Discussion: How Long Do You Let Your WIPs Cool?

Photo credit: Alessandro Lorizzo on Flickr
So many a year ago, I wrote about the importance of letting your manuscripts cool between finishing the first draft and starting the first read through. And while I do still believe it’s important for many writers for the reasons I listed in that post, my process has a changed a little since getting agented.

It used to be when I finished a first draft, I’d put it away and eagerly wait a month before looking at it again. This worked well when I was working on one project at a time, at thirty or so days gave me enough distance to then look at the writing more critically than I would have had I started reading right after first drafting.

A month worked really well for ages up until last year when a couple things happened:

  1. I signed with my agent (yay!) 
  2. We sold Beyond the Red (YAY!) 
  3. I wrote two first drafts back to back (oh…kay?) 
  4. I looked at my NaNo MS from 2013 and knew I couldn’t just leave it. 
  5. I maybe sort of pitched a bunch of books to my agent and suddenly I was juggling a bunch of projects. (Yay? Yay!) 

So now I had all of these manuscripts and after working out a good order for which manuscript would get attention first, I realized all of the projects would be getting wayyyyy more than a month-long cooling off period.

First came the #NerdyWIP I’ve talked about, which had a cooling off period of…five or six months? Something like that.

Then the #YAFantasyWIP got a ton of love after sitting in the drawer for well over a year.

And now I’ll be turning to the second MS I drafted last summer, just about a year later.

Waiting this much longer, even unintentionally, has its perks. When I go back to those WIPs, I’m usually pretty darn excited because I’ve been waiting so long to get back to them, and I also remember very little about them which may not sound like a perk, but actually makes it so much easier to look at not just the writing critically, but the plot, and characters, and everything else.

So lately that’s what I’ve been doing. And while this may very well change with circumstance, it’s been an interesting schedule to work with.

So how about you? How long do you let your WIPs cool before the first read through? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How long do you let your WIP cool between 1st drafting & 1st read through? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)


Alyssa said...

Waiting longer actually makes way more sense. So because so far I've worked on single projects at a time, my cooling off periods were three months, tops? Then my fingers itch and I get back to it. But I'm planning to set aside a recently revised WIP for a really, really long time, at least until I've revised another first draft and drafted a new WIP, so I'm guessing I might not get back to it until I graduate from high school. *laughs shakily at the thought of writing as an adult* So we'll see how it turns out, but suddenly I have a lot more confidence in this decision. Lovely post, Ava!

Stephsco said...

I'm juggling more projects these days, so waiting longer is working for me too. I also have determined I need to pull the MS into a Word doc (from Scrivener) or transport to an ereader so I don't immediately edit. That is SO HARD.

Darth Lolita said...

Oh my god, same! My Urban Fantasy MS has been cooling for an entire YEAR.

Originally, I was going to wait three months, but it was summer, I was anxious, I wanted to keep working on it. I think I waited a little less than a month (over three weeks, tops), and went in to do edits. The story was still too fresh in my mind and I hadn't acquired the proper distance from it, so I didn't get far in that first attempt at revision.

It's not to say I haven't touched it since. Within the first five months or so after finishing, I reread over certain sections and pulled out excerpts. I put the first chapter up on critique circle to get some basic feedback--and it was really, really helpful! I've been fleshing out the setting, thinking about the side characters, writing down (in notebooks) what I should rewrite and change, etc. But I haven't touched the word document file for about a year now. In the mean time, I graduated from university and have been writing another science fiction story.

As soon as I finish the first draft of my sci-fi WIP, I'll go back to my UF one. It doesn't seem as scary anymore that I had some good, proper time to get used to the idea of changing it and acquired some ideas in the time afterwards.

Heather said...

I... get distracted easily so I never have a set time to let something cool. It's usually a month, but sometimes it can sit for longer. The longer I have to forget it the less I feel totally terrible about writing something so poorly, because it feels less personal and I can be more emotionally prepared to write it, but again, it all just depends on what else I'm doing in my life at the time.

Sam Taylor said...

When I worked on one project at a time, I used to let them sit for a month or so in between drafts. (Sometimes I'd crack after about 3 weeks, though, because I couldn't bear to be away from writing for that long.) But now that I'm alternating between projects, I'm getting well over a month between drafts, sometimes two or more. It's so much easier for me to stay away from a cooling draft when I have another project to focus on, plus I can really pull my mind off the first story when I'm consumed by building another one. This has been working out great for me so far. I got enough distance from a new WIP that I actually forgot entire chunks of what I'd written and surprised myself when I was reading through it again. It was almost like reading someone else's book. I consider that a win.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Alyssa! Yeah, waiting longer is logical, I just never had the patience for it when I was working on one project at a time. Now, though! Much easier because I have plenty to work on in the mean time lol.

Good luck with all of your revisions! (And don't worry—you have several years of university, should you decide to go, before you really have to write like an adult.) :)

Ava Jae said...

Ha! Yeah, not editing while reading can definitely be difficult sometimes lol. I've found that exporting my Scrivener project into an e-book and reading it on my iPad can help. Then I can't make changes even if I want to lol.

Ava Jae said...

Yay! I can totally relate to that—I sometimes glance at projects between revisions, but yeah, I don't really dive into it until I'm doing an actual revision round.

Sounds like you've now developed the distance you need to get back to it, though, which is great! I wish you all the best with both of your projects!

Ava Jae said...

I do tend to think longer is often more helpful, so that makes total sense to me. I also think the less personal thing definitely factors into it—it's a big part of what makes it easier to be objective about the work.

Ava Jae said...

Yup! This is me 100%. One project at a time, it was agony to wait a month. Now I look at projects like "wow, has it really been that long?" And I also forget large chunks which is great. Yay! lol

VictoriaGrace Howell said...

These are good tips! I find writing little summaries of the chapter or scene before I write it really helps me know where I'm going.


VictoriaGrace Howell said...

I usually like to let mine sit six weeks like recommended by Stephen King. During that time I'm working on another project (I have three story worlds pulling on my arms like five year olds to be written all the time. XD). Recently, I had to jump immediately from writing the second draft to microediting due to time constraint, but I'd already gone through a macro edit so I suppose the waiting period isn't as huge as with the first draft. First draft definitely needs to wait no exceptions.


Ava Jae said...

Thanks, VictoriaGrace! When I plot I usually do mini-scene summaries and that's how I make up my outline, and I've definitely found it soooo helpful. Turns out, it's much easier to write when you know where you're going. Who knew? lol

Ava Jae said...

That makes sense to me. The main reason I wait between revision drafts is because someone has to read them (lol) so I can get more feedback. But it does help to wait a bit between drafts because the longer the wait, the easier it is to get some distance and objectivity.

VictoriaGrace Howell said...


Jen Donohue said...

It depends.

A short story? Maybe not much time at all. A few days, then editing, then more days.

A novel? Much longer. A month at least, sometimes even longer than that. The manuscripts I'm pulling inspiration from in my current composite project were written last April and in November '13 respectively, and I reread them both in the months leading up to this July.

And that's about par for the course if I really immersively draft something, be it due to NaNoWriMo or other circumstances. I write the hell out of it, then I leave it the hell alone for awhile. Write some shorts, read a bunch of books, play a video game, watch some movies or shows or anime or whatever. Then, I go back and cut and paste it into a new document, and read and edit, and think of bigger changes which might be necessary along the way.

Ava Jae said...

Sounds like a good system! I haven't written any short stories in years, but a shorter waiting period makes sense to me for a shorter project.

This NaNo project is the first project I've picked up after such a long waiting period in a while. It was really cool to see how easy it was to get right back into it after a few read throughs and revision ideas. :)

Jen Donohue said...

I was a short story writer long before I was 'real" novel writer (I don't count my 7th and 8th grade Jack London rip-offs. I did write a terrible fantasy novel in high school, but had also written several shorts in the meantime.)

I'm frequently relieved at how a NaNo project looks when I revisit it. I always expect a train wreck (especially because of the legnths to which some people apparently go to reach 50k come hell or high water [there's a "cheap tricks" thread in the forums which I read to feel superior]) and frequently....it's not so bad.

Fun, though, how easy it is to fall back into a story, isn't it?

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