It sounds counterproductive, I know, but it’s true. The best writing often comes from not writing.
Now this is not to say that in the long period of time in which you let your novel rest you shouldn’t be working on something.
I always have a writing project to work on every single week. The first draft of a new novel, the third draft of a different novel, the tenth draft of an older novel, a new short story, a new screenplay.
There’s always something I’m working on. That’s just the way I like it.
But something I’ve learned in the past few years is a worthwhile method to help write the best projects I can.
Yes, you need to revise. Yes, you need to do a third draft, and a fourth draft, maybe even five or more.
I’ve done ten drafts on two of my recent novels. And my middle grade book out on submission to editors? It went through sixteen drafts over the course of three years!
So revision is necessary if you want to be successful as a fiction writer. You have to come to love it, honestly.
But the biggest mistake you can make, especially as a novel writer, is just going from one draft to the next without taking any breaks.
Stephen King says to let your novel rest for six weeks. But you know what really does the trick?
Letting it rest a lot longer!
This is the beauty of having multiple writing projects at any given time. It doesn’t fill you with panic or anxiety to finish a new project and then let it sit for three months, six months, maybe even longer.
You’re so busy and you’re having so much fun with other projects that you’re able to let that latest novel sit in the drawer for awhile and escape your mind.
And let me tell you, the best revisions come when you haven’t looked at or thought about the project for awhile, because you know what you do?
You approach the novel not as a writer but as a reader.
Enough time has passed that you’re able to see in more clarity what doesn’t work and what needs to be fixed.
Just this month I took an older novel out of the drawer I haven’t looked at in nine months, and I’m near the completion of the latest draft.
There were problems with this novel I just could not figure out last fall, and so I decided to let it rest for awhile. It was going to be three months at first, but then it turned to six, and then, finally, nine.
I’ve been working on this new draft for two weeks, and I have already been able to see, with ease I’m telling you, not just the major problems with the book’s narrative but also how to fix them!
So if you have the time, do yourself a favor and let your writing project rest for months at a time.
You don’t necessarily have to let it rest for months between every draft if you don’t want to. I mean, we all want to finish our projects eventually.
For a novel, I usually let the first draft rest between six weeks and two months before I begin the second draft, and then I might only let it rest for a week or two before I begin the third draft.
You want to let your novel rest for months and months when it gets to the point where all you’re doing is light copyediting and yet people are telling you the manuscript needs major work… and for whatever reason, you can’t spot the problematic areas, and if you do, you don’t know how to fix them.
When you’ve done your very best, and you feel like you have nothing left to give to your latest manuscript, please, do yourself a favor. Put it in the drawer. Not just for a few weeks. But for a few months, minimum. Aim for six months or longer.
I once let a novel rest for fourteen months before I pulled it out of the drawer, and I was then able to turn that manuscript into pure gold, I’m telling you.
Because I could finally read it as a reader, not a writer. I could find every single way to make it better.
So if you have the time, and if you have the patience, let your novel rest a few months before you take it out again. You’ll be glad you did!