John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, said “Half of my life is an act of revision”, and this is true of all writers. Nothing written in a first draft is set in stone, and most professional writers spend hours polishing a final draft until it is ready for submission. Editing is one of the cruel facts of a writer’s life, but it is made much easier when you allow your manuscript to “cool” before editing.
Editing is a long, strenuous process that forces you to go over every word that you’ve written with a fine-toothed comb. You analyze sentence structure, characterization, suspense, mood and every other factor that goes into writing a successful book. And in order to edit your manuscript well, you’ll need to distance yourself from your work for a while and let the manuscript “cool”.
Most writers pour their heart and soul into their work and create a bond with their manuscripts second only to human relationships. They’ve cultivated words with love and care, and when they immediately attempt to cut, prune and sheer their words, it can be a heart-breaking experience. Letting your manuscript “cool” before editing allows you to create a time barrier between your editorial eye and the fervor of creation.
The “cooling off” period gives you time to work on something else while your manuscript awaits your critical eyes in a file or a drawer in your office. Don’t look at it, read it or attempt to analyze words until you’ve given yourself enough time to be objective. Allow the impatience of writing to wear off, then approach the editing of your manuscript from an objective viewpoint – or at least as objective as possible.
Not only does letting your manuscript “cool” before editing give you an opportunity to edit objectively, but it also allows you to edit your manuscript from the perspective of a reader rather than a writer. Of course, you won’t forget the plot line or the names of the characters, but you also won’t have ever sentence firmly entrenched in your mind.
This allows you to catch awkward or inconsistent phrasing, grammar errors, plot holes and weak characterization. Some writers even prefer to kick off their editing stage by reading the manuscript aloud to themselves, which lets you not only catch problems by reading, but also by listening.
The length of time you let your manuscript “cool” before editing depends on the length of the manuscript and the amount of time spent on the writing. Only you can know for sure when you are ready to begin the grueling editing process, but here is a rough estimate:
Short Story: One week
Novelette: Two weeks
Novella: One month
Novel: Two months
**You can adjust these times to fit your particular needs.