So You Finished Your First Draft… Now What?
You did it. You worked your little butt off and finished the first draft of your manuscript. Whether it took you one month or twenty, whether that newly birthed book is 10K or 100, you did it. The excitement of the initial writing stages has passed. The draaaaagging middle section is finally over. You chugged right along to the conclusion and finally wrote those magical words: The End.
I know it’s tempting to dive right into revisions and proofing and cover art and all that goodness. Trust me. I come from a background of online fanfiction writing. As soon as I finished a draft, I gave it a quick read and posted it ASAP. The sooner the better. I just wanted my completed work out there and in reader hands immediately.
But let’s hold up, take a minute, and figure out what the heck to do now that you’ve completed your first draft.
First and foremost, this is the time to pat yourself on the back! Writing a book is hard, no matter what anyone says. It takes a lot of time, focus, and commitment to get from Point A to Point Z. Celebrate in whatever way makes you the happiest. Takeout and a movie. A bottle of champagne. Dancing with your love. Cuddle with your dog. Whatever it is that boosts your spirits and makes you feel like a million bucks—do it. You deserve a little you time, because, honestly, there’s still a long way to go from first draft to final draft.
Take Time Off
Many folks recommend this strategy, and I’m doing my best to follow it with my own books: take a little time off. You need some distance from your manuscript so you can look at it critically. How much time you take is up to you. I personally aim for a month, unless I’m behind schedule. If you’re too cozy with your book, self-editing will prove difficult. Put it away. Work on something new. Take a brain break from writing in general. Whatever you need to do, do it. The revision process will be better and your book will be stronger for it.
Revisit Your Outlines
Now that you’ve taken some time to separate from your most recent first draft, do a quick scan of your book’s outlines before you dive in for that first read of a most likely long-winded, rambling, potentially plot-hole-y first draft. Remember what you wanted to get out of the book. Remind yourself of character goals, initial inspirations, and any notes you made along the way. It’s probably been a long time since you wrote the initial outline, so it never hurts to remind yourself what your goals were for this book to begin with.
I think revision deserves a whole blog post to itself, but I’ll keep it short and sweet. You can’t publish your first draft. You just can’t. I know it was so much work just to write it, but you aren’t even halfway there yet. Revision is key. Nobody is saying you have to write the entire book from scratch again, but be ready to slash and burn whatever is weighing your novel down. I like to do at least two read-throughs before I send it out to folks, one just for catching typos and weird sentences, and another for making sure things work from my point-of-view. All that will change once betas and editors gets their hands on things, of course, but it’s a good idea to learn how to be critical of your own works too. Each book will make you better at it, I promise.
Anything I missed? What do you guys do with your first drafts once you’ve finished writing them?