This week we have author Rachael Thomas talking about what happens after the first draft.
After the First Draft
You’ve written those magical words ‘the end’ and that achievement alone deserves celebration. The fact that you have committed yourself and finished the story is amazing. Once you’ve celebrated it’s time to get the manuscript out again – because ‘the end’ is only the beginning!
I’m a self-confessed perfectionist and I can so easily tie myself in knots, deleting words because they are not good enough or going over and over what I’ve written knowing it isn’t perfect. First drafts can be a garbled mess. A string of words from the writer’s mind in some sort of order. A first draft is never perfect.
Finally, I am beginning to accept that first drafts aren’t meant to brilliantly crafted pieces of writing. The first draft is merely an assembly of words with which you will create your story later on, during the editing and revising process ahead of submission.
Now we’ve established that a first draft is not carved in stone and that the words within it can be changed, deleted, added to, or moved, it’s time to look at how to deal with that jumble of ramblings which make up your first draft.
1. Put the manuscript away. Walk away from it and don’t look at it. I would suggest at least two weeks, more if you have the time.
Doing this gives you space from the story, from the words that are drafted on your page. It will give you thinking time. When you return to your first draft your mind will be refreshed and the story will appear either new to you or not as bad as you think.
Time away creates distance from the jumble of words that poured on the page and will also allow you to see those glaring plot holes you happily skipped over in the first draft.
2. Print out the manuscript. This is something I find really useful as reading the story on the computer screen is different to reading it on a printed page. It’s amazing how you can read something on the screen, yet it appears completely different when it’s on a piece of paper. This allows anything from silly spelling mistakes to massive continuity issues to show up.
For best results ensure your printed copy is double spaced so there is plenty of room for notes. I always have a notebook to hand, for things I want to go deeper into as I revise the story. If you have made notes whilst writing your first draft, like timelines, character studies, gather these up. Arm yourself with coloured pens, sticky notes and anything else which will help you pull together the threads within the first draft.
3. Read the full manuscript, jotting down any issues you stumble across either in your notebook or on the manuscript. Once this is done you can go back and read scene by scene, delving deeper and using your earlier notes as reference.
Asking yourself, does each scene move the story forward? Do my characters achieve their goal? Are there any glaring plot holes – major inconsistency in the story which are totally out of place? Have I made the most of a scene or even missed one out completely?
4. Re-read the revised manuscript. Check for smaller inconsistences.
Things like a change of eye colour for a character, or a minor character suddenly finding themselves with a new name. They sound silly things, but they are so easy to do when you are in the throes of creating your first draft!
Look for spelling and grammar errors.
Ensure all minor threads are stitched up neatly. For instance, the reader will want to know what happened to that minor character which flitted into one of your scenes.
5. Now it’s time to send your manuscript to your critique partner or beta reader if you are lucky enough to have one. If you are not happy with that thought, then reading the manuscript through again in yet another format helps, such as loading it onto your kindle. Make notes or collate your readers’ notes so that you can make any final changes.
Now your story is ready to go to your editor. That magical fresh pair of eyes who will help you polish your words into the best story it can be – which will undoubtably mean yet more revisions!
But remember. There isn’t a right or wrong way to revise your first draft, just as there isn’t a correct number of times to do it. Each writer, even each story, is different and certain techniques work for some and not for others.