I am extremely honoured to be hosting this guest post from Megg. I have been a fan of hers for some time now and follow not just her blog but her advice and book club.
Today Megg is sharing her tips on what to do when you’ve finished the first draft of your novel.
Wow! You’ve finished your first draft. How amazing? How scary? How much hard work did that take? You’re freaking fantastic, let me tell you that! There are so many people who never even get to this step, who never manage to finish the first draft. Yes, you can give yourself a high-five for this one. As awesome as you are your first draft sucks (I’m allowed to say this because my first drafts all suck too).
What now? How do you get this first draft not to suck? I’m not talking grammar corrections and typos here, I’m talking about your actual story. How can you get this story to be one that people will actually want to read? You do revisions. These 10 steps to revising your first draft are the steps that I follow too. They take time, patience, and a tough skin. But you’ve gotten this far, so you owe it to yourself to take it one step further.
10 Steps to revising your first draft
- Wait it out!
The worst thing you can do is jump straight back into your novel. It’s all still too fresh. You need to give yourself time to forget and time to allow yourself to become distanced from all the hard work you have already put into your novel. I always suggest putting your first draft aside for a month. What? A whole freaking month? Yes, one whole month. Take that time to work on a new story outline or start writing another novel. Try a different form of writing like poetry, and short stories. And, give yourself time to read more (reading is always a good idea).
Now, after a month of sweating it out, you pick up that novel and you start your reread. Try not to throw it out the window, burn it, or tear it into shreds. Pretend for a second that this is not your first draft, but rather your best friend’s first draft. Read it with open eyes and optimism for the story. Your first draft is going to suck and it’s allowed to suck! After you’ve done this, reread it again and this time make as many notes as possible. Note down any changes, plot holes, parts of the story that irritate you, pacing problems. inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and major mistakes that you need to look at fixing. Always remember that your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, this is a rough version.
- Identify Plot holes
Now that you have identified your plot holes take the time to fix them. Don’t rush through this step.
Focus on consistent pacing as well as appropriately varied pacing throughout your novel. Do parts read too slow? Do other parts feel rushed? Allow yourself the time to fix any pacing problems you may have found by this point of your revisions.
- Kill your Darlings
This is always a tough task to manage. Harsh? Yes! You need to be if you want your novel to be the best it can be. Some Darlings, may be able to be reworked into the story, but most must be cut.
- Make small changes
Those irritations you found in your second reread, the character’s name that was hard to pronoun or didn’t flow off the tongue, the shocking yellow car that was super unbelievable, the constant over explaining, now’s the time to make these small changes. Change a character’s name if it doesn’t fit. Make sure all your quotation marks are consistent (single or double, baby).
- Sketch out character arcs
I always have a good idea of my character arcs before I start writing, but they change as I write and I don’t always go back to my notes and relook the arcs. This step can be skipped if you’ve written on a story structure but it’s always a good idea to revisit this step and double check your own work.
- Create character sketches
This is another thing that I try to do before I even start writing my novels. As part of my book, Write A Novel In 30 Days, I offer a free character sketch which I use myself too. I also like to add photo’s of my characters, diary entries, bag contents and things that will personalise my character even more.
- Work on your character’s goals and motivations
Wow, by now you have made a lot of changes to your novel. Do all of your character’s original goals and motivations still remain true? Have your changes affected them? Give your characters new goals and motivations if needed and give yourself and your character the time to accept these new changes.
- The hook
Yay! You’re almost there. Now re-read your first few pages. Is your hook clear? Is there too much information or too little information for your readers? Sometimes, as the writer we already know the backstory and so everything makes sense to us but they might not make any sense to the reader who knows none of the backstory. Think about this when you’re looking for that hook. This can be a quick and simple step, or this step can take a lot of time, and this will differ from novel, to novel too. Go pick up your favourite books and read their hooks for some inspiration. See how other authors hook the reader. A hook should be on the first page, preferably in the first chapter, and if you can have the hook in your first sentence then that’s even better.
I know this is a lot to take in and it’s a lot of work too (you may want to skip some of the steps or rush through them) but you’ve put in all this hard work already that you owe it to yourself to really focus on each step individually until you’re happy with the results.
The way that I manage to keep my focus on one step at a time is to use different coloured highlighters during step two of the process (during my second reread when I’m making my notes). I choose a different coloured highlighter for each major focus needed (small changes, darlings, characters, pacing, and plot holes), this way I can focus purely on that colour when I need to.
Most of all, be kind to yourself and to your writing. You might absolutely hate your writing and your story when you reread it but through an effective revision process, you can sculpt it into something better. Allow yourself the opportunity to do this. Don’t give up on your story.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post for us Megg.