Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Your To-Do List After the First Draft

By: Jason Evans

Last month we talked about actually writing your book. If you’ve followed my advice month to month you might be disappointed to realize your masterpiece isn’t done by now.

Don’t beat yourself up. It takes some people years to finish their first draft. Give yourself some time and do it the right way. (But not too much time.)

Juggling plots, character motivations, settings, and themes is a difficult process for even experienced writers. The best way to complete that book of yours is to write a little every day. Start with a page, then try to write two pages. Write six days in a row. Follow that up with a word count goal to make every day. Make writing a habit. Eventually you will have a completed draft. When that day happens, believe me, you’ll be relieved and happy. Of course, you’ll then ask yourself a question.

Now what?

That what today’s blog is all about. What should you do next?

Now even though this is the historical fiction blog on Pikes Peak Writers, please know that the following suggestions apply to all writers of fiction. Sci-fi, Speculative, Romance, etc. Follow these steps once your first draft is complete.

Here are the top five things you should do once your manuscript, or W.I.P. (Work in Progress,) is finished.

1.) Celebrate!
You wrote a dag-blame book! Congratulations. Many people can’t say that. People say they want to write a book all the time. How many even write a line of that book, let alone an entire novel? Not many. How many get 50 pages, or even 25 before quitting? You didn’t. You stuck it out.
Tell everybody you know. Go on social media, tell your in-laws, your kids’ teachers, and the mailman. Bake a cake, or buy some (cheap,) champagne. You deserve to celebrate.

2.) Rest
Now that you’ve written this sure-to-be best seller, walk away from it. I’m serious. Walk Away.

When I was in college, I learned to write a paper well before the deadline, then put it away for a couple of days in order to see it with fresh eyes. Doing this helped me see the faults in my writing. Stuff I thought was pithy or clever turned out to be boorish or just blame awful. A few days gave me some healthy distance so I could give my writing a fair critique. In the end, that distance helped me strengthen structure and clarify arguments. I figured if a paragraph didn’t make sense to me after a few days, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to my professors.  

How long should you take? I would say at least two weeks, but anywhere from a month to six months seems right to me. Now I know many people like to submit pages to conference contests, or query during an agent’s submission period, so maybe six months is too long. I completely understand. Just give yourself some down time away from the keyboard.

3.) Join a Critique Group
Here is where things get scary. I have hermit tendencies at times. I know getting out of the house and wearing pants seems like a lot of effort, but trust me, the effort is worth it.  
Joining a critique group can have several benefits to your writing life. Chiefly, they will read excerpts of your W.I.P., and give you gentle critiques. (Why gentle? I’ll get to that in a moment.) Second, you will develop an eye for good writing, as you will be reading other people’s W.I.P.’s. More importantly, you’ll learn why and how a story can go south, by reading other people’s works. Just the act of reading fiction critically will help you become a better writer. Finally, those critique partners, those people who have seen your worst and your best, will become your writing family. They will mourn, laugh, grouse, and celebrate your writing life. They’ll be your inklings.

4.) Get a good book on Grammar.
A lot of you may not have gone to college. Those who did, probably didn’t major in English. So mastering the grammar monster is something most new writers have to deal with. (I know it is for me.) The relationship between new writers and grammar is akin to a professional football player and pain. Sometimes it will distract you from your job, other times you’ll conquer it. Regardless, you will respect it and have a relationship with it that must be nurtured.

But it’s not just about learning grammar rules. It’s about manipulating the language in different ways, making English stretch and do those things that will wow your readers. It’s learning about meter and rhythm, about word etymology and descriptive verbs. A good book of grammar will help you along this process.

5.) Editing
You’ve celebrated and rested, joined a critique group and bought a good book on grammar.
Now we get serious. Now it’s time to edit your book. Here’s what you do.

Chiefly, buy a BIG binder (or, liberate an oppressed binder from your place of work – theft is such an ugly word). Get ahold of a three ring hole punch (see liberation above). Then print your book out.

Yes. I said print your book out!

You want to print it out for a couple of reasons. You’re gonna want to make notes in the margins –things you’ll get to later. You’ll want to take it outside and read it in the sun. Your eyes will get tired looking at a computer screen all day, so switch to paper.

Finally, there is something tactile and soothing about critiquing your work on paper. There’s nothing to save, or accidently delete. You won’t end up with multiple copies with different edits floating around. Plus, it’ll be pretty cool to walk around with a filled binder of your own writing.

A trick you can do is get one of those multi-colored ball point pens. Use red for grammar, green for character arc or plot points, black for basic edits, and blue for remembering notes for the re-write.

What? Yes, you will be re-writing portions of your book. You didn’t think we’d be done in one draft, did you?

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