Friday, November 9, 2012

What to Do After You Write a First Draft

I’m going to start a series of posts that walk writers through the process of writing and editing their novel. The first in this series was last week’s post, “I Want to Write a Book but Never Have.” Today I want to talk about what to do once you’ve completed your first draft.

Most of you reading this blog have written or are currently sitting on a first draft of a book you’ve written. And many of you have no idea where to go from here. So, how do you know what to edit? And how do you edit writing that you are not yet proud of?

Today I want to give those of you who fall into this category a reason to pick back up that pen or keyboard, and start making critical and positive changes to your text—all without having to pay an editor a dime.

Where Do I Start?
If you have a first draft of your book sitting somewhere on your computer, pull it up onto the screen and back into your consciousness. Some of you might not have looked at this particular draft in a long time. Maybe this was the first book you’ve ever written; maybe it’s the only book you’ve ever written; or maybe it’s your next big project. Regardless, open up your document.

Buy a Notebook
Before you touch your first draft, buy a notebook or re-appropriate an unused journal you have sitting around. This will be your idea book. I personally like to title certain pages (Ex. “Ideas for New Scenes,” “Things to Fix on This Round of Edits,” and “Things to Fix on Later Rounds of Edits”), but you should use whatever form of organization works best for you.

If there are currently some problems with the book that you’d like to address, write them down here. If you have ideas of what you want to change or fix, take a moment to write them down.

Having a concrete notebook or journal to refer back to—rather than a series of Word documents—is convenient because a hard copy of your ideas and edits are located in one central document that you can flip through at whim. It is also nice to have a notebook or journal to refer to, so you can cross off edits as you make them. However, make sure to read through what you’ve previously written, or else you might still miss what you made an effort to remember.

Figure out How to Use Microsoft Word’s Comment Bubbles
If the title of this section is at all confusing to you, then I’d suggest reading more about this editing tool on my post, “Utilizing Word’s Editing Tools.” Comment bubbles allow you to highlight portions of text and insert comments. For my own work, I generally use it to remind myself to fix a particular detail or scene in a future edit.

What Next?
Now that you’re ready to approach your edits, I want you to use your notebook to brainstorm at least five aspects of your book that you need to work on. None of the five should be technical edits, such as correcting typos. That’s still a ways off. Instead, these are edits that deal strictly with the content of your book.

You’re going to have to think hard about this, but I promise you that if you are working on your first draft, everyone will have at least five content edits for themselves. Anything less, then you’re letting yourself off easy.

I cannot know what your edits might be, but I can demonstrate in my own book what these may be:
  1. Change the setting from a college campus to a boarding school.
  2. Insert more detail about the school and the academic aspects of the story.
  3. Remove the side characters Luke and Sybil since you currently have too many characters.
  4. Remove filler scenes. (These are areas of the book that link one scene to another—usually they’re some form transportation, or sitting through a class. They’re considered “filler” because nothing happens in these scenes that furthers the plot.).
  5. Make sure that the main character is always thinking about and working towards her goal. 

These are my initial five. I have at least twice this many problems with my current first draft, but all writers must start somewhere. Being an editor does not make me impervious to these problems, I just happen to be in the business of finding solutions for them.

Making These Changes
In the previous section I challenged you to write down a list of five content edits. Some of you like to spend a lot of time on each round of edits. If this sounds like you, then start with this list, and work on your book until what you have written down is fixed.

For those of you who, like me, need to work on smaller portions of edits at a time, choose a few of the edits you listed. Focus on these. Once you’ve completed them, move on to what’s left.

During this round of edits, don’t worry about how the writing sounds. Getting the information in your story is more important than perfecting it, since chances are, you’ll tweak this information again before you’ve completed the book.

Future Edits
As you go through this first edit, you’ll inevitably come across problem areas. These are areas that are missing information, unclear, or don’t fit with the changes you’ve made. If you want to correct it during this round, go for it. However there will be some edits that you’ll have to put off. This is where you’ll want to utilize Word’s editing tools and your notebook.

Write down in your notebook what needs to be edited. If the edit needs to be made at a particular place in your book, insert a comment bubble and add in a comment regarding the edit. By the time you’re done, your story should have a more solid foundation, and you have enough additional edits in your notebook to begin the next round of edits.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services

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