How Long to Wait Before You Start Editing Your Novel
Writing a novel is no easy feat, so if you’ve finally typed “THE END” on your manuscript, breathed that huge sigh of relief, posted a celebratory photo on all your social media, and cheersed yourself at the dinner table, you’re probably starting to think about what comes next.
As every professional author knows, “THE END” is only the beginning in terms of getting your novel published. You’ve put a tremendous amount of work in to get to this stage (go you!), but this is where the challenge really begins: Now, it’s time to edit your novel.
…Or is it?
Take a break
Even though it’s tempting to start editing your novel immediately, remember that this isn’t a race, and quality isn’t so easy to achieve when you’re already burned out from writing your first draft. It’s okay to take a break. In fact, I recommend you do.
After all, you just finished writing a whole…entire…novel! That’s a LOT of words. You deserve to step away from the keyboard and catch up on the shows you missed while you were obsessively writing, read one of those books you bought but never got around to reading, and, I don’t know…maybe go out and visit your friends for the day?
Admit it, you became kind of a hermit with a one-track mind while you were churning out those chapters, but now, it’s time to be yourself again and let your characters do their own thing for a while. (Don’t worry, they’ll be fine, even the ones you left hanging off a cliff.)
Truly, you deserve to take a rest. It’s often difficult to notice just how exhausted we are after writing a novel; the adrenaline that comes with typing “THE END” can fill our heads with all sorts of wonderfully creative visions and ideas that make us want to go, go, go and not waste another second. Like, how about a sequel, for example? Or rewriting those iffy middle chapters? Maybe building on Character A’s backstory…?
But if you jump back in too soon, you risk frustrating yourself with the enormity of the challenge ahead. This is usually because you didn’t give yourself enough distance to let those ideas fully develop.
Deciding how long to wait
Every writer has their own method and schedule, and that’s the reason why there’s no definitive answer to, “How long should I wait before I start editing my novel?”
Unless you’re working to a tight deadline or there’s a genuine reason why you need to jump back in right away, my best advice is to give it a few weeks at least. Start working on a new project in the meantime or pick up one of the other hobbies you fell out of touch with while devoting all of your energy to your novel.
Keep in mind, what works for one writer won’t necessarily work for everyone. Simply do whatever it takes to recharge for however long you need to, and trust that when the time is right to start editing your novel, your characters will pop back into your thoughts to tell you so.
The benefit of distance
Personally, when I finish writing a first draft, I give myself headspace for a few weeks before reading it back or attempting to edit any of it. I do this because it’s the easiest way for me to “forget” my narrative voice. I read a lot of other books during this separation time, especially those that are similar in genre, theme, and setting to my own. It helps me to view my own writing with a clearer perspective when I eventually go back to start editing.
We’ll never have the same distance that our readers do when we read back through our manuscripts, because we’re responsible for writing every single word. However, if you give yourself enough time to “forget” your novel, you’ll start to see areas for improvement that you might not have noticed before. This is the main benefit of distance.
I’m not alone in this belief either. Many of the authors I work with apply this strategy after they finish writing their novel, and even Stephen King says he locks his manuscripts away in a drawer for at least six weeks after he finishes each one.
When to hire a freelance editor
Often, confirming dates with a freelance editor can give you the motivation to stick to a solid timeline while self-editing your novel. However, you should only commit to working with a freelancer if you’re absolutely sure that you’ll have the manuscript ready on time. Depending on how much work you need to do to your novel, it might be worth waiting until you’re at least halfway through self-edits before arranging a date.
My best advice is to never rush into hiring a freelancer. Distance yourself from your manuscript, gain the space you need to self-edit it with a fresh perspective, and improve it until there’s truly nothing else you can do before passing it along to a freelance editor. Time is your friend.
If you’d like to find out my availability over the coming weeks, or if you’ve got a question about editing your novel, you can always reach out to me. Just use the contact form on this website or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch whenever you’re ready.
Don’t forget, even the best writing advice is only advice. We’re all on our own journeys as writers, and the path looks different for everyone. You’ll know in your heart when the time is right to start editing your novel.