In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
[After six weeks of rest], take your manuscript out of the drawer. Sit down with your door shut, a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over. Do it all in one sitting, if that’s possible. If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.
Yesterday I wrote about the importance of letting your novel rest between drafts. You want to do it for a month at minimum, and preferably six weeks or longer.
There are all sorts of reasons to do this. It will make you see the flaws easier. It will make the revising go better. You will ultimately have a better time going through your work when you haven’t looked at it in awhile.
The other reason to let your novel sit between drafts?
When you take out that first draft and read it for the first time, the experience will be a total thrill.
Stephen King is right: reading your fiction after you haven’t looked at it in a long time is a completely exhilarating experience. Because enough time has passed that you can read it as a reader, not as a writer. Enough will be new to you that you can experience your book the same way a reader might.
Don’t do what I’ve done in the past. Not letting my manuscript rest at all and just going straight into the next draft with barely a breath taken. You might think you’re being smart in doing this, that you’re saving time, but the irony is you’re actually wasting time, because your book will never receive the revision it needs.
Worse? The experience reading through your novel over and over will become a chore the more you do it. You will have memorized every little moment that there will be no more chances for surprises.
Not taking breaks will also take a toll on your mental health too, I’m telling you, so yes, please take breaks from your novel!
Take long ones. A month if possible. Two months if you can manage. The longer the better really. The longer time you take the better the next revision will go.
But before you begin the second draft, take a few hours and read through your novel in one sitting.
This is a part of the process I didn’t start doing until recently, and let me tell you something — I absolutely love it.
Again, you might find this to be a waste of time. Actually reading your novel without revising along the way? Who has time for that, you might think.
Now, first of all, you should make the time for this because you will be able to experience your novel like a reader for maybe the one and only time. You simply cannot experience your novel like a reader when you revise a chapter every day, when you only look at a select group of pages every day.
You need to read your novel all the way through, and in doing this, you will automatically see the biggest problems the manuscript has. I always do.
And by all means, take occasional notes on a piece of paper along the way. When you notice something terrible in chapter twelve, sure, you might not remember what that problem was when you reach the end of the read. So jot down some things here and there.
At the same time though, do not stop on every page and make notes. You won’t have the thoroughly exhilarating experience of reading through your entire manuscript in one sitting.
So take the time to read through the first draft of your novel. You will love it!
You won’t love it if you finish your first draft on a Friday and then read it all the way through on Saturday. You will still be thinking about the ending, about what you did or didn’t do well. You’ll still be too close to it.
So let your novel rest for 4 weeks or longer, then pick a morning or afternoon or evening where you have nothing to do, sit down with your novel (preferably hardcopy, but on your laptop or a tablet works, too), and read it from beginning to end, in one sitting if at all possible.
In the life of a novelist, this is one of the most incredible reading experiences you will ever have, trust me! It won’t be a slog. It won’t be painful. It will be loads of fun, I guarantee it.
Don’t feel like you have to sit and read your entire novel after every draft. I don’t necessarily do it after I complete the second draft, or the third. Or the tenth.
But after you complete the first draft, definitely give it a period of rest, and then pick that one glorious day where you read through the entirety of the novel. It’s nothing short of a total thrill!