By Terry Shames
You finished! The first draft is done. High fives all around. You deserve to celebrate because for every writer who finishes a first daft there are hundreds who promised themselves they would and that day never arrived.
Now give yourself a few days to tackle the chores that have been pushed to the background. And do something nice for yourself--get a massage, have an extra glass of wine, or go out to dinner. Try to make the feeling last because before long you’ll have that nagging realization that you aren’t done—not by a long shot. Fear will start to build in you. You’ll tiptoe around your desk and computer, hoping whatever is lurking there won’t reach out and grab you.
Probably in the history of writing someone got everything right the first time. But let’s face it--you probably didn’t. More likely the opposite is true. The first draft is a hot mess.
There are books, articles and classes on how to edit your manuscript. But no one addresses how to bridge that huge gap between relief that you actually got a draft done and dread that you now have to start the editing process. It’s brutal. It doesn’t just happen to beginners either. Every writer has that sinking feeling when they start to edit.
Here are a few hints to ease you into the process:
1) Remind yourself that editing takes time. It took several weeks or months to write the first draft. It’s going to take just as long to edit—or longer. Remember how insurmountable 70,000 words looked when you typed the first page? It wasn’t. You finished and you can do it again. (And again).
2) Before you begin, spend a few hours thinking about what general things work well in the book. “My dialog seemed to come really easily. I felt like I knew the protagonist. I love one of the plot twists I came up with.” Be specific. Write them down.
3) Now spend equal time thinking about what you know needs to be addressed. Again, be specific. “I still don’t feel like I’ve nailed the protagonist’s girlfriend. The middle seemed really slow. I may need to do a little more research on X.”
4) Decide in advance how you are going to tackle the edits. Do you work best going chapter by chapter, forging ahead until the entire edit cycle is done? Do you work best perfecting one scene at a time before you move forward? Do you feel so strongly about the plot issues that you have to address them before you tackle the characters?
It’s best to establish control from the beginning. When you feel as if you’ve run off the rails, it can steady you to go back and remind yourself what is good about the story. And to remind yourself that you knew some things needed work.
Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill was a finalist for numerous awards and won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Last Death of Jack Harbin was a Macavity finalist for Best Mystery, 2014 and was named one of the top ten mysteries of 2014 by Library Journal and top five of 2014 by MysteryPeople. Her fifth Craddock mystery, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake launched January 2016. www.terryshames.com.