Well, Christmas is over. Every year it feels like the holiday started back in October, prior to Halloween, and we raced toward the 25th of December at breakneck speed. This year was no different. But now that it’s over, it’s that familiar letdown of “what do I do now?”
The Christmas race very much like the race through a first draft, especially if you participate in NaNoWriMo (click on the link for my Prep for NaNo blog post). That moment you type “The End” on your work-in-progress and stare at your computer as if unsure of what to do next, is that moment you realize there is still so much to do. For it’s generally accepted in the writing world that any “completed” first draft is a crappy first draft.
When I reach “The End,” there are several things that I have learned.
1. Rest & Revel
A lot of people will tell you to immediately start working on something else. Keep yourself in the habit of writing, and move on to a second project, even a short story or poem or anything else to give you distance from your first draft. Not me. I like to give myself a day or two off. Not long enough to lose the habit of writing, but enough to give myself a mental break.
Writing is one of those jobs where if you don’t write every day, you tend to feel guilty, and after I finish a big project, it’s only fair that I get a real vacation, if only for a few days. During these days, I am free to think upon my story and ponder what I wanted it to be versus what it has turned out to be, but the first draft is safely locked away where my prying eyes can’t reach it.
2. Re-plot & Re-envision
After a short break from my first draft, this is the point where I reevaluate (re-envision) my outline or write one if I began without one. Shortly after completing a first draft, I have moments of clarity that I wouldn’t otherwise have. This clarity sheds light on plot holes, character flaws or lack of flaws, on conflict or lack of it, etc. Any gaping problem that I didn’t recognize when writing may come out now, or I may be able to ponder what went wrong and why I ended up at a different place than I had planned.
Forming an outline from a first draft is easier for me than doing so cold turkey prior to beginning. It reveals the problems in my manuscript and looking at the project as a whole allows me to brainstorm in an easier way. Having an outline with holes jumpstarts my brain into filling those holes, whereas before I write a novel I may not see the holes at all, or I feel exhausted by brainstorming the rest of the novel.
This re-envision process I go through is vital for fixing the huge issues that I always have with a first draft, and is essential for moving on to my next step.
3. Revise & Rewrite
Once the re-plotting and re-envisioning is done, it’s time to revise and rewrite. It’s soon after plotting that I feel most prepared to tackle the rewrite. I have clarity, I know what needs to be written, what needs to be rewritten, what simply has to be tweaked a little, how to address my character’s needs, and where I want to end up–usually different from the first draft.
I’ve learned the hard way that if I revise and rewrite ahead of either outlining or plotting, I will perform endless rewrites and never be happy with the finished project.
This step often takes me a long time, for I’m a slow reviser, possibly because I do suffer from perfectionism–something I’m desperately trying to overcome. So most of my time is spent here, revising. And, sadly, I actually enjoy it quite a bit… Which definitely chips away at the desire to overcome my perfectionism…
4. Release & Respond
Here is another section that can take awhile, depending on how you approach it. This is the point where you need outside opinion, where you need to release your manuscript into the world in some degree and get feedback. I’ve been a part of a writing community where I filter my WIP through the group a chapter or a few thousand words at a time, which can be slow going. But the plus is that you can approach steps 3 & 4 simultaneously, revising a chapter or two at a time and then passing them on to your group.
Another alternative is to find a Beta reader or two or three. The wider the audience, the more useful your feedback is going to be. But feedback is a vital part of writing a novel, and although it’s a step I often find myself getting hung up on, it’s a step that I cannot ignore.
5. Rinse & Repeat
As often as necessary. Start over at number 1, taking a rest, or rinsing your previous round of revisions from your mind. At the very least, rest from this project, and then repeat these steps until you’re satisfied. If necessary, find new Beta readers in step 4, but don’t ignore outside feedback the second or third time around either. Another’s thoughts really can open your eyes to plot holes or character flaws that never occurred to you before.
What’s Your Response?
What do you do after you type “the end?” Do you put your manuscript away for awhile? Do you immediately start to revise? Do you have any tips for aspiring writers who have finished their first draft?