So what do I do after I finish my first draft?
I set it aside for at least two weeks. I go on a holiday, drink loads of margaritas and… well, kidding about that (although I wish I could). But I do set it aside.
For two whole weeks, I’m not allowed to look at it. I’m not allowed to even think about it. Instead, I enjoy the break or focus on another project. I think this time is needed to create some distance, to be able to judge your draft objectively. And usually I’m happy with that break, because I find writing a first draft exhausting.
But as those two weeks progress, I will get my energy back, my mind will clear and my fingers will start itching again. I print the full MS and read it in one sitting. I look at the big picture. Is this the story I want to tell? If yes, then that’s okay. If no, then I ask myself why not, and try to figure things out. This will lead me to my next step: revisions.
If it’s not the story I want to write, I’ll have to figure out what I need to change. Once I know that, I’ll outline the story again, chapter by chapter. This gives me a better overview of which scenes I can reuse, and what I might have to add, or change. And from there, I’ll start rewriting. For Starstruck, I was 50K into my first draft when I realised I wasn’t telling the right story. So I threw it out, thought about what I really wanted to write, outlined and started over.
But if I am happy with the initial draft, I will grab my post-its. I have four colours and use them for:
- Characters (personality, voice, background, development)
- Other (anything that comes to mind, things I want to check, etc.)
I will read the manuscript again, sometimes the same day, sometimes the next, and add the post-its as I go. When I’m done, I open the document on my laptop, have the paper version next to me, and get to work. I start with big things, usually plot holes. Then characters and pacing—these often go hand in hand for me. Some characters might need more development (which usually affects pacing), or I might have found a scene where a character isn’t acting the way that corresponds with their personality.
At this point, I will not focus on the flow of sentences, or try to eliminate grammar and spelling errors. I don’t see the use of doing this when I might rewrite entire scenes, or perhaps throw them out. Instead, I focus on story. The plot, characters, pacing, setting and voice all need to work and come together.
This usually takes a lot of time, and it might have several rounds. Am I happy with the changes I made? Then I might take a few days off, and read the whole thing again. More post-its. Another revision round.
And when I think I have the story the way I want it to be, I check for grammar/spelling/flow. After that (or if in general I just feel stuck, or can’t figure something out), I sent it to my critique partners. Side note; one of my critique partners is also my first reader. I brainstorm and spar with her, and she reads my drafts the way they initially pour out of me. She’s used to reading the rubbish first drafts I call rubbishit. Rubbishit. Because they are. And that’s okay—because the first draft is about getting the story down. It doesn’t have to be perfect (this is something I try to keep in mind—and often fail at!).
So, once done, I sent it to my critique partners.
And then I wait for feedback, which is a subject I’ll discuss in the next post.
Until then, happy revising!