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What to do after the first draft’s done

Thanks to all who read and commented on last week’s post. It’s great to see writers getting engaged and eager to make better art, and tell better stories.

The topic for this week is both really, really big and really, really simple. It’s daunting to try to give advice to such a vast and talented group of writers but, at the same time, the message I have is one that needs sharing.

What do you do when the first draft is done? When the story’s all told, the plot wrapped up, the words – all of them unrivaled genius, no doubt – typed and saved?

You stop and walk away.

OK, you might think that’s a tad hyperbolic, so let me expand...

Writing a book takes a lot of time and effort, often months and years of your life spent alone and with the same group of fictional people. The rush to get the story down, to get to the beginning, middle, and then the end, is thrilling, but it makes you blind to the work’s flaws.  You forget that a first draft isn't a final draft.

Whether you're trying to build a profession out of your writing - therefore asking someone to pay you for it - or you write only for fun and friends, you aren't taking it seriously if you don't redraft and rewrite pieces after they're done. Finish a story, leave it - for a week, a month, five months - and only then go back and reassess your brilliance. That line you thought was sheer Nobel-inducing genius? There's a typo. That witty barb you just knew would have readers laughing out loud and sobbing into their neckerchiefs? It doesn't make any sense. The final scene you love so much you want it on a t-shirt? You'd forgotten you’d changed the character's job earlier on in the novel and now it's mediocre at best.

Waiting lets the book cool and gives you some distance. In the same way that sharing your work brings things to your attention that you hadn't even realised were missing, putting a couple of months between the first draft and first edits will save twice that much time down the line.

I don’t want to leave this post with just vague references to ‘waiting a while’, though, so here are some more concrete suggestions for things to do when the draft is done:

- Read. Read books that are in the genre you’re writing for. New ones come out every week.

- Keep up to date. Newspapers, books and culture sections review the latest publications. Check ‘em out.

- Knowing that you’re going to have to go back to the book once you've gained some objective, jot down the plot as you think of it now, start to end. When editing does happen, you can see how much reality matches your image.

- Get outside. You’ll be in the editing cave soon enough. Climb a hill. Wave at the moon. Whatever you want. Just don’t stay in thinking about the book. You need a break.

- Finally – if you've finished your first draft, celebrate. Not everyone makes it this far; well done. You've written a book, and no one can take that away. It might be a terrible book. Hopefully not. Maybe only you in all the world will read it. Hopefully not that, either. But you wrote it, and that’s amazing. Just pat yourself on the back and leave it alone for a while. 

Next week I'll be looking at 'getting plugged in to the writing community'. Do you have any tips? What ways do you connect or meet up with other writers? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Simon P. Clark

Simon grew up in the UK before moving to rural Japan to teach English for three years after graduating. From there he moved to New Jersey, USA, where he works as a writer. His first children's book, EREN, is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. He blogs about writing and publishing at http://www.simonpclark.com



If you found this article useful, you may want to take a look at:

What has writing taught me?

Getting plugged into the writing community

What to do after you've finished your book

Editing, Editing, Editing

Query letters - what, why, how?

Acting like a pro