It’s one of the best parts of the whole book writing process: the moment you put a period on a sentence and realize it’s the last one of your entire draft. You step back, and holy moly you’ve done it! You have a manuscript! This is the best feeling in the world!
So what should you do next? Get beta readers? Start editing? Begin the publishing process? For me, I choose none of the above. What I actually do is stop everything relating to that book and take a long break. Full stop. The book goes into exile, but a friendly one! I promise!
I truly believe one of the best things you can do for your book is to simply walk away from it for a bit. Shut the program, close the laptop, and leave it alone. Obviously, this isn’t a permanent arrangement since you still want your book to be published someday, so don’t worry. Your book will still be there waiting for you.
I don’t have a one size fits all recommendation for how long you should put your book in exile. It’s one of those things where it’s going to be different for every writer out there. For me, I typically leave my work in exile for about three or four weeks before I open it again. The idea is to get it completely out of your mind before you come back to it. There’s a lot of benefits to this, but here are my top three reasons for using book exile.
1. It gives you a creative breather
If nothing else, walking away from your manuscript for a break simply gives you a vacation from the world of your book. Even if you absolutely love the world of your book (which of course you do!), we all need a little break every now and then. Writing a draft of an entire book is quite the undertaking. You pour quite a bit (if not all) your heart and soul into the effort. Finishing a big work takes an enormous amount of effort. If an athlete wheezes on their back in the grass after the final whistle, the writer stares blankly at their screen after they write “the end”. It’s a big undertaking, at for the moment it’s finished and you are tired.
So putting my book draft in exile is a way for me to put a period on the experience as a whole. It forces me to take that time to catch my breath and evaluate where I am. Because the truth of the matter is this is not the end of your book writing experience. If anything it’s just the beginning. When I wrote The Fantastic Adventures of Captain Acorn, I completed the first draft in about four months. I then spent the next year editing, rewriting, modifying, tweaking, and otherwise preparing my book for publication. So taking that breather before I launched back into the book process was a really valuable step in the journey. This isn’t the end of the game, it’s just halftime in the locker room and you need to use that break to make your game plan for the second half.
2. It gives you the chance to pay attention to other projects.
If you’re anything like me, those last few days before finishing the draft of your book were more than a little insane. I tend to spiral into this sweet spot between laser focus and insanity. While it helps me make it over that final stretch, it definitely leaves me more than a little frazzled meets manic. Ask my roommate…
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to work on multiple projects at once to keep my mind and creativity fresh. I tend to be a distracted person so having multiple works at hand lets me bounce around while still getting work done. Putting my book draft in exile gives me the chance to really dig into my other areas of creativity and put in some solid work with them.
If you don’t work on multiple projects this still can apply to you. Use this time to lean into your other hobbies! Finish reading that book, play your musical instrument, kick that ball around, hollow out that canoe, whatever it is that gives you some creative joy! The idea of this is to keep the creative wheels rolling even while you’re on a bit of a vacation. That way, when you come back to your book to work on it again, you’re rested but you haven’t lost any creative momentum. You can hit the ground running feeling totally renewed but also totally engaged.
3. You will have a much fresher perspective when you come back to edit.
This is far and away the most practical and important reason for book exile. Setting your book aside for a month or so may feel like you aren’t working on it at all, but that simply isn’t true. You are putting valuable, dedicated work towards your book that’s going to yield some amazing, fruitful results.
Because here’s the thing. The simple fact of the matter is that if you read back your work immediately after you’ve written it, your brain does a funny thing with errors and mistakes. Instead of reading the mistake and registering that it’s there, we tend to fill in the blanks with what we meant to write instead. We do this so quickly we don’t even realize we’re doing it and mistakes slip through the cracks in hordes.
So if you instead put your book in exile for an extended period of time, you’ll soon forget the exact wording of every single sentence you’ve written in it. The benefit of this is that when you come back to your work (with all your rest and fresh perspective from the other two steps) you won’t be mentally anticipating how you intended to write your book and will instead see it for exactly what it is. Taking a break from your book for a month or so sets you up for success in making your initial rewrites and edits.
And yes, while this is a very good thing, it can also be more than a little tough to bear. Your eyes are that much clearer to see everything that’s not working in your book and what needs to be fixed. Obviously, we’d all love to believe that our book is perfect from the first draft and doesn’t need any editing, but the sooner we get outside of our pride the sooner we can get back to work.
Writing a book is a fairly mighty endeavor, so it’s important for us to treat it as such. If we take the time to give ourselves strategic breaks in our writing process that give us valuable, helpful rest, we set ourselves up for even more success in the next chapter (haha) of the process. In this case, a little exile never hurt anyone!
Let’s find some joy,