take
…it should probably be amended to the formula:
How long I think this project will take x 3 + 1 solid week away from project + 1 solid week-long editing period = How long this project will actually take
Any advice/thoughts/tips on this issue, or on managing deadlines in general are welcome—see you in the comments section!