It's been three months since I celebrated my "win" -- 50,000 words of a novel. I promised I wouldn't stop there; I'd take you through the entire process, from draft to publication (if the novel is so fortunate to get that far).
So, what has this work-in-progress been up to all this time? Well, it's been marinating. Sitting in a metaphorical drawer while I dabbled in other things. Writers need distance from their drafts, especially first drafts. They need to return to it with fresh eyes and an objective perspective. What felt like fabulous writing at the time may reveal itself to be a load of suckage. What originally looked like dirt may turn out to be gold.
When it comes to a first draft, my process is typically to pour it all onto the page: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don't expend too much time stressing over word choices or carefully mapping out scenes. That comes in revision. Keep in mind that this is not the way all writers write, or a rule of any kind. It's simply the way it works for me.
Once the draft is done and it's marinated (and three months is a rather ideal marinating period), my next step is to print out the entire manuscript (this one came out to 196 pages, double-spaced), pull out what was once my grading pen, and read the draft from start to finish, annotating along the way. No page goes unmarked--that's not a rule, just a reality. Most of my notes typically take the form of questions--I'm talking to the text, as well as to myself, from reader to writer. When I like something, I'll make a check mark. Always nice to see those check marks. When I don't like something, I'll try to identify the problem. Wordiness is often the biggest offender, along with too much "telling" and not enough "showing," and repetition of words, phrases, action, etc. The best is when I've made myself laugh, or even cry. I note that as well.
What's cool is when the notes come to me when I'm not reading -- driving in my car, standing in the shower, waiting to fall asleep. I have to find a away to get the note out of my head and on paper, somewhere, so I'll remember it.
First drafts are shitty--no getting around it. Nothing wrong with that. As long as they've got potential. As long as, while I'm reading it, I think, "Yeah, I can work with this."
And I'm happy to say, I did, and I can. I remembered how excited I was about certain parts during the drafting process, how much I liked one character in particular. I was pleased to see he didn't lose any of his appeal. If I don't fall in love with my characters (especially the guys), then I've not done my job. I was in love with this guy the moment he appeared on the page. That didn't change three months later. I was also pleased to see that it was in better shape than I'd initially thought.
I finished reading and annotating the entire manuscript in three days.
The verdict: It needs work (duh). The last twenty pages were in the roughest shape. It's also going to need a new title (which disappoints me, because I initially loved the title I'd come up with. However, I think I can salvage that title for a future project). But I'm excited to begin the revision process, and that's an excellent sign. I'm excited to dig in and play in the sand. For me, that's where the work is, the blood, sweat, and tears of writing. The joy is there too. (And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.)
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.