You’ve written a book and added those magical words ‘the end’ and that achievement alone deserves celebration. The fact that you have committed yourself and finished the story is amazing. So go celebrate then come back – because you’re not finished yet!
When I started out in my pursuit of publication, it took me a long time to accept the fact that first drafts are not perfect. I would tie myself in knots, deleting words I’d typed because they were not good enough. I felt that I must be a really rubbish writer because I couldn’t create the perfect paragraph, let alone the perfect story first time. My first drafts were a garbled mess.
Now I know better. I know and accept that first drafts aren’t meant to brilliantly crafted pieces of writing. They are simply the process of getting everything from within you, the writer, onto the page. The first draft is merely an assembly of words with which you will create your story later on, during the editing and revising process ahead of submission.
‘The first draft is just you telling the story’ Terry Pratchett
Now that we’ve established that a first draft is not carved in stone and that the words within it can be changed, deleted, added to or moved, it’s time to look at how to deal with that jumble of ramblings which make up your first draft. This is the process I follow with my first draft to create the story I wanted to tell.
- Step away from the manuscript. Yes, that’s right. Walk away from it and don’t look at it. I would suggest at least two weeks, more if you have the time.
Why? Doing this gives you space from the story, from the words that are drafted on you page. It will give you thinking time. When you return to your first draft your mind will be refreshed and the story will appear either new to you or maybe not as bad as you think.
The time you have given yourself to create distance from the jumble of words that poured on the page will also allow you to see those glaring plot holes you happily skipped over in the first draft.
‘If I waited for perfection I would never write a word’ Margaret Atwood
- Print out the manuscript. This is something I find really useful as reading the story on the computer screen is so very different to reading it on a printed page. It’s amazing how you can read something on the screen yet it appears completely different when it’s on a piece of paper. For me it also allows anything from silly spelling mistakes to massive continuity issues to show up.
‘Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good’ William Faulkner
For best results ensure your printed copy is double spaced so there is plenty of room for notes. It’s also a good idea to have a note book for exploring things you will need to include in the story. If you are anything like me, that note book will have to meet specific criteria! If you have made notes whilst writing your first draft, like timelines, character studies, gather these up. Arm yourself with coloured pens, sticky notes and anything else, which will help you pull together the threads within the first draft. This is where my desk becomes strewn with colourful sticky notes and pens!
‘Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.’ Anne Lamott
- Now start reading. Read the full manuscript, jotting down any issues you stumble across either in your notebook or in the margin of the manuscript. Once this is done you can go back and read scene by scene, chapter by chapter, using your earlier notes as reference.
Here are some of the things you need to ask yourself. Does each scene move the story forward? Do your characters achieve their goal? Are there any glaring plot holes – major inconsistency in the story which is totally out of place? Is it possible that you have not made the most of a scene or even missed it out completely?
‘I’m writing my first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.’ Shannon Hale
- Re-read. This is the point I check for smaller inconsistences.
Make sure your character doesn’t suddenly have a change of eye colour or that a minor character doesn’t suddenly find themselves with a new name. They sound silly things, but they are so easy to do when you are in the throes of creating your first draft!
Look for spelling and grammar errors.
Ensure all minor threads are stitched up neatly. For instance, the reader will want to know what happened to that minor character which flitted into one of your scenes.
‘You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’ Jodi Picoult
- Send it out. Now it’s time to send your manuscript to your critique partner or beta reader if you are lucky enough to have one. If you are not happy with that thought, then reading the manuscript through again in yet another format helps, such as loading it onto your kindle. Make notes or collate your readers’ notes so that you can make any final changes.
Now your story is ready to go to your editor. That magical fresh pair of eyes who will help you polish your words into the very best story they can be – which means yet more revisions!
‘Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.’ William Wordsworth
It’s also worth remembering that there is not a right or wrong way to revise your first draft, just as there is not a correct number of times to do it. Each writer is different and certain techniques work for some and not for others. This is the way I approach turning my first draft into a manuscript ready for submission, but I always love to hear how other do it!
‘Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.’ William Zinsser
Blackmailed into marriage…by Christmas!
Genealogist Lydia Carter-Wilson is horrified by the debts her father has run up in her name. Then magnate Raul Valdez approaches her with an outrageous proposition. If she helps him claim his inheritance, he’ll pay off her debts and save her tarnished reputation. But there’s a catch. If she fails, she will marry Raul on Christmas Eve!
No matter their instant and electrifying attraction, Lydia knows Raul’s proposal amounts to blackmail. Yet faced with an impossible choice—risking ruin or becoming Raul’s bartered bride—Lydia finds she cannot resist her desire to make a deal with the dark-hearted billionaire!
Bio: I love escaping to distant shores with my characters, entering their glamorous world and feeling all the emotions they experience as they discover their love for one another. A love so strong it will overcome all obstacles eventually, leading to that promised happy ever after.
- Editing for Pantsers with Terri L. Austin 
- Emotional Depth – Putting the Spark in Your Story by Rachael Thomas 
- Five Things to Remember – by Theresa Stevens 
- Moving on Up: Writing the Next Book with Anna Campbell 
- Ask an Editor: Theresa Stevens on Ten Steps to A Clean Submission