Why We Need to Put Our Books to Bed

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?

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