So you’ve finished the first draft of your book. Now what?
If you’re like many writers, you might find yourself stuck in post-draft doldrums. You may be feeling confused about how to proceed or fear that your work isn’t good enough. Or maybe it’s just been too long since you’ve written anything new, and so the excitement has worn off.
Whatever the case, don’t worry: You’re not alone! It happens to all of us from time to time when we finally finish our manuscript and are faced with all those unanswered questions about what next? But take heart- a lot can happen between now and publication day, including rewriting chapters, adding scenes that didn’t fit before, or even cutting entire subplots.
What to do after you finish the first draft of your book?
Here are 10 things to do that will improve your book and help you embrace the next stage of the writing journey.
Throw it in a drawer for a few weeks
This will come as no surprise to dedicated writers, but sometimes we need to distance ourselves from the first draft for a while before we can see it again. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love your book anymore–it’s just that you can’t put it into the right perspective until you’ve had some time away from it.
Of course, if you’re a plotter or a pantser and have spent less than six months writing the first draft, this might not be so easy. But no matter what kind of writer you are, when you have the urge to look over your manuscript one more time, it’s usually better to resist.
And let’s face it: That bit about “one more time” is a slippery slope. After all, many writers fall into the habit of looking at their work-in-progress multiple times a day, sometimes even while they’re supposed to be working on other projects.
It’s good to check in now and then, but you need some space from your manuscript before it makes sense again.
Read it one more time
Set aside some additional time and read the entire draft again. During this second pass, don’t worry about fixing anything. Instead, focus on simply catching typos and small mistakes made by your word-processing program.
You may still find yourself making revisions as you go along–after all, this is just one more chance to polish your manuscript before sending it out into the world.
It’s not a bad idea to keep writing in your first draft. For instance, if you cut a major character at the end of Chapter 3 but feel as though they shouldn’t be gone for good, jot down a few lines about where they went and what they’re up to before you move on.
Take a second look at your characters
Admit it: You have a love-hate relationship with your characters.
If you’re like most writers, you must admit that some of those people in your head are much more interesting than the ones down on the page. Maybe what you need is a little (or a lot) more time to develop them–and this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to rewrite their dialogue or add another scene.
Maybe your protagonist knows something about her world but hasn’t shared it with the reader yet. Or maybe one of your minor characters is so interesting that they deserve more page time.
No matter what, if a character isn’t working for you right now, you can always rewrite them later.
Make your character’s journeys more seamless
The best characters don’t get out of sticky situations by the skin of their teeth–they appear to have some supernatural luck.
In other words, they often fall into a comfortable rhythm that makes it easy for them to stumble across just what they need at any given moment.
Maybe your protagonist can find new clues just when their world is about to fall apart, or your sidekick can always show up in the nick of time.
In fiction, this works because it makes your story more dramatic–but there’s no reason for you not to do the same thing in real life.
So, comb through your manuscript to look for places where characters might experience good or bad luck without really trying. Chances are, your protagonist can find that lost necklace–or lose it twice as fast.
Add subplots that will enrich your characters
If you’re like most writers, you probably have more ideas for the plot of this book than there is room in a single volume. So don’t feel bad if you have to cut some of those ideas–but do try to save everything that will enrich your characters.
For example, let’s say you have a character who has always wanted to travel abroad but never had the chance. Maybe now is their chance! So why not give them a mysterious houseguest or an internship with a business tycoon?
You’ll be surprised at how much more interesting your characters will become when they are forced to deal with problems outside of the main plot.
Recheck your characters’ needs
You probably know your characters pretty well by now, but as you read through their dialogue and thoughts, are they still saying the same things?
In other words, do they have wants and needs that drive them through most of your manuscript? A character who always has to deal with some personal crisis will soon become boring for the reader.
But you can often make them more interesting by making their wants and needs more complex.
For example, let’s say that your fictional lover has always wanted to spread the word about a new disease they’ve been researching. You probably want them on your side–but if this is all they ever think about, chances are you’ll get annoyed with them pretty quickly.
However, if you give them some new insight or hope about the disease or if they start to wonder how many people have been lost in their years of research–well, readers will be intrigued.
Figure out what your protagonist wants and whether they are willing to fight for it.
If your characters need something but can’t get it, that gives them a reason to fight.
That’s the key: your characters should be willing to fight for what they want or need because if they don’t have anything, you’ll lose your readers pretty quickly.
Remember that most people are worried about their problems in real life and not interested in your character’s problems.
But if your characters are fighting to achieve something important–especially if they need some help from their friends or family–readers will be eager to stick with them and see how it all turns out.
Ever notice that a lot of really bad films have great endings? That’s because the writers did everything right up to the last five minutes, and then they just jammed in some explosions to distract the audience from their total lack of a story or interesting characters.
Think about it: if your readers care about your characters, all you have to do is give them a little nudge toward the end of your book, and they’ll rush right over there with you. They’ll leap over tall buildings in a single bound if you give them an emotional reward for doing so!
Take a moment to consider the story’s speed
You might think that your story is moving too slowly (or not fast enough), but if you’re like most writers, chances are the actual problem lies in the number of points of view.
Most readers can only handle about three or four important characters before they get confused. So take a look at each scene and ask yourself, “Is this scene important? Does it move the plot forward or add something important to my characters?” If not, cut it.
Doing so will make your story much easier to read.
Remember that you don’t want to bore your readers, but you also don’t want them to feel lost and disconnected from the events of your draft.
In other words, one or two minor characters are allowed in each scene, but if there are three or more, chances are you’re going to be in trouble with your editor!
Pacing is an important part of storytelling, but it can cause problems if you aren’t careful.
Fortunately, once you learn about its dangers and how to avoid them, most pacing problems will disappear and never reappear again (until the next manuscript).
Check for spelling and grammatical errors
In a draft, spelling and grammatical errors tend to build on one another.
For example, you might not notice a missing comma because the sentence reads smoothly without it, but if other commas are missing, your story will begin to take on an odd rhythm that can be distracting for the reader.
Grammarly is an excellent tool that automatically scans your document for over 250 different grammar errors.
It’s also useful when you’re editing other people’s writing (like those of your colleagues or students), so you can fix mistakes and make their work look as polished as possible.
Remember, if your manuscript isn’t error-free, chances are it will be held up until those errors have been corrected.
Write a synopsis of the draft
Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s a good idea to sit down and write a brief one-paragraph summary of your story.
This synopsis is useful to have for a couple of reasons. First, it’s great as an advertisement when you’re querying agents or pitching your novel to publishers.
Remember that agents and editors are always looking for new sources—especially if yours is a unique approach to a familiar idea—so having a one-paragraph summary will help them better understand what your story is about.
Second, it’s also useful if you plan to self-publish or pitch the novel without an agent. It’s especially helpful in this scenario because it allows you to see if your story is complete and well-structured.
Get an outside opinion from friends or colleagues
If you have friends or colleagues who are good writers, ask them to look at your manuscript and give you their honest opinion.
You might be surprised by what they say…and it can help your book as long as you don’t let the criticism get too personal!
The best thing to do is take everything they say into consideration and try to absorb it without letting their criticism—or your ego—cloud your vision.
And if people are unwilling or unable to give you an honest opinion, consider hiring a professional editor to review your work.
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Frequently Asked Questions about the first draft
How long is a first draft?
Answer: Many first drafts tend to be around 60,000 words, but that isn’t a rule. No two writers work the same way, and it’s hard to say how long a first draft should take because that will depend on where you are in your process. Some non-fiction writers like to plan their books carefully before they start writing, while others prefer just to dive in and see what happens.
I’ve heard of people writing much longer books in a first draft than cutting down when they get into editing, and I know of one writer who wrote her entire novel on a napkin while out for dinner, so there are no rules.
Does a first draft have to be complete?
Answer: A first draft could be anywhere from 4-500 pages, depending on how much writing the author does in a day. Some authors might fill pages with 500 words a day, while others write only 3-4 pages for 5 days, for instance. The key is that you have something complete in 8 weeks to make sure you meet your deadline. Anything less than that and you’ll feel like there isn’t enough time to edit it, so it requires more work than what it should need based on how much content you’ve written so far and if anything is missing that should be included but wasn’t included originally because no one saw or caught an error at first.
Who should be my beta reader?
Answer: Having more than one beta reader is ideal because you can get several opinions and perspectives on your manuscript.
You should pick good writers, but you also might want to avoid friends or relatives whose opinions you value too much.
It’s important to choose beta readers who can give good, constructive criticism that will help improve your work instead of just mouthing off negative things because it can be easy for writers to get too defensive when asked to look at things from a different perspective.
What should I look for in a beta reader?
Answer: You want an honest opinion, which means you need more than one person telling you the same thing. You’ll see it clearly if they all say something along the same lines (i.e., “I liked it” or “this wasn’t my favorite”). You want a beta reader that can be honest and still be kind. Even the things you don’t like to hear about your story are useful because they give you direction.
Where do I find beta readers?
Answer: The best way is to get them from friends or family, as long as they fit the above criteria. In my experience, stick with real-life friends and family because online communities tend to be much harsher. If you have no one around you who can give you good feedback, don’t despair! There are many places to find beta readers on the internet, such as the NaNoWriMo forums, Authonomy, Critters.org, and Goodreads groups (to name a few).
What should your first novel be?
Answer: Your first novel should be something you just write for fun. You know those great ideas that keep popping into your head, but you never end up exploring? This is a great time to do it! As long as it’s not a carbon copy of another book, there are no rules about what your first novel has to be.
What is the best software for writing a novel?
Answer: The best software for writing novels is Scrivener or Google Docs. They’re both online, so they don’t take up space on your computer, and they allow you to write anything from a long novel to only a few words. They both have pros and cons (I prefer Scrivener), but they both work well.
You can download Scrivener from here
What are the 7 steps of the writing process?
Answer: The seven steps of the writing process are as follows: 1. Outlining or “pantsing” 2. Research 3. Develop characters 4. Write first draft 5. Edit 6. Rewrite 7. Proofread and publish.
What comes after a draft?
Answer: Once you’ve finished the first draft of your book, it’s time to edit! Many different editing processes are depending on what software you use.
Scrivener has a built-in editor that automatically formats your book upon saving and adjustable options for line spacing.
Google Docs does not have an inbuilt editor, but it’s still easy to edit with the “track changes” feature.
Word is also easy to use and is available if you don’t care which software you use as long as it’s free.
What is “pantsing”?
Answer: Pantsing means writing without an outline or plan of any kind. There are many benefits and drawbacks (like anything in life), but the biggest one for me was that I felt like nothing was ever completed once I started pantsing. Also, my previous manuscripts would take me over a year to finish because of revisions and rewrites. I was panting for NaNoWriMo, and I’m so happy because I finished in only a few months.
What are the downsides of pantsing?
Answer: The biggest drawback is that it can be very difficult to keep track of your story. This means there will be lots of holes and inconsistencies throughout your book, which editors.
However, some prefer pantsing because they write with very little editing and can complete entire books in only a few weeks (or even just days depending on how fast you write). Some writers have even been able to finish a book in a single day!
How do you finish a first draft book?
Answer: It’s important to develop a clear writing routine for finishing the first draft of your book. The first step is to set aside a specific time each day to write and stick with it for one month (e.g., Type 2000 words between 12-1 pm). After three weeks, you most likely won’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything, but after one month, your manuscript will already be around 30 pages.
At this point, you should stop writing every day and focus only on weekends because it’s too much to maintain this momentum and stay focused during any other times in the week, given our lives are generally busy with work or school outside of the home. It’s also worth spending these periods redoing/enhancing parts that just don’t make sense yet until you feel like it’s ready for the next step.
When should I edit my first draft?
1. Develop a writing routine
If you want to be more productive, look for patterns in your daily routine and choose the optimum time to write when you’re at your peak.
2. Outlining – Plot, Themes & Structure
This will be totally up to what kind of story you are planning on telling. For example, some stories lend themselves more easily to plot structure, such as “murder mysteries.” To make this easier go into google or Pinterest and search plots with a mystery/crime theme. Use one of these structures as a guide in developing your story outline if necessary before beginning the manuscript itself!
3. Devise an automatic editing system (with worksheet) so that you don’t end up editing while you’re writing, as this can be disruptive and cause you to become distracted if you go back and forth.
4. Develop a book structure by creating several dividers with labels (i.e., protagonist, antagonist, setting, etc.)
5. Keep track of your plot using index cards or sticky notes…
6. Get through the rough draft in a few weeks
7. Find an editor
For more information about editing, I recommend reading Stephen King’s book called “On Writing.” He does a great job breaking down what he calls the “dancing elephant method,” which is having several people who have read your novel give their honest opinion on it. You can get it from this Amazon link
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