Woo Hoo! You’ve finished the first draft of your future Amazon top one million books. You might think the next step is to send that gem to an editor for a spit polish, but you’d be wrong, so very wrong. Editors aren’t miracle workers. They can’t refine a rough draft and most first drafts are hot messes. So, back that flaming mass of words up because the fun has just begun. Here’s what to do after typing “The End” on a first draft.
Set your story aside for a few days or even a month or two. Before you start self-editing, you need to look at your work with a fresh perspective which will only come after being away from it for a while.
Run spell check. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget. Spell check isn’t perfect, but it will catch many basic mistakes.
Check the overall plot structure. For your first pass, keep post-it notes, a notebook, and your outline handy. Prepare yourself for more drafting. The first read through is to make sure the story hits the major plot points and is paced well. Make sure there are no plot holes and dangling characters (characters who show up at the beginning then disappear, only to reappear again at the end of the story; or characters with no real purpose; or characters/things who are deus ex machina).
On the second pass, you check the dialogue and character arcs. Make sure there is a believable emotional change in your main character(s) from the start of the story at the end. Make sure your dialogue sounds natural and is unique for each character. You are also going to check for constancy, so have your character bio sheets ready. You should also make notes for settings as well. For example, if a dark haired character is in a field of sunflowers in one chapter, but in the next chapter the wind whips his blonde hair as he plucks a tulip from the field, but the setting hasn’t changed from the last chapter.
Read your manuscript out loud. You’ll catch many typos, missing words, and clunky sentence structure this way.
Use beta readers and/or critique partners for feedback. Some writers use both. Betas/CPs will give you feedback on the overall story and character development. Some might even catch a few typos for you. You can get beta readers/critique partners by joining writing groups, asking in appropriate areas on Goodreads, or by paying for a professional reader.
Incorporate any useful feedback you receive from your betas/CPs. This might seem obvious, but the keyword in the latter sentence is “useful.” Reader feedback can sometimes be scattered or flat out not helpful. I’ve had a healthy buffet of both with my five novels. You’ll want to dismiss a lot of what you’re told. Don’t. Comb through reader feedback and find common threads. Did a majority say the main character solved a conflict too easily? Were certain chapters/scenes regularly described as boring, confusing, implausible, funny/sad/scary/sexy (when they weren’t meant to be)? Did more betas than not get confused by your villain’s motivation? The key to betas is to have an odd number of them and to not use too many. I can’t tell anyone how many betas/CPs to have, but I assure you wading through feedback from 21 people will be a nightmare.
Re-run spell check and re-read. Depending on the amount of revisions you did at each stage above, you should run another spell check and read the manuscript again for typos one last time.
Now, you can send your rough stone to an editor. You may think you’re draft is clean after three – four passes, but again you’re wrong. Most likely, the editor will find numerous mistakes and may advise you to rewrite, but that’s all part of the joy of being a writer.
Are there any other steps you do before sending your work to an editor?
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