Writing a novel is hard work, and it takes a lot of time. And by the time you’re done with your first draft, you’re going to have one of two thoughts:
- This is the best thing ever! I can’t wait to share it with the world!
- This whole thing is crap. I should chuck it in the bin and never write again.
And let’s face it, we usually think of the second one. We think back on everything we’ve just poured our heart and soul into and realized that nobody wants to hear our pathetic voices.
Whether you think you’re amazing or a load of bull, both of these perspectives are completely miscontrued from reality. The fact of the matter is, your manuscript is a mixture of good and bad. You just aren’t able to differentiate the two yet.
That’s why you need to step back, take a drink, and not look at your manuscript for a while.
After you’ve typed “The End,” clse your document and don’t look at it for a while. How long? I recommend a month or two. If you’ve ever participating in NaNoWriMo or another form of flurried typing, you understand how tired of your manuscrpt you can be after a while. No matter how much you want to start fixing your novel, let it simmer for a bit first.
But don’t let your creative juices dry up in the meantime. Work on a new project in the interim. Whether it be starting a new novel, knitting a Dr. Who scarf, or painting a mural on your kid’s bedroom wall, get up and create something. It’ll keep the wheels greased for when you come back to your manuscript.
When you’re ready to edit your manuscript, pull out the paper and set it in front of you. Or pull the file out of the folder and open in on your desktop. Crack your knuckles. The best part is about to begin! Here’s some different ways you can approach the process.
- You can read the entire first draft, first word to last, to reabsorb what all you’ve written. This helps you get an overall view of what works and what doesn’t. Make notes to yourself as you read about big plot points you want to change, probably in a separate document. Smaller changes, like paragraphs you want to rearrange or a conversation you don’t want your characters to have, you might want to note within the document itself. Then when you go back through the second time you can fix it so that it is seamless with the new draft.
- You can go through the first draft and edit as you go. If you find a sentence you don’t like, rewrite it. If a paragraph strikes you as unnecessary, cut it out (and put it in a new document for later, just in case you decide you need it later!). Bigger plot changes will be harder to make this way, but it can be done. Just make sure when you get to rearranging and cutting and pasting that you have everything organized well.
- You can do a strange mix of the previous two options. I don’t know how common this choice is, but it’s the one I prefer. You see, no matter how long I wait between drafts, I can’t stand to read my work straight through. I get anxious and start trying to edit within the original document, and that’s just bad. So after my month of respite (okay, sometimes even during), I think back to my plot. A lot of times I look back at my original timeline. I try to figure out what is it that I didn’t like, what parts I need to add in, and what parts need to be taken out. I write it down in great detail for myself. Basically it’s like option one, only I’m noting my revisions from my memory of the text rather than actually looking at it. Then, when I come back in to start editing in a fresh document, it feels like I’m making immediate changes. But really I have a plan for myself.
Whichever route you choose to take, just remember to always take a break between drafts. Your eyes and your mind will thank you.