How long should you wait between writing new drafts of your novel?

When looking up advice about drafting and redrafting your novel, you’ll frequently see writers and editors suggesting that you wait between clicking the cap on your pen after your first draft and reloading the typewriter for your second draft (yes I live in the 1940s). But how long does this wait have to be? How can I possibly wait when it’s just stuffed in my top drawer – practically sizzling?

I should know, I’m in this gap myself with my second novel.

You might be desperate for a break. But though I’m always thrilled to have finished a first draft, I’m always an eager beaver to get going again. By the time I’ve finished the first draft I’ve already had plenty of ideas (some good, some bad) about how I can change the plot, add in new themes, add extra challenges, and I want to start mapping them out.

But rightly so, I have to STOP. And WAIT.

But why?

Why should I wait between writing drafts of my novel?

Need time to forget, not be so emotionally invested. You have to start editing your second draft with as clean a slate as possible. You want to come at it like a new reader. Only this way will you start spotting inconsistencies and elements that don’t quite tie up.

You need distance. And the gap is a brilliant chance to learn. You should be reading as much as you’re writing, and if the balance needs to tip one way, it should be in favour of reading. Use the break to read a couple of books in your genre, or that twist your genre into something new and ground-breaking.

And ultimately, this wait between writing drafts means you get a well-deserved break. Writing should be regular and part of life, but we all take a holiday form time to time. You don’t need to stop writing either, just write something else, fine tune your skills.

how long to wait between writing drafts of your novel
While you’re waiting – go out, do something weird.

How long should I wait between writing drafts of my novel?

How long is a piece of string? The Writing Co-operative suggest 4-6 weeks as a good break. Curtis Brown suggest 2 weeks.

I’d say as long as it takes you to get some distance. With my first novel, I too a bit longer than most, partly because I was working on so many other projects at the same time. With that book, I took a break of around 6 months.

But this time, I’m exaggerating my distance to novel 2 by working on some final additions to my poetry collection (coming out next year with Valley Press), and so I think the break will be more like 4-5 weeks. It’s a break I want to appreciate, as when I’m drafting I don’t like to take a break at all, otherwise it might lose its flow a bit.

How can I switch off between writing drafts of my novel?

You don’t need to totally switch off, I know I don’t. The ideas will always be simmering in the back of my head, but instead of a hastily grilled slab of meat, the rest will be a soft and tender slow-roasted piece of prime cut.

This might be a terrible analogy, so forgive me. I don’t even eat meat.

If you have ideas as you’re taking a break – write them down. Map them out. Just don’t be tempted to pick up the manuscript.

Work on some other projects. Write a short story. Try your hand at writing poetry. Practise. See the world from a different seat for a while. Your book will still be there when you get back.

If you can, take an actual holiday. The greatest distance can often be a physical one. I find travel one of the most inspiring experiences, so who knows what you might see or hear that’ll end up in draft 2 of your novel

And practically, what else have I done to pass the time? Oh, all sorts of things. Cleaned the house. Baked some flapjacks. Whatever takes my fancy. Sometimes fighting the urge to pick up the manuscript is difficult, and other times I dread doing it at all – because it’s stepping into the great unknown. But isn’t that exciting, too?

how long to wait between writing novel drafts
Play with a cat. Hey – it works.

So there you have it! How long should you wait between writing new drafts of your novel? As long as you can without losing the passion. Use the time to let your ideas simmer. It’ll be so worth it in the end.

Have you recently finished a draft of your book, and are now wondering how to write and edit the second draft of your novel? Or even, how to write and edit the third draft of your novel? Find out more in my complete guide to being a writer.



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