It dawned on me that writing is very much like a fine wine. A fine wine needs time to age. It may be okay earlier, and even drinkable, but a great pinot noir or claret needs time before its tannins settle, the tartness goes away, and its true flavors come out.
At the risk of mixing metaphors, stew is the same way. You may be tempted to eat it just after cooking it, but don’t. After it’s refrigerated overnight, the flavors blend and it makes an incredible difference in the taste.
And finally, we come to writing. Whenever I sit down to write, I usually re-read the previous chapter to get immersed in the story again. And, no doubt, I find little tweaks or changes, and the inevitable “Wow, it sounded so good when I wrote it the first time” feeling takes hold, shortly followed by, “What was I thinking?”
Well, at the completion of your manuscript, magnify that tenfold. By that time, when you review your story from the beginning, you’ll find countless changes and you’ll undoubtedly catch things you didn’t notice before. You may even find a few major elements that need changing. Like the heavy tannins in a young wine, the flaws are masking the true flavor–the feeling you want readers to have.
So then, after the needed edits and rewrites, you finally feel you have a solid manuscript worth pitching. You might even be tempted to send it to some test readers. DON’T!!!!
To do so would be the equivalent of eating the stew just after it comes out of the pot (there I go again mixing metaphors). Except with a book, you can’t just wait to the next day to do another final read-through, much like you can’t take a wine that’s best served after ten years and drink it after two, expecting the same results.
How long should you wait? By my experience, in both nonfiction and fiction, I’d say a month at least. Longer if you can afford it. Let the manuscript sit. Find something else to do. Start working on another book. Read a book. Whatever will take your mind off the manuscript.
When you finally come back to it–that wonderful manuscript that you felt so amazing about–I guarantee you’ll find countless edits you’ll want to make. Trust me on this. THEN, after you make them, and do the requisite editing passes, you’re ready to send to test readers for feedback (and make sure they’re critical test readers, ideally that match your target audience — not your friends and family).
So, to summarize, when you’re finished what you think is your perfect final manuscript (even if you’ve already done rewrites and edits and a full read-through), be sure to let it sit at least a month before doing one final read-through and edit round. Your book will be exponentially better as a result.