Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finished the first draft. Now what?

The first draft is finished! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Elated? Of course!

Not so fast.

Writing the first draft always fills me with joy--but then--reality comes crashing down. When the first draft is finished, it means I have to enter the next stage of the book. Revisions. Blech.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lots of writers love revisions. In fact, many writers I know actually revise as they go. They adore playing with their words, getting each scene just right. Too bad I'm not one of them. It's not that I don't want my story to be polished and wonderful and perfect. It's just that if I revise as I go, I never get very far; I certainly don't finish the book. Instead, I run in circles, chasing my own tail. That's why I write first, revise later.

Even this causes dilemmas. Yes, it's true. Should I print out the whole book and read it straight through first? Or should I find and replace the words on my "generic" list before wasting all that paper? Maybe I shouldn't read the whole book, but revise chapter by chapter. Do I revise it on the computer or on paper?

Do you see why my head spins on the first revision day?

There is a solution. I've devised a revisions checklist with step-by-step instructions for myself. No need to make lengthy decisions about what order to perform the necessary tasks: it's all written out for me. Are you curious to find out my revision process? Of course you aren't, but I'm not going to let that stop me!

The first thing I do is write out the basic theme of the book in about 20 words. It may have changed from my original intention, and now that the book is finished, I want to be clear what the book is about. The second thing I do is write a short blurb about the book, similar to what you would find on the back cover. I've already written one before the first draft, but the final product will have subtle differences. The reason I do these two things is to have the book, in a nutshell, in front of me. This helps me focus when revising.

Now I'm ready to begin. I print out the entire book. The printer usually gives me trouble; today is no exception. At this point I feel like I deserve a caffeine jolt and take a quick break. Next up I face my biggest challenge. Reading the entire book without changing a thing.

Try it. It's next to impossible. Do you know how hard it is to read your own first draft without a pen in hand? Oh, the things I want to change. I can't even describe the difficulty level of this exercise. But I'm not looking for the nitty-gritty at this point; no, I'm looking for the overall tone, pace, characters, theme, plot. I need to analyze the big picture.

So now you know the first steps in my revision process. Next, I'll revise the draft chapter-by-chapter. When that is finished, I'll find and replace all of the generic words on my list and really tweak the writing to shine. Finally, I'll read the entire draft out loud and give it another once over.

By the time I'm finished revising, the entire book swims in my head and I never want to look at it again. Until six months pass, I open the book and get lost in a world of my own creation... Bliss.

Next week, I'll detail my process of chapter-by-chapter revisions.

Enjoy your week!

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