Wikipedia defines a palate cleanser as a neutral-flavored food or drink that removes food residue from the tongue allowing one to more accurately assess a new flavor.
The Urban Dictionary defines a palate cleanser as getting off with someone to get over someone else.
Essentially, it’s the same thing – using one thing to remove something else in preparation for trying something new.
I once went into a candle shop and the proprietor had a small bowl of coffee grounds used as a palate cleanser. After taking a few sniffs of different candles, one’s senses would be unable to truly smell the next one… unless you took a whiff of the coffee grounds between each candle flavor. It cleansed the nostrils so that the scents were pure and unadulterated.
So you might be wondering what a palate cleanser has to do with writing. It’s quite simple. If one is NOT one of the few authors who makes millions from their writing, one has to write and publish often. To do that, you are writing one story to one story to one story… and in no time, your stories begin to all sound the same.
That’s bad for all sorts of reasons. If you’re writing in the same series – your books will end up sounding as though the same storyline has been repeated over and over again. If you’re writing in two different series, universes, or genres, it can be difficult to switch from the intensity of one world to the next.
So how do you do it? Writing a palate cleanser – a story which you don’t care about. It’s simple–perhaps in writing in a genre/series/universe that you are so well versed in that you don’t have to think about it. It needs to be completely unaligned with anything you are writing before or after. It allows you to get the previous book out of your mind and turning it to a completely different concept. Thus, when you start your next manuscript, your mind is clear and you can start anew.
Such as: I wrote M2, finishing in early March. It was military/contemporary sci-fi and I had to get it out of my head so I could feel free to write my cowboy/contemporary fantasy novel in April. So I chose an m/m bdsm romance cleanser. Since I outline everything now, I outlined it, the outlining changing several times while I wrote.
Writing that story helped to remove the M-series from my mind so that I was able to dive directly into Drakyl Ranch without a problem on April 1. But even better? The palate cleanser, since I wasn’t tied to it, turned into something far more interesting than what it began as. Instead of a romance, it ended up being a journey… and just the first part.
So I’m completely tied to palate cleansers in writing now. I believe it would also be extremely helpful if you need to start a rewrite within a month. Usually I wouldn’t suggest starting a rewrite for at least 3 months, 6 if you can handle it, because you need to completely forget the details before you can truly see the plot holes or where parts were not needed. But in the case of a palate cleanser, if it’s long and detailed enough, it can remove your mind enough that you might be able to view your draft with completely new eyes.
And that’s always a good thing.