So you’ve finished your first draft. Congratulations! Bask in the glory for a moment and enjoy the feeling. It’s been a long slog getting to the finish line, but you made it!
And yet, that was just the beginning…
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” And really, those wise words still hold just as true today as it did then. No story is truly finished in the first draft, the characters haven’t been fully developed yet. There could be more work to be done with description, there are still plot holes and gaps in the story etc. That’s where redrafting comes in.
But how long should you wait before starting again?
This really varies upon an individual basis but generally it’s usually a good idea to take a relatively extended break before redrafting.
Because you will have likely been swamped by your story and story world over the course of writing it, and sometimes it just feels like you’ve had enough. If you don’t leave enough time between drafts you’re likely to get rid of chunks of texts or make edits not because it would improve your story, but because you’ve read it so many times that it’s boring…or it’s lost that spark. This is not necessarily the case, but our brains tend to undergo adaptation and become dulled to repetitiveness.
Also look at things from a psychological perspective. When we see things with pieces missing, our brains tend to automatically fill in the gaps with what we predict would most likely go there. In the case of your story, these missing pieces are ‘plot holes’. Because you know the story well, you know everything that goes there, you might glance over the plot holes without seeing their presence.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to leave redrafting for at lease four weeks. Maybe even longer. This will give you the opportunity to look upon your work again with ‘fresh eyes’.
Some effective ways to spend your time during this interim period:
- Read, read and read. It’s always a good idea to be reading, but in this interim period it’s a good way to find more sources of inspiration and to do something that you enjoy. Read something new or re-read your favourite book to remind yourself what you love about it.
- Work on a different story. It’s common to have more than one project or story idea. Here’s your chance to make a start on that. It’s your chance to get an injection of excitement again. One suggestion is to write the first draft of your second story before redrafting the first one that you finished.
- Pick up a video game, if you’re writing a fantasy play something like Skyrim. Create your main character in a setting similar to your world. Immerse yourself in their character.
- Have fun, exercise, take care of your body. It’s important to keep a healthy mind and body and it is relatively easy to neglect this, especially for writers that spend a fair amount of time sat by a computer, staring at a screen. Get up, get out there into the open air and go for a walk. Spend time with your friends and family.
But in the case that you want to do something specifically relevant to your story:
Now that you know where it’s going to end, you’re in a better position to do some plotting. Yes, we know, you’ve already done that, but this is from a different perspective. From your memory, map out your story, write down the critical points, how your characters get to them and what connects your beginning, middle and end.
Read it through once in its entirety. See how the story flows together. This will help you identify any gaping holes in your plot or story problems that you need to sort out. As you read, make notes of the problems as it can be difficult to remember all of them after reading through the whole story. If you have a printer and can afford to (ask your parents if it’s okay first, kids!) then print off your manuscript. Write notes in the margins, highlight your favourite bits, underline things to come back to, cross out what needs to go. Sometimes physically holding the manuscript gives you a new way at looking at it.
Re-reading is a good way to test the strength of your story. Is the premise of the story as exciting as you initially thought it was? Is the beginning, middle and end strong enough to carry the interest of the readers through it all? Are you entertained? Because if you’re not entertained by your own story, how can you expect your reader to be? This is all about analyzing your story at a macro-level.
With a second reading, start to pick apart your story and analyse more deeply. What was promised in the beginning? What mysteries, plot points, unanswered questions arose in the beginning? Were they addressed in the end?
With this reading, it might also help to make a note of the details of your characters e.g. their descriptions. This is a good way to check that you are keeping your character details consistent. Ask yourself, are your characters developed enough? Is there enough description? Are they cliched? How can you make them more interesting?
Or maybe you’re already confident that your first draft isn’t up to scratch. This might be likely if you took part in NaNoWriMo, as the rush to finish a draft could leave you with missing scenes (an approach Nadia took). Therefore it might not be possible to read it through properly just yet.
Go through your story and write a brief chapter plan where you write what happens in each chapter. No more than a line. Look at that plan, look at how each event connects to the other. Print off a sheet of paper with that plan and take some coloured pens to it. Which characters are in each chapter/scene? What are they doing? Does each even connect properly? It might be worth going back to basics and plotting your story again.
This next part might be easier if you have re-read it. Make a list of all your plot holes. Devote a page in a notebook to each of the plot holes and underneath write all of the possible solutions. Think of things relevant to the story that could help you fill in the hole. Write down what changes need to be made to fix the issue. Do you need to fill the hole in or stop it from forming in the first place?
How many drafts does it take?
Everyone is different. It could be three drafts, it could be ten, but very rarely will it just be one draft. Jeff Goins recommends the ‘5-Draft Method’, which you can read here.
Nor is there really any way to predict how many drafts you will do besides writing them. In some cases a draft might be the same story with writing improvements, in other cases huge plot changes might occur (for example in both of our stories, our next drafts will be vastly different from their original incarnations).
Also bear in mind, as a novice writer you will likely write more drafts than practiced writers.
Here is an article by Karen Woodward about How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Novel? In her article, she covers the number of drafts many well-known writers stick to (Stephen King writes three drafts) and their processes. But remember that every single writer is different, and what works for them might not necessarily work for you, or your story particularly.
Every story has a life of its own and it chooses how many drafts it needs. Writing a story is a difficult task, not only because you’re committing to the story but also because you are committing to writing it again and again.
So once again, well done on completing your first draft. Now’s the time to take a break and rejuvenate our energies so you can tackle your future drafts. Good luck!
– Elizabeth & Nadia