By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
Finishing a novel feels a bit like standing at the top of Everest, cheering your ability to reach the summit, then realizing you have to climb down.
Don't get me wrong, completing a first draft of a novel is a huge achievement and it shouldn't be under appreciated in any way. It's just not the end of the journey. Revisions come next, and they can be just as challenging as the first draft sometimes.
Since many of you have or are getting close to completing your own first drafts, (and we've been talking a lot about process and what writers do) I thought I'd share my plan for the "trip down."
Oh, it's probably important to note what shape my first drafts are usually in so we have some context here. By the time I write "the end," I've gone over every chapter at least twice. Once when I wrote it, then again on a second pass look as I re-read what I wrote the day before. If there was a chapter that had extensive tweaks in the rough draft stage, then it may have been revised more than twice. The manuscript will have spots that are really awful, and chapters that are pretty clean. In this particular manuscript, there are also a ton of notes to remind myself to go back and add something. I put those in parentheses, because I don't want to slow myself to color the text as I'm writing. This is a new things for me, and it developed because I'd remember something from an earlier book that had to be addressed and just add it in. Or I'd think of something cool and make notes, pretending as if I'd written the ground work for it already.
The first thing I'll do is go back and make all the edits from my in-progress crit group. I've been working on them the last few weeks as I finished the book, but I still have about eight chapters to go (especially since five of them I gave to my group Sunday afternoon).
When I go through WIP crits, I do a combination of fixes and notes. I make any changes that are a no-brainer. Typos, unclear anything, quick edits to tighten or smooth over language. Unless I disagree with what's being suggested, I listen to the advice. (One note here: I have a terrific crit group I can trust who knows their stuff. You never want to blindly accept advice or edit based on things you don't agree with).
Once I've done the easy fixes, I'll look at the harder stuff. These usually involve motive or characterization. A character not acting plausibly in a scene, or a plot thread that's not coming across clearly. Sometimes I can tweak a few things here and there and fix these, other times I know I need to do some major overhauling.
If it's a major overhaul, I'll make notes in that scene. NEEDS TO FEEL MORE EMOTIONAL or whatever the issue is. I usually make them in all caps and red so they stand out. If I have any ideas, I note them there as well.
Next, I'll go back and do a find for ( so I can easily get to all my notes. Then I'll take them one by one, and either make the addition, or make note of what needs to go where. I'll have to let you know how this turns out, but I imagine it'll be similar to my crit notes.
When all that is finished, I'll start from page one and look for the notes. Then I'll do whatever needs to be done.
I know after this pass I'll most likely have redundant info and stuff that just plain feels out of whack. I don't worry about any of that as I edit here. That's where the full read through comes in.
After all the edits are made, I'll go back to page one and read the entire manuscript, looking for anything that pops out at me. Sometimes it'll be little tweaks, other times I'll see a whole scene that just feels long and needs to be cut back. I like to do this in big chunks, because I can get a better sense of the flow that way, and I remember what I just read, so the redundancies stand out better. Ideally, I like to do half one day and half the next.
When done, it goes off to my "finished draft" crit group and they read through it with very critical eyes. And when they're done, I go through the whole process again.
Unless they tell me I need serious overhauling (which happens), I'll make those edits, and then send it off to my editor. If I'm not on deadline, then I'll let the manuscript sit for a few weeks, then I'll give it one final read before I send it off.
Then I can breathe and admire the view.