Done with Your Draft—What Next?

If you’ve recently finished writing the first draft to your first book, congratulations! If you’re getting there, applying many of these tips in this oist are going to help you get that draft into great shape.

Maybe you have written numerous drafts and possibly already published a book or more. My hope is that you’ll keep refining your process so it’s more effective and streamline so as to optimize your time and effort. 

There are lots of methods to revising your draft, and every writer has different issues they need to address. So there isn’t a one size fits all approach to revision and self-editing. However, using a targeted approach in revision is the most effective way to get that manuscript in shape.

My signature online video course, 8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel, teaches writers this vitally important technique of using one specific lens when working through a draft, one scene or chapter at a time. Instead of using a random shotgun approach, trying to tighten a few sentences or replace one word with a better word, revising with an eye to a specific element, like microtension or sensory detail, will strengthen obvious weak areas and actually improve your draft!

You might not be surprised to hear me say the first and foremost thing a writer should do, even before starting to write, is get professional feedback on the scene or chapter outline. I do dozens of scene outline critiques a year, and I can attest that I have never seen an outline that isn’t flawed in some respects, needing changes in the plot and purpose of certain scenes. 

Before going any further on your draft, consider having an outline critique. You will be glad you did!

With fiction, most novels follow (or need to follow) traditional story structure. And you are probably familiar with all the main turning points readers expect in a novel. Having someone go through your outline to ensure you have all the right scenes and in the right places will save you hours, if not weeks, of time. With nonfiction, organization is everything.

Working with a professional coach or editor is going to help immensely. She will be able to see and point out weak areas you might not be aware of. Or you are aware of them but don’t know how to improve what you have. 

In lieu of that, you might find some other authors to workshop your manuscripts together. Finding people who are honest yet encouraging, who will give you specific details in their response to your writing along with helpful suggestions, is invaluable.

I know some writers who’ve been critique and accountability partners with each other for years. The accountability part means you promise to send work by certain dates, regularly, and they hold you accountable to deliver. I’ve done this in the past, and it really helped me not only write a terrific book but get it done by my self-imposed deadline.

Self-Editing Tips

I could write pages on how to go about self-editing your work, but let’s just look at an approach that I find the most efficient.

Once you’re sure you have the story structure or nonfiction chapters solid, with all your scenes in the right places or your NF material presented in the best fashion, you want to look at the macro elements. Always start big, then go small. It doesn’t work well to focus on word choice when you need to rework major elements, such as character voice or tone.

Writing instructor James Frey likens this to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” A manuscript with deep flaws in its conception of character, execution of plot, or simple logic cannot be fixed by correcting small things if your manuscript needs work on a macro level.

Once you tackle all those structural issues and you’ve reworked your elements (voice, description, sentence structure, character change), you’re ready for the deep clean. I like what Jerry Jenkins says: You have to be a brutal self-editor. That means everything not needed goes. Don’t kill your darlings; kill your clutter. Kill your repetition. Kill everything that drags your pacing and doesn’t serve a purpose. Kill everything that is not in POV and doesn’t advance your story. Rewrite dialogue so it accomplishes more than just conveying info. Get the dialogue to give clues about character secrets and motivation and inner conflict. 

Make sure every page zings with microtension. Say more with less. Hint more with less explaining. Study your genre. If your genre has sparse description, maybe only five lines a page, go through every page of your manuscript and count your lines of description. Got too much? Take it out. Take my mini course on 10 Easy but Essential Self-Editing Tips! You’ll learn a lot!

Consider your character arc and make sure your character goes from persona to essence by the end of the novel, to the extent that it’s done in your genre. Make sure every scene ends with a punch, a high moment, and a character shift, either subtle or huge. Make sure every scene shows characters behave naturally, according to the action-reaction cycle! All this you will learn to master in my course on writing the commercially successful novel!

The most important thing to me as a reader is to feel and care about a story and its characters. I want to be surprised by me with my own emotional reaction. I go very deep into this in my Emotional Mastery course, something I wrote because there was hardly anything online about how to get readers to not only react emotionally to what you write but react in specific, targeted ways.

If you’ve never thought much about how to show emotion well in your characters and how to get readers to feel when they read your scenes, whatever that emotion is—excitement, fear, anger, sadness, compassion—you need to do some hard work. Because, as Donald Maass says, “Readers read to care.” 

Hemingway said to examine what that writer did to make you feel that way, then copy what she did and do the same in your writing. This is all part of taking your draft to the next level.

These are all big-picture items. I always say that polishing a manuscript that is structurally flawed is like putting yummy icing on a yucky-tasting cake. That’s why I shifted to doing mostly manuscript critiques over line editing and why I do more than 200 critiques a year. I got tired of taking money from writers to make their grammar and syntax read well but ignore the fatal flaws of their story itself.

Eliminate hedging words and filler. But as you’re doing this, tap into your muse and talent and creativity and try to rework passages so they reflect your genius. Think about motifs and themes and metaphor and symbolism. 

Pull something from each scene that’s a gem and polish it until it shines brilliantly. It might involve substituting a word or phrase. It might mean giving your character a moment of reflection and realization that is powerful. Ask: What’s missing from this scene that would make it masterful?

Find something. You can. You just need to expect brilliance from yourself and believe it’s in there! Exploit your strengths to the fullest.

Writing a great book, the book of your dreams, and reworking it until it shines is the pathway to success.

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