Back in university, I wrote a lot of essays the night before they were due. I'd get my research sorted out beforehand, but the actual writing wouldn't happen until the day before I had to hand it in.
I seem to have continued this trend when it comes to blogging – however, when it comes to writing stories, I hate waiting until the last minute. I prefer to write a draft well before the deadline, edit it, and then put it aside for a while before editing it again.
But why (you may ask) do you ignore your work? Why let it sit and be unproductive, especially when there's a deadline looming in the distance? Why not finish it as soon as possible?
Honestly, it's so that I can try to forget what I've written.
When I write a story, I know everything about its world. I am that story's God. I know everything important – things that are mentioned in the story and things that are not mentioned. Does it snow in winter? How long has it been since someone visited this building? What does that key look like? Do they have Hawaiian pizza in this world? The answer to all of those questions and more are in my head.
Since I already know most of the details, sometimes I accidentally forget to put them in the story. I forget that I have to explain things – that the reader doesn't share a mental link with me and won't know the answer. Or, oftentimes, I'll have explained something twice, forgetting about that first time. When I'm doing my first edit, I won't necessarily pick up on that missing detail or duplicate information, because all of that info is still in my head.
So I set the story aside for a while and let my brain think about other things. And then, when some time has passed, I look at it with fresh eyes. Often I'll realize that I left out a bunch of descriptions, or that I didn't explain something properly, or that I dropped a plot thread half-way through.
Recently I did some edits on two of my own projects that were close to being finished. One, when I looked at it, was better than I'd expected, while the other wasn't as good as I'd remembered. By going through them with fresh eyes, I was able to see what worked and what didn't. And, in the case of the not-so-good-one, I was able to fix many of the issues that I hadn't noticed during the previous edit.
I don't always have time to do this (which is why it's good to have beta-readers), but I find that if I can spare the time, it usually helps.
After all, every person who reads my story will do so with fresh eyes, unburdened by the massive amounts of lore tucked away in my brain – so I might as well try to do the same.