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Why We Need to Put Our Books to Bed

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Every book we write needs a good night’s sleep. Once we finish writing and tweaking and shining it up as best we can, then it’s time to put that baby to bed.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize the enormous benefit of taking a break from a manuscript before pushing it down the publication pipeline.

In traditional publication, there’s usually a built-in waiting period. The timeframe can range anywhere from six months to a year or more from when an author turns in a completed manuscript to the in-house editor until the time it actually hits shelves.

For example, I turned in a completed manuscript, A Noble Groom, to my publisher in January of this year. But the book won’t release until next spring of 2013. That’s over a year from when I completed it until it gets into readers’ hands.

Over the past couple of months my Bethany House editor has read the book. And he’s also passed it around the office for other editors to read. Once a team of editors has read the book, they’ll compile a list of changes for me to make, the first edits (aka rewrites) of many that I’ll get over the coming months.

While many writers decry the lengthy timeframe that accompanies traditional publication, I for one have found some benefits to the wait. The biggest benefit is that I’m forced to put some distance between myself and my manuscript.

Yes, I have to give my book a good night’s sleep.

And why exactly do I see that as a benefit?

Here are just a few reasons:

1. A good night’s sleep gives us fresh perspective.

The biggest benefit to having some time away from our book is that we gain objectivity. After many weeks (perhaps even several months) apart, we can see our work with clearer eyes. The problems we missed during the first round of editing are suddenly glaring.

2. A good night’s sleep helps us let go easier.

I’ve also found that I’m not quite so attached to my words after the break. I can cut and delete with abandon. I usually open a new word document and paste all of my deletions into it. Not only can I then easily retrieve them if I need them elsewhere in the document, but saving the deletions reassures me that my words—that I once labored over so diligently—are still there, just not in my book anymore.

3. A good night’s sleep gives us renewed energy.

Usually by the time I’m done writing a book, I’m worn out, I’m ready to be done with the story, and I’m tempted rush through my editing. The weeks away from manuscript gives me a fresh burst of energy for the story that I didn’t have before, as if I’m waking up refreshed, ready to tackle the big issues with more vigor.

4. A good night’s sleep can help us grow.

During my time away from a book, I brush up on a writing craft book or two, and I review some of the writing lessons I needed to remember. I also start a new story, and in the process of writing another book and stretching myself, I grow even more so that I’m able to apply what I'm learning when I go back to edit the older book.

5. A good night’s sleep helps us handle the criticism better.

If my kids are upset about something late at night before bed, I usually tell them that we’ll wait to discuss it until the morning. It’s never a good idea to argue or have important discussions when you’re tired. We usually only make things worse.

And the same is true with our writing. When we take a step back from our writing and refresh ourselves, then we’re better able to handle the constructive criticism we get from critique partners or editors. Sometimes I find that when I let feedback settle for some time, I’m able to mull it over, come to terms with it better, and then apply it with more enthusiasm.

My Summary: Whether traditionally or self-published, writers should wisely consider how much rest they’ve given their books before pushing them toward publication. Often we're in such a hurry to get our books out there, we miss out on the benefits that a good night’s sleep does for our manuscripts.

How much of a break do you usually give your manuscripts before going back to editing them? Days, weeks, months? And if you’re not giving yourself objective distance from your manuscript, why? What’s your hurry?

P.S. The Doctor's Lady is currently ON SALE on Kindle for only $2.99 as part of Amazon's "The Big Deal" through March 25. Snag a copy while you can!

32 comments:

  1. Time is a great friend here. I am currently doing a last self edit before I have a professional edit done. I've been away from the story long enough that I don't "hear in my head" what I think I've written instead of reading what it actually there. So many things pop out when you have been away from it for a while. Things that you thought made sense are now not quite so clear, etc. I have a tendency to rush into things sometimes, and knowing that the industry moves slowly - with reason - helps me to slow down some and not worry. It seems a practical part of the whole process, but I think it is also a God thing. He knows that sometimes (very often for me!) we need help to just be still and listen for a while.

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  2. Such great points, Jody.

    I'm feeling quite ready for a few of my manuscripts to wake up. ;)

    But I get the value behind these words. I usually try to take at least three weeks before I dive into edits. I have some stellar critique partners that really help me work to improve my novels as well.

    I'm so excited to work with an editor who is eager to help wake my books up.
    ~ Wendy

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  3. Great points, Jody. It's always nice to have other projects to work on while you leave them too. I didn't know I could pre-order your book already. Great idea for Mother's Day! Thanks

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  4. I have a manuscript that has been sleeping since New Year's. In that time, I've been doing publisher edits on two other books. When I get back to my sleeping manuscript--soon--I'm sure I will look at it through more focused eyes. Each round of editing with each book makes me alert to weaknesses in my writing to fix. It's almost wake-up time.

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  5. I agree 200%. If there's anything I learned from querying my first book is that time and perspetives are my friends. You look at your own work with a totally different (and much more critical) eye when you have a little distance from it. It's invaluable.

    I learned this lesson so well that while I've been unemployed, I've been writing the second book in my series even before I know I had a two-book deal. I have no idea when they'll want the ms for book 2, but this gives me time to finish it by the end of next week and then put it away for a month before I even re-edit it myself only to go out to the crit team. I want a little space from it even before anyone else sees it (and I mean my agent and the crit team, forget about the actual publisher). And I think the book will be MUCH stronger for it.

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  6. I think it's a great idea. I work on another wip when one is sleeping and I like the anticipation I feel before I go back to it. It's a renewed excitment. :)

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  7. I started my WIP three years ago and worked on it for three months before I found out I was expecting twins. Everything went on hold (for good reason)! The boys are turning two at the end of this month and I have recently opened up my manuscript to start working again. I was shocked at how much I had written a few years back! My eyes were so fresh it felt like I was reading someone else's work. I agree, time away makes all the difference. Thanks for reminding me.

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  8. Jody, my first manuscript slept for five years. And when I woke it up, it was either, "Wow! I can't believe I wrote this!" or "Ugh! I can't believe I wrote this!"

    We definitely need some time away in order to see the big picture.

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  9. Love this! It's totally spot on. When I finished my manuscript at the end of November, I was exhausted. So I took all of December off, which worked anyway since it was the holidays! When I came back, I had a fresh perspective, like you said.

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  10. I so agree, Jody. I spent so much time going over my Genesis entry that I don't have any perspective on it anymore. I used to love it, and now I think it's blech.

    My goal is to keep on writing and not look at that opening until it's time to hit revisions.

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  11. Great tips, Jody! I'm looking forward to the day I can let my manuscript (and myself) catch up on some rest. ;)

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  12. I like idea #2 and #4. I'm never in a hurry. I'm always slow. But I know that one day my patience will pay off. Fresh eyes are always good!

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  13. Great post!! I try and take some time in between finishing the last page and betas and then after corrected from betas. It usually adds up and you're right, makes it BETTER than it was. You're not so attached to it and more willing to work with it like clay in your hands.

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  14. Hi Everyone! Am enjoying all of your comments today! It's amazing what that break away from our manuscripts can do! And yes, I agree with those of you who've said they've started another manuscript while letting the first book sleep. I think that's always a wise course of action!

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  15. Speaking with my college teacher hat on: I tell my students this all the time. Take a break from your essay. Give yourself some distance! You'll see things with new eyes the next time you sit down to work and proof and edit.

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  16. I was recently thinking I've been forced to take a break from my book, as I work with my agent to polish the proposal. We're looking more long-term, toward future books, at this point.

    It is great to have your initial edits done and feel the book is out of your hands for awhile. But I really miss mine. It's like my characters follow me around, begging to meet other people! So I've already started writing book #2 to appease them.

    Great post! Tweeting this with the new #Christfic hashtag, which I hope will give Christian fiction writers and readers a sense of online community.

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  17. This is so helpful to remember, Jody. I finished writing my novel just before Christmas. I decided I'd pick it back up to start editing mid-January. Which really turned into mid-February. Which really translated to a page or two every few weeks. It's only been this past week that I've felt ready and motivated to edit. Now I'm engaging with the story again and able to make it better. It just took a longer break than I thought!

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  18. Hey, Jody I just got your book, "The Doctor's Lady," from the local library! Can't wait to read it.

    Helpful blog!

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  19. I'm in the middle of a break from my WIP right now! I finished the outline a couple of weeks ago and won't return to it until mid-April. Ignoring something that occupied so much of my mind and time is really quite liberating.

    Meanwhile, I'm dabbling in short story writing, which I haven't tried before -- and wouldn't, if I hadn't taken time off from my novel.

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  20. Oh goodness, this hit home! I took a month off from writing and when I came back to my completed manuscript...I scrapped it to start all over again.

    It was hard, but much needed. Now I have a clearer idea of what to write.

    Great post!

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  21. Love this post, Jodi,
    That's so right. Take a break from our work, which tires us out as much as a stiff climb up a hill on a freezing day. Boy, we sure sleep well after that.

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  24. You are so right! I usually let mine settle for weeks between drafts. In some cases, months. For me, it's fun to re-discover the story after some time away. And although first drafts are clunky, it's usually not AS bad as I'd feared. By the way, I love your idea of pasting your deletions into a separate document. That would take the sting out for sure!

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  25. Love this!!! I love the idea of putting them to bed. Seems less rushed and pressured to pump out words and instead encourages quality and a good story. (as evidenced in your books - which btw, I saw that my MIL has circulated her copy of the Doctor's Lady so much it looks like a 15 yr old book! Love seeing readers devour books!)

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  26. All excellent points, as usual. I remember being originally discouraged when I shelved a book, but realizing the benefit when I picked it back up again. :)

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  27. I totally agree with this. I just sent my manuscript to beta readers and am looking forward to not looking at it for a month. I know when I get back to it, I'll be able to do another revision round with fresh eyes.

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  28. OK - I'll upset the apple cart! I write two, traditionally published books a year. I am just finishing the tenth in a series which will be published on June 7th. I shall send it to my editor on Friday and over the next few weeks we will do revisions and copy edits. I will also write the first chapter of the next which will go in the back of the book as a taster. Then it's straight on with the next which will be published next January. I have no chance to give anything a break.

    And very interested to see "beta readers" mentioned here. In the UK this term is only just surfacing, and most of us don't have any!

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  29. Hi Lesley, Thanks for your perspective! I'm sure the longer we write, the stronger those writing muscles get, the less need you have for an objective waiting period. I have two books releasing next year, but I'm a bit a head of schedule which allows me to get some distance between each book. I suppose if I were racing to keep up with my deadlines, I'd have a little less flexibility. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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  30. I have been taking from my manuscript and hope to return to it with fresh eyes. It is so easy to jump the gun and send it out before it's ready.

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  31. Hi Joanne, I was just reading a blog post earlier today about how editors are seeing a trend of writer's sending out their stuff too early. So, yes, I think giving ourselves some distance from our manuscript can help us evaluate it more clearly when we come back to it! Wishing you all the best!

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