When the sloppy first draft is done, when all of the words are written, and I have congratulated myself on the effort, and before I put the project away for a while, there are a few more things to do.
- Don’t type all of the words for all of the key scenes in the last third of the book. Why? I just poured out all of my ideas, built up to the climax, killed some characters, and pushed others to the brink. Why not wrap everything up? Well, I do, in a way. I write the framework of what will happen in the last failure, the final conflict, and the resolve. I know what’s going to happen so I summarize. I know who lives, who dies, how the problem is solved, what moods and emotions should be evoked and all of those get written into the draft, but not the details. When I get ready to work on draft two and have reread the first draft, and my subconscious has chewed on what works and what doesn’t, the details of what happens in those scenes become obvious. Loose ends are tied up, the theme brought full circle, and character arcs are completed. The details in those scenes are what ultimately make a book satisfying or not and for me, they take some serious thought.
- Take a walk. After I type the last words I walk or go running. My mind goes over what I just did and I immediately start asking and answering questions. Did the characters work or did they fall flat? Were all of the story questions answered? I also get some general impressions of the novel.
- Take Notes. I keep a section in my manuscript for a log where I keep a date stamped note of what I am thinking about the work. Here, at the end of the first draft, I make an entry to record everything I was thinking about while I was walking. I do this while the thoughts and ideas are still fresh and when I start draft two I will have these notes to prime the pump.
- Ask one final question. Am I still excited about writing this novel? I will ask this question many times if the answer is yes. If not it does not mean I abandon the work but I may let it sit on a shelf longer before I tackle a second draft. It also means I should add this feeling to the notes described in item three. I may have more work to do to find what is or is not working.
- Forget it. I will mark a date on a calendar to begin the second draft and in the meantime I will focus on the next project. For me, I will usually let the first draft sit for about a month. Even though I am not actively working on it and my attention is on something else, my subconscious will still be working on preparations for the next draft, and sometimes that’s the best thing. When I start the second draft I will have renewed energy, new ideas, and fixes for the things I noted at the end of the first draft. I also get to fill in all the details of the final key scenes which allows me to do more of the hot, fast writing I love about the first draft.
These are things I’ve found work for me after pushing through the first drafts of four novels. I think items two, three, and four, would work for many writers. The process and the results have improved with each novel. The most important thing is to have a completed first draft, you can’t produce a second without it.