First off tonight, I want to say my first draft of my first novel is now finished. Now it's time to kick back and take a bit of a break, let a few trusted people look it over for a little feedback and maybe do up a little short story before starting the first revision. Whew. It really is an exhilarating feeling having finished a piece that long. I didn't quite break the 50,000 mark that is generally accepted as a short novel, but I'm sure there's going to be a few parts that need filling in so there is still hope for that goal. I'm reasonably sure it's not going to get shunned for being a couple thousand words short of that mark either. Cut down to 200 - 225 words per page and it's still going to be over an over 200 page book.
A good question to have is how long to wait between revisions. I think the answer depends on the writer. In Stephen King's On Writing he suggests a period of about 6 months. There are several reasons for this and I do agree with each one. It gives your brain time to cool down, so when you come back around to it you can start revising with a fresh mind. Another reason is that you can distance yourself from it. When you've just finished a manuscript for the first time, it's almost like it's your baby. You want to take care of it and the last thing you want to do is go in, change things and hack whole paragraphs out of the work you just finished putting together. Once you've taken a good break though, you can not only read it with a fresh eye, but you won't be so resistant to changes that you know need to be made for the betterment of the story.
The thing is; it really depends on the writer. If a writer can look at a finished work objectively, without all the pride that comes with the accomplishment of finishing any draft; if he can freely hack and slash at his work as he knows and can see that it needs; then there really is no reason to wait months to start the revision process. The problem is knowing yourself well enough to know how long you need. You should know more than anyone if you need 6 months, 3 months, or two weeks to recuperate your mind between working on a new version of a story that you just spent months or even years on.
I finished my first draft of my novel on Tuesday, November 13 and emailed it out to my trusted companions that night. I'm already anxious to know what their feedback is and get into the thick of the first revision. I decided though that no matter how fast they can read the first version, I'm not going to start revising until on or after December first. Could I jump right in and start changing things? Of course, easily. I know the importance of taking a break though and I'm just as happy relaxing for a bit as long as that story has been weighing on my shoulders and snapping at my heels.
Another suggestion is that between work on different versions of a story, is that you work on something else that's completely different from the one you just finished. That is also a good idea. It allows you to distance yourself even further from the one you just completed, and some writers even use the work of revising an older work as a way to cool down from a writing session on a new piece. That trick is a bit harder to pull off though. The issues of focus aside, it can be extremely difficult to switch back and forth from working on one story to working on another and keep up the level of quality your readers might be used to. When worse comes to worse, you occasionally might even be working on two different stories with characters that have similar names and start getting the works mixed up. So this isn't a tactic I would really recommend to anyone. It certainly isn't one I use or plan to.
I might start a little short story while I'm waiting on feedback on my first draft, but I'm probably just going to take it easy for a bit, revel in the accomplishment that is finishing the first draft of my first novel.