The Importance of Resting Your Novel
Maybe you just finished your NaNoWriMo novel, or maybe, if you’re getting to this post later, you’ve just finished the first draft of your WIP. Congratulations! That’s so exciting, and I bet you’re just itching to get back in there and start fixing it up.
But wait a second before you dive back in.
One of the biggest (and, I’d argue, most important) steps to revising your novel is letting your draft rest. In fact, the first step in my draft-by-draft revision guide (It’s a free PDF! You can get it here.) is letting the draft rest, because it’s just that important!
But why is resting your novel so important, and what does it do for your revision process? That’s what we’re exploring in today’s post. Let’s go!
But first, how to rest your novel:
Choose how long you want to rest your novel for. (More on this below.)
Pick a place in your documents folder that you don’t typically open every day. Or maybe even create a new subfolder titled “Resting Drafts.”
Wherever you decide to temporarily put your book, create a folder and label it with the date that it’s okay to open your manuscript again. (For example, if you want to rest your novel until February 1, then title the folder “February 1” or “Do Not Open Until February 1”)
Put your novel in that dated folder.
Don’t look at it again until the date!
Do something else while you wait! (I have an entire post about what to do while your novel is resting here.)
Why resting a draft between revisions is so important:
In general terms, it makes revisions go much, much smoother if you can let your novel rest between drafts.
First of all, you’ll have less overall attachment to the novel after it’s rested a bit. When you embark on revisions, you’re going to have to make a lot of tough choices. Should you delete the entire first chapter? Should you kill off this character? Should you remove all the intensive worldbuilding info you so carefully added in? These choices are way easier to make when you’re not as attached!
Sometimes, especially right after finishing a book, we get so emotionally attached that even the thought of revising any of the things listed above seems unbearable. Delete the first chapter? But you worked so hard on that chapter! You LOVE that chapter! It’s the best chapter of the book!
The thing is, though, that to your readers, that chapter may be boring or confusing or seem entirely pointless. Would you want them to give up on the rest of the book because of that first chapter? No? Then maybe the chapter has to go!
Even a gap of a few weeks can be enough to soften the emotional attachment you feel towards the story, and that’ll make these decisions far less agonizing. You won’t have to battle yourself back and forth as much, and it’ll hurt less to make the cuts that need to be made.
Secondly, letting your novel rest lets you see it through the eyes of a reader.
When you’ve freshly written a novel, you’re an expert on the world. You know all the tiny details and nuances of the characters and setting—you’re immersed in them! But a reader coming fresh to your novel will not know these things. And since you want your book to be enjoyed by readers, you need to see your book the way they see it.
Have you ever looked back at stuff you wrote years ago? It’s almost like an entirely different person wrote it, right? That’s because you were a different person then. You didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or ideas you have now.
Giving your draft a rest mimics this phenomenon. I doubt any of us want to let our drafts rest for years, but even just a month or two can be enough to give you more of a reader’s perspective.
The reader’s perspective lets you see where you might have forgotten to detail things on the page. This happens a lot—you, the author, know that a specific piece of backstory happened to a certain character, so you forget to put it in the story because it seems so obvious to you. But the reader doesn’t know! One of the most consistently flabbergasting part of revisions is the part where you see what your readers see—and it’s not what you intended to write. Having this perspective yourself saves you an extra round of beta readers.
Basically, when you’re the author of the book, your emotions and perspective are skewed. It’s like how when you live with a young pet or child, you don’t notice them growing day-to-day, but suddenly someone else comes over and says, “Wow, they grew so much!” Different eyes see things differently, and that can only be a net positive when revising.
Finally, resting your novel gives you time to rest, too!
Yes, you need rest, even from a novel you absolutely love. It gives you time to refill the creative well, for one. It also gives you time to explore other writing that might challenge you in different ways, so when you come back to start revising, you’ve gained new writing skills! And best of all, it gives your brain time to do background work. You know how the best ideas always show up in the shower, or on a walk, or right before you go to sleep? That’s because your brain needs blank space to be creative. Give it that space!
So how long should you rest your novel?
Different people will advise different lengths of time, and the only true answer is “it depends.” My usual answer is “As long as you possibly can considering your time constraints.” But I know those answers are terribly frustrating, so I have a few guidelines for you!
The longer the first draft took, the longer you should rest it after. (So if the first draft took 5 weeks, your rest would be much shorter than a draft that took 5 years.)
The newer you are at writing, the longer your draft should rest. (So if this is your first novel ever, you’ll want to pick a longer resting period than if it’s your tenth.)
The more prone you are to getting really, really attached, the longer you should rest your draft. (So if you see your book as your baby, you’ll want to rest your novel longer than an author who sees their book as a product.)
The more accurate your memory, the longer your draft should rest. (So if you’re the type to remember every tiny detail, rest your novel longer than someone who easily forgets what they wrote.)
The higher the draft number, the shorter the resting period. In general, draft 1 will rest the longest, and each subsequent draft can rest for an even shorter period than the previous one.
Okay, but Toni, I was looking for actual numbers.
Okay, okay! Here’s some numbers for you (but of course adjust depending on your personal circumstances):
Generally: 4 - 6 weeks for a first draft (but see below!)
First-time novelists, highly-attached authors, memory mavens, and multi-year drafters: 8 weeks MINIMUM. (Ideally even longer, like 3 to 6 months if you can stand it.)
Authors on a strict deadline, super-experienced authors, quick forgetters: 1 week minimum
Now, of course there may be times when you have to dive straight into revisions (like if you’re on a strict deadline from your publisher), but I really don’t advise it, for all the reasons mentioned above.
Or you may be one of those writers who edits as you go or has absolutely no trouble bouncing straight from drafting to revisions. If that’s you, then keep doing you! I’m not here to tell you what you have to do, but sharing a strategy that works for the majority of authors I’ve spoken with. Ultimately, the best way is the way that works for you, even if that’s different from my way. 😉
How long do you typically rest your drafts?
And! If you’re new to drafting and revisions, or if you’re looking to refine your established revision process, here’s another link to that free draft-by-draft revision guide I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It’ll help you get through your revisions as smoothly and efficiently as possible!