Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
My husband loves all things camping and hiking related. Because of that (and because he's good looking and persuasive), I've done more hiking in the last couple years than I have during the rest of my life. And when I feel like I'm making progress toward the top of a mountain or along a trail, I really enjoy hiking. I don't like it so much when the trail turns into scree or rock fragments, when with every step I take, my foot slide back a few inches. That gets discouraging quickly.
And the same goes for when I'm writing. Between my checkout phase in writing the book and getting to type The End, I often feel like I'm scrambling up rock fragments. Some days are great and I feel like I'm making progress. Other days I slide and grow discouraged once again.
Writing the last ten or twenty pages of my book always takes me longer than I want it to. Part of this is probably due to my "plantser" nature. I typically know the gist of how my story will end, but not really how the scenes will play out. I crawl to the finish line, to the rim of the canyon, and I don't get there with poise and grace either. My knees are bloody, and I'm sweaty, but I did it! I finished the book, I typed The End! I made it to the top!
And this is the moment when you realize you're actually standing between two canyons. Yes, you finished hiking that first one (writing the first draft) but blast it - there's another one you have to hike down and up before you can call it done (edits)!
In my younger days, I would immediately print out my manuscript, just so I could feel the girth of my months of work. And then I would start reading it as I ate my celebratory ice cream.
But my joy would, before long, start to nosedive. Gosh, that character was reading flat, wasn't she? Oh, and look at that plot line I foreshadowed in chapter two but never followed through. Whoops, that character is name Amy, but I know in later chapters I was spelling it Amie.
When you finish your first draft, you're (rightfully) very excited. This is a milestone. Grab some ice cream, tell your critique partners, and then give yourself some time off to enjoy it. Stephen King recommends six weeks, and I whole-heartedly agree. Here's why:
1. I need that celebration time. I need to bask in the glow of the finished first draft or else writing starts to feel too much like a job that I'm just grinding my way through. While technically this is a job for me, it's also a passion of mine. I don't want to lose that.
2. I need that rest and recovery time. Typically I've pushed myself hard to get to this point, and I not only need some time to sleep, I need time to catch up on email, reading, laundry, and a number of other things.
3. I need clear vision. Time away from my plot and characters helps me to see them more clearly when I come back. I've tried taking just two or three weeks off and the quality of my editing work just isn't as good.
4. I need to work on that new story idea! When I'm about 2/3 of the way through a book, I often come up with a new story idea. One I'm itching to work on but can't because I have to finish this first draft. My six weeks off is a great chance to indulge in my new idea!
5. I need to lose my emotional attachment. It's a lot harder for me to "throw away" words I wrote just yesterday or last week than it is to chuck words I wrote 6+ weeks ago. I lose my emotional attachment to the words, which means I can make the necessary cuts.
6. I have a chance to ask myself why I wrote this book. And that perspective makes a big difference as I shape the story moving forward.
Six weeks used to feel like agony, so I understand when writers are going crazy trying to hold off on doing their edits. But now I view that time as restful, rejuvenating, and critical to creating a book I'm proud of.
If you've finished a first draft, have you tried taking time off from it? How did it work for you? What do you think you'll do next time?