Writers love their stories, no matter how flawed they may be. That’s why getting away from your manuscript—or letting your manuscript rest—is so important to the creative writing process.
It isn’t just about stagnating your writing journey or giving your mind a break. It’s about forgetting the words you just finished writing, so you can gain an outsider’s perspective on your story and characters—which is the only way you’re going to be able to revise your story into something readers will love.
So, how long should you let your manuscript rest for?
The time will vary from person to person, but my general rule of thumb is one month longer than what you feel is the absolute longest you can stand to be away from your book baby.
Some writers don’t even think they need time, but their manuscripts will surely be better off if every story was given a few extra weeks of relaxation before hitting the editing trenches.
But, to answer the question about how long you should let your manuscript rest for… I’d say the bare minimum should be a few weeks or a month, and work your way up from there.
If you jump back into your story and you can’t figure out what needs changing…you need to take another step out of your novel and work on something else. Take the next three months to write a new manuscript and then come back to this one. It’s not wasted time because you have another full manuscript ready for editing once you’re done with this one.
Your first draft needs a cooldown.
You know when you use an ability in a video game and there’s a cooldown where you can’t use that ability for a certain amount of time? Use that concept with your first draft.
You need to stretch your other creative writing muscles during this time while forgetting about your manuscript. But the thing is… Our minds never really forget that first draft. What it does is go deep into the recesses of your brain, where it works through little problems in your subconscious mind.
Are you the type of person who comes up with ideas or solutions right before bed? Or while you’re in the shower? Or while you’re doing other mundane things that don’t require a lot of brainpower?
That’s exactly what you’re allowing your mind to do while you’re stepping away from your work-in-progress. You’re letting your conscious mind cooldown, while your subconscious mind is working through the little problems.
By letting your manuscript rest for a while after finishing the first draft, you’re actually giving yourself a little, invisible gift.
Look at the time away from your manuscript as a gift.
It’s important to remember that this time away from your book is a gift. It’s something that, if done properly, will allow you to better understand your basic story elements and allow you the distance to not have every dot already connected before you even start reading the first page.
Many writers believe—myself included—that we need to pound out our books one right after the other to become successful. And, quite simply, that just isn’t the case.
You need a story that truly resonates with readers to gain traction, and the second step in the book publishing journey is a hefty revisions lift. To build that list, you’ll first need distance, which will give you perspective, which will help you figure out what needs changing.
As much as I’d love to jump right back into revisions once I’ve finished the first draft, it isn’t feasible. It’s always one of two scenarios: I either love what I’ve written or I hate it. Either way, we’re blind to what needs to be changed because we’re too close to it.
Coming back with a fresh pair of eyes months after you’ve written the first draft will allow you to detach yourself from your project and let you edit ruthlessly and objectively.