When I finished my first novel, I scrolled all the way to the top of that Word document and started reading it again, launching right into self-editing. That was the way I’d always done it. I would start my writing sessions by rereading what I had written the previous day. I didn’t know any better. But now?
Now I know: when you finish a book, you need to take a break.
One of my favorite projects to work with as a freelance editor is book manuscripts. Perhaps I love working on novels and nonfiction so much because I am at heart also a storyteller. Working with authors writing stories (both fictional and true!) causes me to wake up with joy in the morning because I know the work I do is making a difference in their writing.
Perhaps, like me, you’re a storyteller, too, and now you’ve finished your passion project. You’re ready to dig deep into self-editing. But wait!
Before self-editing, take a break first.
No, Really, Take a Break from Your Book
Just wait right there; I see you starting to click away. Just one second. Allow me to state my case. Here’s the argument against beginning self-editing after typing The End. Because you really shouldn’t.
You really should take a break first.
Some practical life reasons for this:
- You’re tired. You just finished a book. That’s a feat! You should not yet be reading back over your chapters and mentally cataloging all you need to fix. Try sleeping instead.
- You’re behind. Chances are, you finished those last few chapters in a flurry. Which means you might need to get caught up on more than just sleep: laundry, time with family, lunches with friends, and good books that will leave you refreshed for the self-edit.
The even-more-practical writerly reasons for this:
Space away from your novel allows your brain time to breathe.
Trust me, it needs it. You just spent weeks, months, maybe even years spending time (for you fiction writers) in your storyworld, investing in your characters, (for you nonfiction writers) creating content to prove your points or bravely laying our memoir on the page. If nothing else, you’ve been staring at a computer screen for quite a while! Give your mind a much-needed rest.
Distance from the plot, the time period, and the characters will only freshen your perspective.
As tempted as you may be to jump right into your self-edit, resist the urge. Don’t do it. Just don’t do it.
Here’s why: if you start now, your self-edit will not be as strong. And why should you self-edit twice, taking twice as long, when you could just take a small break? Self-edit at a later date and you’ll save yourself time in the long run.
Which brings me to my final point:
How long should my break be?
Unfortunately, that’s a question only you can answer.
Why? Because you know you and you know your book. Obviously, we can apply some logic to this question. If you just wrote a Moby Dick tome, you’ll likely need longer time away from it than if you wrote a novella.
But perhaps less time away if you wrote your Moby Dick in a year instead of two. Also, consider how busy you are. If you’re a college student with exams coming up, take a break from your book to replenish before putting yourself through the rigmarole of Finals. With that nice plump summer break coming up, use that as your writing time.
If you’re a stay-at-home mom whose kids will be home from school during the summer, consider taking the whole summer off with them and revisiting your book the next time you’re planning your days around the car rider line or bus schedule.
This Doesn’t Mean You Should Stop Writing Completely
Instead of lounging around bingeing on Netflix for a week or two, try these ideas on for size:
- Invest in a good craft book. Here are a few I recommend to every writer I know. And a few more just for fiction writers.
- If you’re okay with a shameless plug, here’s my short writing guide to everything you need to know about the structure of writing.
- Read a novel in your genre to get inspired before self-editing the book you just finished–or before beginning your next one.
- Read something entirely out of your comfort zone.
- Write something entirely out of your comfort zone. Never tried your hand at poetry? Have at it!
One Last Tip about The End
This is your writing break, and it can look however you want it to look! As long as it follows your typing The End on your manuscript, it’s a writing break well deserved. But don’t take this as my permission to never touch that book again. Set a strict deadline for yourself on when your writing break will be over. Then dive into that self-edit with both feet, and after you’ve finished, maybe come chat with me about the final polish.
To download my cheat sheet, 7 Common Writing Mistakes and How to Fix Them, for use after your break, of course, join my email list here:
Do you take a break after writing your book? Let me know in a comment below!