Congratulations on getting your first draft finished! For many people, that is a once in a lifetime accomplishment. For others, this is where they get stuck. What comes next? Editors? Proofreaders? Betareaders? First comes the break: put your draft away for a couple of days or weeks and let it simmer. When you’re ready and refreshed, it’s time to start revising that draft. Here are five of the top things you should keep in mind when you start on this step.
The Number of Files
Some authors create a new file for each revision. That way, if they really fall off the wagon and get lost, they can simply open a previous file and start over. They don’t have to sift through and try to decide when which revision was made; and if a file somehow dies, gets corrupted, or otherwise blows up, there are multiple backups to choose from. Some authors also believe that having a physical record of these revisions can help prove ownership in times of copyright infringement or in cases of plagiarism.
Now, on the other side of this, keeping everything in one file can be a lot easier. Sending files to another person, for example, can be tricky when you have more than one version running around. And if you’re trying to talk to more than one betareader or proofreader at a time, it can get even trickier keeping all those different files straight. Speaking of straight, by maintaining only one file for your revisions, you make it easier on yourself when organizing your works on your computer or laptop.
Keeping Your Motivation Up
There are a lot of authors out there who struggle through getting their first drafts written, and then thrive during revisions. I know this because I happen to be one of those authors. But for many others, zipping off a first draft is easier, and as soon as it’s time to make revisions lethargy blindsides them. The revision process hits them like a train and motivation becomes a thing of the past.
No matter which type of author you are, plan for drops in motivation and set yourself up with ways to overcome those drops. I actually have a board set up on Pinterest specifically for motivating myself to write and edit. So whenever I feel that train barreling down at me, I visit that board or, if I have the time, I add to that board.
Your First Draft Should Suck
Seriously. I have yet to read through a first draft (of mine or anyone else’s) that didn’t suck. And that’s because for most of us, we’re excited while writing that draft. It’s an exciting process, dreaming up worlds and creating characters to reside within those worlds. Inviting readers to share a recess within our own minds even if just for a short while. Exciting. But also one of the hardest things we can do. Pouring our hearts onto the pages and leaving ourselves vulnerable and open for judgement.
We make mistakes. We get distracted and leave out sections, miss plotholes, and switch around words. It’s important for you to know this going in to the revision process. Because having a bad first draft #1 does not make you a bad writer and #2 does not mean it’s a bad story. Go in understanding this and you are less likely to beat yourself up over your mistakes.
A Plan Matters in Revising
Unlike writing, in which you can go in any way you choose and get the story written, you need a plan for the revision process. Take some notes, know what you’re looking for, and strike. Revising is not the time to rely on your gut instincts. You know your strengths and your weaknesses, start there. If you’re not sure where to start, then head out to your favorite search engine and find out what some of the most common mistakes found in first drafts are.
Writing is creative. It doesn’t matter which genre you’re writing — even nonfiction writing is creative and requires imagination. But revising is the opposite. Revising entails honing in on that creativity and making it believable. It requires strengthening characters, defining motives, and polishing dialogue. You’ll need precision and a systematic approach to catch everything. This is one area in which allowing your creativity to flow uninhibited may do more harm than good.
Know When to Let Go
First drafts are our babies. We love them just as much as we love anyone else — children, pets, spouses… Our first drafts mean the world to us. This love is part of what keeps us motivated to get our work finished, but it can also hold us back. Hang onto a scene only as long as you have to. Cut a character who is drowning in the story rather than pushing it along. Even if he is your favorite hero. Even if she is your favorite villain. Or the funny little sidekick based on your first love.
No matter what you’ve written or how much you love it, chances are there is something in your book that doesn’t work. A trope, a scene, a motive, a character…something that either slows down your book or just doesn’t fit in at all. These are fine to keep while you’re still writing your story and getting your thoughts into words. But now that you’re revising, you’ll need to know which thoughts work and which thoughts don’t.