Some call it hibernating. Some say they’re putting it to rest. Some say they’re letting it marinate, or that it’s cooling off.
No matter what you call it, stepping away from the first draft of your book for a measured amount of time is a smart move.
Smart, but not always easy. Let’s admit it — finishing that first draft is a feat in itself that not a lot of writers pull off. And because it’s such an accomplishment, it prompts two common reactions: Either you want to show it to everyone you know with the reverence of handing them your firstborn …
… or you want to dive into the revision process like a fanatical scientist who can’t stop mixing chemicals long enough to see how they react.
Resist the temptation to do either, and just walk away.
Walk away and reward yourself. After all, a first draft is a big deal. It’s cause for celebration. So plan a dinner on the town or go see a new movie.
James Scott Bell, who wrote the classic craft book, Plot & Structure, advocates the same:
“Your first draft needs a cooling-off period. So forget all about your novel and do something else … All the while, your first draft is cooling in the recesses of your brain, where a lot of good stuff happens, unnoticed.”
Once you’re done celebrating the completion of your first draft, continue to keep your distance from your newly-finished book.
The best way to do that is to dive into a completely new project, like mapping out your self-marketing platform.
It’s Because Your Brain Needs a Break …
Consider that your creative mind was working overtime during the birth of your first draft. You need to allow your imagination some downtime, some space to breathe — at least in relation to this specific book. So hiding it away for three weeks or longer is a smart move.
It’s also a practice followed by some of the most famous and admired authors on earth. For instance, in his revered book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says,
“How long you let your book rest — sort of like bread dough between kneadings — is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks …
“With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development … And listen — if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them … Screw-ups happen to the best of us.”
As Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird by Bird, every writer writes shoddy first drafts.
“All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
To be honest, stepping away is smart when it comes to any kind of first draft, not just a book. Whether you’ve written a blog post, a newsletter article, or even a direct-mail sales letter, it’s always a good idea to put your first draft out of sight and out of mind. Don’t return to it till you’ve completely applied your focus to something else, whether that’s exercise, eating, a different type of writing project, or your own self-marketing plan.
The time you should wait in between drafts is proportional to the length of the project. A one-page blog can rest for a day. A 12-page sales letter is best off resting for a week. And as for your book, well, you be the judge. Based on my own experience of getting wrapped up in a story I’ve developed over time, it takes at least a month to step away, mentally and emotionally.
Maybe you’ll want a longer break — or a shorter one. Go with the schedule that works for you in conjunction with all your other life obligations. Just make sure to get a mental break in somewhere. Your book will be better for it.
I’d love to know — have you tried walking away from your book for a few weeks? Did it work? How long did you need to stay away before you could edit without emotion, or at least with clarity?
To enjoying the resting-process,