After the draft. What now?
You sat down, wrote and wrote and it took you what felt like forever to finish, but now you have the first draft of your story. From the first word to the last, and many thousand words in-between. You typed the words The End but, you are not finished yet. I hope you didn’t think you were, because in that case this will be a shocker, the real work begins now.
I know you have been sitting in front of your computer, typewriter of notepad for days, weeks, month’s maybe years even, to get here. And it feels good to know the draft is done, and you most certainly deserve a break, but if your goal is getting published then your work isn’t done. There is lots to do before you can hold your printed book in hand, and many decisions to make in order to get there. But this article concentrates on the work on your draft, which will follow when you had some time to clear your head.
You might think, “Well if I’m not done, then I’m not taking a break until I am.” but the break is actually a process of working on it. You need to gain some distance to what you just finished writing. You are still close to the story, the characters, and all the key scenes still in your mind, fresh and alive, and it will hinder you moving forward. So the first step is, take a step back. Read a book, watch a season or two of you favorite TV show, take of to a resort for a week. But stay away from your story, don’t read it, don’t correct it, don’t even think about it for a couple of days. Two weeks is a good time in my experience, but you have to find out what timeframe works best for you.
When that time is allotted, sit down, open the file and read what you wrote in your draft. Personally I also use that time to highlight parts with important info and transfer them to my notebook (OneNote) to see where I messed up my information. I often find small errors or description issues, like in the beginning the main character has blond hair and in the end brown. It also helps to find plot errors, timing issues and many more little and big problems. I always highlight them, because after my break I simply read it once over, not editing yet.
When you are done reading it, you go to the next step, you reflect. What did you like, and what did bother you. Depending on that you go over each chapter. Find the scenes that are skeletal, and write them out. Let your reader see your surroundings, smell the air, feel the fabrics you touch and how it feels. Don’t just tell your reader those things, but how they feel to your character, what emotions they inflict, and such things. It’s a fine line between showing and telling, and I have to admit I haven’t learned to walk that line perfectly either. So don’t worry too much about it, with time and many rewrites you’ll get there.
Check if your characters are solid in their design, no reader likes a character that one moment is strong and the hearo and the next a total looser, unless the story would demand and explain it.
Make sure their looks don’t change without a reason, or that they suddenly change names. Ensure that your locations and all such things are in order.
Sometimes it helps to make a list and do one run for each subject then check of the box so you know you looked for that specific topic. It’s scary to think how often you have to go over your story in order to find all of that, and I have to admit it’s a sore subject and one that’s anything but cool, but it needs to be done.
When all that is done, you will find that your novel has changed a lot from the draft you wrote originally. Or at least in many cases, and it feels almost nostalgic to remember that first draft as it was.
Now, after you juggled all your facts, plotlines, characters and those gorgeous heroes, you should take another break.
You may have noticed that so far I haven mentioned anything about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. Why? Simple as long as you rewrite and change and change the changes again and again, there is not much sense in taking care of it, only to delete or change it.
Now that you had another break, a week or so I think is enough, you go over it again and this time read it out loud, or if you suck at that, like I do, use narrator or any other nice app who can read it to you. I was introduced to Word Talk a while ago, and found it very good in that department, definitely better then what Windows brings with its narrator.
When I do this step I often close my eyes and don’t read while listening, it helps me find missing words, or sentences that sound wrong, but also plot mistakes. Most importantly I notice when I lose interest that way and find where I get boring in my story. Those are the part where I either stop the narrator program or at least mark that section in a different color. So I can easily find it again and fix it later. Personally I often fix it right away, unless I’m unsure if it would mess with the facts.
That done with I start fixing those problem parts I found that way, if I haven’t already. As I said it depends on which you like best.
After that I read over it again, without the narrator, or reading out loud. And when that is done I try to find any spelling, grammar and sentence structure mistakes. Basically this is my first real edit. Wow… sounds like a very long and hard road to get here, right? But it’s not as bad as it sounds, somehow writing it down and reading it, it feels like some horror story, but when you do it, it’s actually quite fun and interesting. At least for me, but I might be the exception.
Anyways, after this first edit I try to find people to read it, I call them Alpha reader, because they get the first not so crappy but far from finished version. I always inform them not to concentrate on spelling, grammar and such things, but on the story itself. It’s hard to find those people, because many feel distracted by spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Your sentence structure on the other hand should be pretty solid by then.
When you found those people, let them read it, give them instructions of what you want from them and then, wait. That’s the hardest part, because while you wait you can’t really work on your novel, or you get all messed up. Believe me, I made that mistakes and won’t ever do it again.
Now it might take some time, but at some point you get your novel back from your Alpha readers, by the way a step then many skip, so if you can’t find anyone, don’t worry about it too much.
Read the comments, and think about them, then take from it what you think will help you and fix whatever problems your readers found.
Ok, so you done that and now I’m telling you to take a break again, at least a week if not more. Because after that we go into the end phase, or the closest thing you can get to publishing without much help. Read it again, think about every scene, and make sure you are happy with what you wrote by the time you are done reading.
Now, find Beta readers. Let them go crazy with comments and corrections of spelling, grammar and so on. But be patient, it will take time. When you get your work back, work over it, mind the comments and corrections. Then when that is done read over it again, and then you need to find someone to edit it. I recommend a professional. If you know other authors, ask them who they used and where happy with. Get recommendations and let the editors give you an example of two or three pages, before you make a decision.
When you found one, and work well with him, then you reached the end of this advice. Please remember this is how I work, it might not work for you. But I hope you found some inspiration and help in here.