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Saturday, May 14, 2011

15. Letting the Book 'Cook' (Writing for Success)

Note: This is part 15 in a series of 25 articles from my upcoming 'Writing for Success' series.

15. Letting the Book 'Cook'
So the manuscript is written, you breathe a sigh of relief and your book is written! What do you do now? Of course, the tempting thing is to start going through it from the beginning again and see how it reads. Tweak a few words here, and tweak a few words there. That should do it!

But the best thing to do is to close your word processor and forget about the book. And I mean completely forget about it. At least for a month or so, or as long as you possibly can. I call this letting the book ‘cook.’

So why do you want to let the book cook? There are a couple of very good reasons. Firstly, it’s easier to see the story better from an editing point of view when you approach it fresh. A break of at least a month will give you that perspective. By the time you come to read it again you won’t remember everything and it’ll be like reading it for the first time. You’ll quickly spot those places where the pace isn’t quite right or the characters are inconsistent, or something needs to be changed around. Trust me. And that brings us onto the second reason. When you read the book a second time it will probably actually feel pretty good. What I mean is that time helps the book get better! Well of course it doesn’t but it does feel that way. You wrote the book in the heat of the moment and just put pen to paper. Your emotions were raw. If you go back and tweak it immediately you’ll probably change small pieces here and small pieces there, and you may even ruin the effect you were trying to achieve. Coming back to the book after a break will allow you to read it as it was intended to be read, with full-on effects. Sure, you’ll find some spelling and grammatical mistakes, but you’ll probably be surprised at how close the rest of it was to what you were trying to do. Trust your instincts! If you know how to write, you probably wrote a pretty good first draft.

Many debut authors write, rewrite and re-rewrite passages from their book, in a more or less non-stop fashion. What they end up with is usually nothing like they started with and most often it is not as good either. You have to trust your instincts and just let the book cook for a while!

So, what do you do while the book is cooking? It’s tempting to do nothing and just relax. Another mistake! You need to get straight on with another project of some description. Keep writing. I try and fit smaller books in between the big ones, or write a long series of blog posts or embark on other writing projects I’ve been meaning to do. The important thing is to keep writing and to write something totally unassociated with what you have just finished! This process will help you get better at writing (remember practice makes perfect and you need to write your 2,000 hours!), and also help you keep to your writing routine. I have written before that successful writing is all about routine. You can’t stop writing just because your manuscript is done. You need to get straight on with the next thing.

How do you know when your book is done? This is quite simple. Once a week or so ask yourself if you can remember how the book started and how the book ended? Of course you’ll probably have no trouble doing that. But what else can you remember about the book? What are ten of the major plot points? What does major character X do during the book? Once you get to the point where you really can’t remember a lot of it any more, you’re about ready! As I say, it’s probably a good month or so. And no cheating! Don’t go back to the plot points or the manuscript to remind you. There is no peeking whatsoever allowed. You may get tempted to take a look at something, but don’t follow through with it. While the book is cooking, there’s no opening the oven. It’ll cook alright without you helping it. That’s the thing about a good book, it becomes great on its own. And it will. Just don’t get tempted to look. Even when someone asks you to see a copy of it – and you know you want to show them your latest masterpiece – keep the manuscript closed.

Okay, you get the picture. I don’t need to reiterate it again, do I? Let the book cook and carry on writing. There’s plenty of space in the oven for another masterpiece.


  1. I'm so tempted to open the oven and scared to forget my subplots. I do admit I have a problem leaving my draft alone. Thanks for the article.

  2. I'm at that point now. I finished my novel last year and even queried it. A couple of weeks ago I decided I'd go ahead and self publish, so I opened it up and started reading through it to format it. OMG I can't believe I queried it! The story is there and it's a good story, but I want the readers to see what I see and to feel the emotions the heroine and I feel. So I'm doing some revising and editing.Showing and not telling and getting rid of most of the he said/she said.:-) I've learned a lot from you. Thank you John

  3. I love letting my books cook. I have one in the oven right now. And that's why I'm writing my online novella experiment :-)