The first draft of any novel is either the best or worst time of a writers life, but the first first draft you write is hell (yes I wrote that sentence). When it’s done you’ll be tempted to think it’s done (it’s not), and send it away to agents or publishers (please don’t). Finishing, or polishing, your first draft is hugely important in making your job much easier going forward. Here are 5 things you need to do to finish your first draft like a pro before you rewrite, or even think about sending it away for feedback;
- Let it rest; drop it like a hot potato and let it, and your mind, rest. Much like red wine, a novel draft needs to settle before you weigh in on it. Two weeks is the absolute minimum I would suggest, and a month would be better. You need to come back with a clean palette if you’re going to do anything remotely useful and unbiased with this draft.
- Read it; if the thought of reading your own work makes you roll your eyes you either a) haven’t let it rest for long enough, or b) you already know it’s shite. That might seem blunt, but its true; if you wouldn’t read it why in Gods name should anyone else? So either rinse and repeat step 1, or ask yourself just what it is that turns you off about it. Otherwise you should re-read it at least twice; once with an eye to general enjoyment, and the other to identify big plot holes. Mark any plot holes as you find them on a printed copy of your draft, and make a quick note about what’s wrong with it either on the draft, or in an index of some sort.
- Proofread; be thorough and take your time, this is not a job you want to do more than once. I recommend reading through once for grammar mistakes and general flow, and reading backwards to find spelling errors (honestly, I’m not joking; it isolates the word and helps to find errors that might usually be overlooked).
- Revisit your plan; if you planned this will be an easy and quick stage. Ask yourself if you stuck to the plan, if not where and why did you deviate? Was it a good deviation, or do you need to cut something? If you did deviate do you need to adjust anything to keep the arc smooth and strong? If you didn’t make a plan you might need to re-read again (well, you should have planned) to make a note of all the key plot points. Do they match up/make sense/do what you need them to do? More importantly, does it all work for its keep; there’s no room for dead weight in any novel.
- Follow through; implement all the basic changes, correct all the grammar and spelling errors, fix any structural issues, and fill those plot holes. Once you do all that you have a finished, polished first draft that ready for criticism. At this point you can get some beta readers (generally close friends and family who enjoy the kind of book you’ve written), and maybe even send it to a professional editor for feedback. This can be costly, but it’s worth it, especially if this is your first first draft (eek, I did it again!).
After all that, it’s time to start rewriting for a second draft… What, did you think you were done?