Nov. 7, 2021: First Draft Completed! Now What?
This week I once again hit the milestone of completing a first draft of a middle grades novel. This is my sixth middle grades novel. I freely admit that is not an impressive statistic. However, when I calculate in the fact that I teach full-time in an elementary school and part time at a University, I cut myself slack and realize that I do not have to be producing a new manuscript in a matter of weeks. When I acknowledge in that I am a traditionally published author with three middle grades novels on bookstore shelves, I know that quality over quantity is a great place for me to be.
But finishing that first draft brings both a sense of relief, and the worries of now what.
As every writer knows, this is now when the work begins. This is when we take that manuscript and make it into a story that sings. We revise scenes. We fill plot gaps. We catch inconstancies. We deepen characters. We insert missing information. We fact check those details. We confirm historical references. We eliminate redundancy. We tighten up word choice. We polish up voice. We revise and revise and revise.
This is also the stage when we have to bring others into our process. Our critique partners, our beta readers, our historical experts- anyone whose opinions and insights can help us improve on the quality of our work.
For many writers, it is hard to know where to begin when jumping into the revision process. There are so many different approaches, and each one has its merits.
These are the steps that work for me:
- Reread the manuscript as a whole.
o For this, I make sure I have a printed version of the manuscript (usually in a three-ring binder) so that I can sit in a comfortable chair and mimic a reader’s experience as much as possible. I also have pens and notebook handy and I freely mark up the text, and make notes for myself that I will go back to after this reading. I also have my original outline and notes near-by in case I need to check on something that does not seem right or does not seem to flow. If it is something that requires more time or research, I note it on my note sheet, and keep reading. I do not want to break up the flow of reading the story too much at this first stage, since I am focusing on the big picture.
- Rework weak areas and problems.
o After this first reread, I go back through with my notes and work on the areas that did not flow. This is when I will take the time to confirm my research or fact-check something. Taking the time to rewrite the areas flagged during that first reread.
- Chapter by Chapter Revision.
o This next reread and rework step is done chapter-by-chapter. Now that I have smoothed out the entire manuscript, I take a deep dive into each chapter. I reread, revise, reread, revise, …until I am comfortable with it, then move on to the next chapter. Obviously, some chapters do not require as much work as others.
- Fresh Eyes
o This is when I have someone else read the manuscript. It is usually a trusted teacher or writer friend whose expertise I value and who will give me their overall impression of the story. I always give them a hard copy to read so that they can feel free to mark up the text with questions, observations, wonderings, or anything else that comes to mind as they read.
- More Revisions.
o Based on the input of others, more revisions are taken care of at this point.
- Expert Critique
o If I am working on an historical fiction novel, this is where I would get an historical scholar or expert to read my work for historical accuracy.
- More Revisions
o Based on your historical expert’s feedback, there will most likely be some additional revisions required.
o Many writers like to employ the services of a professional editor to look over their manuscript at this point and help to catch all of those minor errors that have undoubtedly escaped your eyes up until now. If you do not go that route, make sure to have at least one more person read your manuscript (with a red pen handy) to note any issues. I remember reading about an award-winning author who even employed family members at this point. He said he gave each family member a chapter and offered to pay them for every editing error they found.
While this stage of the writing process is clearly labor and time intensive, this is when that average or mediocre story can be turned into a manuscript that an agent will fall in love with and that a publisher will just have to publish!
Do not shortchange the power of the revision stage!