How long before starting to edit


Well-Known Member
Aug 28, 2021
When the first draft of a story is completed, how long should it sit before the editing starts? I have read one month. Does that sound like an appropriate amount of time?
The exact numbers can vary depending on the source; I've seen as little as two weeks and as long as three months (and longer) depending on who is talking. The exact length of time doesn't matter; the point of setting the draft aside for a period of time is (at least in my experience) twofold: First, it gives you an amount of distance between yourself and the words you've written so that when you get back to it you aren't as attached to the draft and you will be more free to fix its flaws. Second, it gives your conscious mind a break from that particular work--a chance to recharge and be ready to attack it anew when you resume the editing process--as well as a chance for your subconscious mind to work a little behind the scenes to solve some of the lingering problems without daily pressure.

So, in short, one month sounds fine but so does two weeks or two months or however long you feel you need to a)get some space from your draft and b)give yourself a chance to recharge.
I think it's personal. I started editing the very next day. I suspect I did about ten full end to end edits before I was done, and if I had waited for a month each time, there would've been almost a year of idle time. I do think the final few edits can benefit from some time away for sure. Now this is just me, so just go with what you feel makes sense for you. Rules of thumb may or may not be sized for your writing hands.
After completing my first draught I jumped straight into editing. That was five books ago. Now, I edit the previous day's writing the next day. But that me and as Sule and Bren have said, it's a personal issue depending upon your experience and understanding of your story. You might try giving it a couple of weeks unless you feel up to doing it immediately. At the end of the day, it's your call. Good luck with it.
I see editing as a continuation of the writing, so I just keep on going, usually on the same day if I type THE END early enough. I figure there's no point hanging around. The only pause in the process is when I'm satisfied and hand it to my two trusty readers. I then do a final edit or polish when they give me their notes.

It's another case of whatever works, works. I find it very difficult to start another novel until I've finished the current one and it's out to agents, so this method suits me.
I read in four different places that at least a month is needed before getting stuck into the edits. I did this, and for me it was a balls. The time for writing etc. had been hoovered up by other stuff in life, and I'd forgotten loads about the story. In the end the only way I could finish it was to force myself to record a narration -in future the plan is to keep going and not stop untill it's done done.

Just my experience, the advice @sule has given is well reasoned and tallies with other experienced authors; it just didn't work for me.

Good luck, looking forward to seeing your story.
The whole point of leaving a book aside is to get distance from it and see it with a fresh pair of eyes so I find the more forgetful my books are the shorter I have to leave them. :)

A week is probably enough especially if you wrote very fast or very slow and it's a first draft. It's probably to leave more of a gap in the later drafts because you'll be so familiar with the story.
The crucial aspect of this is seeing your own work from a new perspective. It's essential in the editing process. I would advise leaving it for at least three months. Answering the points above about forgetting parts of the story, your reader won't know those parts, so what does it matter that the author has forgotten over three months? The author is supposed to be conveying something brand new to the reader.
It depends on what you want from the editing, and perhaps ought to vary depending on whether you are a plotter or a pantser.

I tend to start editing immediately, whilst the story is still fresh in my head, because that makes it easier to pick up on inconsistencies and continuity issues. I'm a pantser, and I'm pretty good at keeping the whole evolving story straight in my head, but I do make mistakes that need sorting whilst the whole thing is still fresh. I've certainly managed a few instances of essential plot points being revealed by a character who died three chapters back, or using a detail which they can't know yet.

For the second or third pass, I prefer a gap so that I am coming to it a little fresher. Where that point lies depends on how badly the first pass went, whether the book is fairly clean or a mess.

In the gap after the initial clean-up edit session(s) the Biskitetta has a read and adds comments, which gives me plenty to do on the next editing pass.

The length of the gap is also driven by Real Life. Sometimes a planned gap suddenly lengthens because lambing starts early or a hundred hay bales need shifting. :rolleyes:

And then there's this...
It's another case of whatever works, works.
I too start editing more or less as soon as I've finished, maybe with a week or two's break, but I will start editing from the beginning of the story, and so will be editing text that I've not seen for some months.
I read the whole thing through right away and as I read I correct grammatical errors and other mundane things.
While reading I'll make note of anything that comes to mind in the writing itself that seems questionable.
If my first line editing team is available I might pass it to them for a reality check on some of the items I've noted.
They give it back with their notes and I begin a comparison.

That's when I really get to work on it.

It's a process that I think each person has to work out depending on personal circumstances and how much actual help you can enlist.
And don't forget:
keep writing.
I'm another one for whom editing happens all the time. I've never been real clear about what constitutes a first draft anyway. In the Olden Days, I think it was whatever you sent off first to your editor, but even then for most writers there had probably been numerous revisions (though I have read of writers who only did one draft before submitting; they let the editor decide whether any revisions were needed).

As for the waiting period, I totally get the argument in favor, but let me offer a counter-consideration. It's much more subjective, but for me it has relevance and perhaps it will for others.

It has to do with being *in* the story. Let that mean whatever it means for you. For me, it means that I care about the characters, any emotions regarding them are still fresh, even raw. The jokes are still funny. The tragedies still tearful. The places are still wondrous, the action scenes still exciting.

Now, when it comes to revision, I don't want distance. I don't want objectivity. I want still to be tangled up in the story and its emotions.

What has happened (again, for me) if enough time lapses, and especially if I've started working on something else, I've lost the resonance. I've also lost the feeling I had at various points that the story might go this other way. Very often what's required in my revisions is improving the pacing, filling in details of a scene, striking resonant chords on theme, and other tasks that require a certain close involvement with the story. If I wait too long, it all becomes objective. Mechanical. I'm not polishing, I'm filing down.

The place where a bit of distance becomes useful (have I said imho too much yet?) is in the little stuff. Consistency of voice (once I've really established a character's voice). Consistency across the board, really--descriptions, dates, all that stuff. It also helps with proofreading, because one does tend to become text-blind and not see those double spaces, form instead of from and related mistakes, punctuation gaffes, etc. Even there, though, you can turn to reading aloud, reading backward, and other proofreader tricks.

But in those initial, potentially big, revisions, I tackle them more or less right away, as per above.
I suppose it depends on how long it takes the writer to produce a completed draft of the story. If you're the kind of writer who knocks out the first draft in two or three months, maybe you do need some distance and thinking time before going on. If you take a long time over each draft, then the distance and thinking time usually takes care of itself. Being the second sort of writer, I generally feel eager to start editing immediately. After all, as I am writing the final chapters (which might be a year or two or even more after I began whichever draft it was) I already have distance from the early chapters and have in mind many changes that I wish to make.
I've never been real clear about what constitutes a first draft anyway.
It's that moment that you 'think' you finish it.
You might even sigh, slow and satisfied.
You have that shitty grin on you face.
And the significant other walks in on you.
They say 'What you grinin' 'bout.'
And you sit up carefully and look sheepish.
And say, ' Oh I was thinkin; about you dear.'
If one feels mentally ready to make an editing pass, then do not wait for some arbitrary time limit to expire. For me, I have found (sample size of two), that the final chapters get written in a burst of enthusiasm and that leads me to take a mental break after finishing. This is counterbalanced, though, with an awareness of the gaps in the story and the urge to plug those gaps.

I feel an end-to-end editing pass is necessary (for me, it is multiple passes), so do not put off doing it indefinitely. Feeling forced to do the editing pass, however, takes the joy out of writing, so don't dive into doing an editing pass, if you are not ready. In short, trust your instincts.
I have no in-stinks,
I use air-freshners; deodorants,
to squelch that problem.
Oh, you must have misunderstood. Inst Inks are fast drying. This way you can immediately go back and edit your story without smudging or smearing. You just have to trust your inst inks.
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