Completing an entire novel is an amazing achievement, but if you’re serious about getting published, finishing the first draft doesn’t mean you’re finished working on your novel. Here are three things you must do after finishing a first draft.
Step 1: Let it rest.
Like any decent roast, you must let your novel rest if you want it to gain quality flavour. Now, you’re probably wondering how not working on your novel will help. Here’s how: the novel in your head is not the novel on the page. The novel in your head has perfect dialogue, realistic characters and no plot holes. Unfortunately, the novel on the page doesn’t – and that’s okay! By leaving your novel alone for at least 1 or preferably 2 weeks, you’ll gain distance. This will let you edit more objectively. You’ll also be able to see things you haven’t noted before.
Step 2: Read the whole thing.
Once you’ve had a break from writing, you must read your entire first draft. Why, you ask? For the same reason the above step is important: the novel in your head is not the novel on the page. By reading through your novel you’ll know what’s actually on the page rather than just assuming.
After I’d finished the first draft of The Aeon Academy, I didn’t read it. I stupidly assumed that, as the novel’s creator, I knew exactly what happened in it! I couldn’t have been more wrong, and failing to better understand my novel meant the second draft was a tough, drawn-out edit. With subsequent drafts I’ve made sure to read them before diving into edits, and this has made editing way easier.
And if that argument doesn’t sway you, chew on this: if you can’t be bothered to read your own novel, why would anyone else read it?
Step 2.1: Take notes as you read:
As you read, you’re going to find parts you want to change. Take a note so you don’t forget about this when it comes time to edit.
Step 3: Edit
Once you’ve re-familiarised yourself with your masterful or not-so-masterful creation, it’s time to edit. Editing can seem like a chore, but in reality it’s quite liberating. You can edit your novel any way you want and if you find something you don’t like, you can change it!
Focus on one type of edit at a time. Rather than trying to improve dialogue, enhance characterisation or delete needless phrases at once, do each style of edit by itself. This will help keep you focussed and let you be more effective.
Always remember that a first draft is exactly that: a first attempt. Don’t worry if your novel seems bad compared to a published novel: that published novel would’ve gone through several drafts and professional edits. Your first draft is just you shovelling sand into a sandpit. Editing is where you build your castle.
Have you finished a first draft? What are your thoughts on re-writing and editing? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!