What to do during your novel’s resting period.
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
It’s advice you’ve probably heard before: After finishing the first draft of your novel (and subsequent drafts to a lesser degree), you should let it rest a bit before you jump into revisions. In other words, you should spend some period of time not rereading or even glancing at your novel before you start making changes.
In today’s post, we’re going to talk about that resting period and what you should do while your novel is off-limits.
Why does your novel need to rest?
Putting your novel away for a while gives you perspective. While you’re writing the first draft, you’re surrounded by the details of your story—the way your main character talks, how the love interest has a dimple in just one cheek, the way the light plays off the natural waterfall in the castle gardens of the moon kingdom, etc. It’s as if you’re stuck on 500% view and can’t zoom out no matter how you try, never able to get the full picture. Taking time away gives back the full picture, so you can zoom out and see what areas need adjusting more clearly. It’s much harder to do a substantial revision if you can’t see your story as a whole.
Resting your novel also gives you some emotional distance from it, which is essential to making good revisions. When you first finish a novel, you’re extremely attached. It’s no wonder—you’ve spent months, maybe even years, working on it. And just after finishing it, there’s no way you’re emotionally ready to make the big cuts that are almost always necessary. Because yes, you’re going to have to delete stuff. Not just sentences that sound so gorgeous and are some of your best writing, but characters, scenes, entire chapters, sometimes even hundreds of pages that are fine but don’t really make the story any better. It’s much easier to make these cuts after some time has passed, when you see the story a little less as your book baby and a little more as a project that needs reworking.
Finally, resting your story before you work on it again allows you to forget some of the finer details. This is great, because the next time you read it, you’ll get more of a sense of what a reader would experience. Now, of course you can’t truly get a reader’s experience (unless you let your novel rest for years and years), but you can reach some kind of approximation, and that’s really helpful when you start revising.
How do you rest your novel, then?
First, choose how long you’ll let the novel rest. Most experienced writers suggest a month or two. If this is your first time finishing a novel and embarking on revisions, I recommend something on the longer end—six to eight weeks, if you can. If you have a couple of books under your belt already, then you may need as few as two or three weeks.
Now that you have a date for when you can open up your novel again, move the document into a new folder. This’ll keep your muscle memory from automatically opening it.
Another helpful tip is to name the new folder it’s in with the date you can open it. For example: DO NOT OPEN UNTIL APRIL 26 2021. (I like all caps for things like this. But do what’s best for you!)
Once you’ve got the folder all set up and your open date chosen, don’t peek until that date! Remember, distance is key. If you get any ideas for things to fix in the meantime, write them down in a notebook or start an entirely different document with them. Do not look at your actual story again until your resting period is over.
So what should you do while your novel’s resting?
Now we’re getting to the meat of things!
Finishing a novel is a huge accomplishment. Think of all the people out there who say they want to write a book and never get around to it. Think of all the people who start writing but never finish. You finished! Get yourself your favorite snack and beverage, buy that slightly frivolous thing you’ve been wanting for a while, and give yourself permission to be proud!
Then, catch up on all the stuff you’ve been ignoring while writing.
Didn’t get your laundry done? Haven’t been texting friends back? Forgot to call your favorite family member? This is the time to get caught up on all those things you’ve been neglecting. Get back into your language learning, clean the house, spend time with your loved ones, or spend time relaxing by yourself! And do it all without thinking “I should be writing right now.”
After that, refill your creative well.
Creative output needs creative input. A lot of writers refer to this as the “creative well.” As you write, you draw creative water out of this well over and over, and often at the end of a big project like a novel, the well is looking pretty low, if not totally dry.
To make sure your well is full of new ideas for new projects and brilliant solutions to the revision issues you’re sure to come up against with this one, you need to refill it with whatever inspires you. That may be other books. It might be your favorite TV shows or movies. Maybe it’s not content at all, but things like walks in the woods or a day at the beach or late-night chats with your best friend. Do whatever inspires you and brings you more ideas.
As your open date gets closer, study up on writing craft.
This is especially helpful if you’re new to revisions. Spend some time reading up on writing craft for whatever you think you may come up against. Maybe you’ll need help with characters, world building, plot, or sentence flow. (By the way, I do craft book reviews on the blog! You can click here to see books I’ve reviewed in the past.)
Find some books, YouTube videos, and/or podcasts on the topics you think you'll have trouble with. Having these tips fresh in mind as you read through your book again for the first time can really help with your revisions.
Bonus: Write something else. (If you want.)
This is not for everyone, but if you’ve got another book idea (or short story, or novella, or memoir, or whatever) that you’re super excited about, you could start writing that while you wait for this one to rest.
Or maybe you’re not ready to write yet, but you’ve got some ideas floating around. You could do some brainstorming or even outlining if that’s your thing. This can be especially helpful if you just can’t stop thinking about your book and the waiting is agony for you.
One caution, though: I recommend not working on a sequel quite yet if this is your first time writing a novel. You’ll learn so, so much from revising that first novel, and it will have major effects on any sequel you write. (It also has the downside of putting you right back into the same book world when what you’re trying to do right now is get away from that world for a bit.)
It’s so exciting to finish a novel, and it’s natural to want to jump right back in, but it truly is important to let it rest. This isn’t everything you could possibly do while your novel rests, but I hope it gives you enough to get you through those six to eight weeks of waiting. Good luck on your revisions!
And if you’re a bit further along in the writing process and are looking for an editor, I’m your girl! Send an email to email@example.com to get started.