By Peter Salomon
Congratulations, you’ve finished the first draft of your novel! I’m serious, this is something that calls for a minor celebration. There are untold numbers of people who have thought “I should write a book” and never started, or started and never finished. You’ve finished! This is great.
Now the hard part starts.
Yes, I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news but, all things considered, writing that first draft will probably turn out to have been easier, simpler and FAR quicker than revising/editing the thing.
But, and this is important: just as there were times while you were writing that first draft where you might have wanted to give up, thinking ‘this’ll never be over’ or ‘this is taking forever’ there will be those same moments as you edit…and, guess what? Just as you did finish that first draft, you will finish the second draft as well.
Of course, there will most likely be a lot more rounds of revision before your novel is ready to query agents about. And, even then, after signing with an agent? More edits. After the novel sells? Yes, that’s right: more edits.
So, there are two ways to look at that finished document, after typing “The End” for the first time on that first draft: 1) It’s perfect as is, I hate editing, let’s query now and 2) EVERYTHING else…because #1 is a TERRIBLE idea.
There are a number of wonderful books out there to help you edit (my personal favorite is ‘Self-Editing For Fiction Writers’ by Renni Brown and Dave King so the actual nuts-and-bolts of editing and revising can be found elsewhere.
Instead I’d like to talk about ‘Attitude.’ Yes, attitude.
I know editing is hard, revising seems insurmountable, the book’s done, it’s hard to work up the same passion once ‘The End’ has been typed, that passion that drove you to the page, kept you thinking of the characters even when you weren’t writing, had you having conversations between your characters in your head as you drove or showered or slept. That’s the power of writing, it’s so much a part of why we do what we do and it’s wonderful.
That passion kept you writing even when you wanted to give up, even when the end of that first draft seemed so very far away.
And now you’re done, you celebrated finishing the first draft. You told everyone you’d finished your novel. You posted it on Facebook. You Tweeted it.
Now the celebration is over and you have two things left to do. They are NOT query and sell the novel. I know, that’s the goal and it’s within reach now that you’ve finished that first draft. But not quite yet. Not now.
1) Let it sit. Untouched. Unread. A lot of people will tell you to let it sit for a certain number of weeks. Even a month. More. Let it sit. Ignore it. This is great advice. Has no relation to the reality of the pull that manuscript will have on you, calling to you: “Read Me!” So, my advice isn’t so much a time frame as it is another ‘attitude.’ Let it sit just a little longer than is comfortable. As in, if a week after you finished you feel up to that read-through, that first round of edits, then give it just another day or two and get to it. Just let it sit long enough so that the passion starts coming back for those characters, that plot.
2) Revise and revise again, so many times that you honestly can’t answer people when they ask ‘which draft are you on?’ And it’s not a matter of ‘each draft’ being a complete revision or edit. Sometimes you go though the manuscript looking to fix one particular thing every time it pops up (see The Emotion Thesaurus for an example: you might be simply fixing how many times your main character shrugs on one read-through).
And 3) most importantly of all: love that revision process. Know that anyone who takes the time to give you constructive criticism has only one goal in mind: helping YOU make YOUR manuscript better. They are trying to help, always. And helping is good. Revising is good. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many times you want to give up, throw in the towel, raise the white flag. One day, you’ll look back after finishing a final read-through and remember that first draft and you’ll realize how much work it really did need, how much work you did, how much better the final version is.
And it will all be worth it the first time you post to Facebook that you sold your book. And Tweet the cover art. And open the box with the ARCs from your publisher. Hold the finished book in your hands.
That is the goal. Loving revision will help you get there. Because you will have to revise and edit no matter what attitude you go into the process with, so you might as well learn to love it. It will make it easier, it will make your agent and editor love working with you (always a good thing). And it will teach you so very much, so that when you sit down to start writing your next book you won’t make the same errors (oh, there will always be new errors to make but still) the next time will be just that little bit easier. And you’ll love the process just that little bit more.
And that calls for another celebration!
~ ~ * ~ ~
One year ago, a terrible accident robbed Henry Franks of his mother and his memories. The past sixteen years have vanished. All he has now are scars and a distant father—the only one who can tell Henry who he is.
If he can trust his father.
Could his nightmares—a sweet little girl calling him Daddy, murderous urges, dead bodies—help him remember?
While a serial killer stalks their small Georgia town, Henry unearths the bitter truth behind his mother’s death—and the terrifying secrets of his own dark past.
Sometimes, the only thing worse than forgetting is remembering.
If you would like to find out more about HENRY FRANKS, you can visit Peter’s website and read the first scene of the book and if you like, add the book to your Goodreads list.
Musers, your turn! Did you find you needed to shift your attitude to push through the revision process? What helped you persevere?
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Susanne Drazic says
Great advice. Definitely found the blurb interesting.
Tricia J. O'Brien says
Let the ms sit “long enough the passion starts coming back” sounds like hugely important advice. I think we sometimes drag ourselves through revisions and that can’t help but drag some of the life out.
I love revision much more than drafting. I totally agree with the idea that you will and should lose track of the “number” of revisions, which isn’t all that meaningful a term to start with.
Sharon K. Mayhew says
Great advice, Peter! I’m deep in revisions. Angela and Becca’s book is sitting right beside me when I’m working.
Janet Smart says
Good post. I love the revision process.
Becca Puglisi says
Thanks so much for sharing this, Peter. I’m one of those weird people who actually love to revise, so I agree with everything you’ve said here about the importance of the process. And Henry Franks has been on my list for a few weeks, since I saw the write-up at Operation Awesome. Can’t wait to read it!
Kim Van Sickler says
Thanks, Peter! This post is timely for me right now as I jig back and forth between two “finished” and one first draft manuscript, determined to ultimately find homes for them or die trying.
Shannon O'Donnell says
L-O-V-E this post–so, so helpful!! And I can’t wait to get my hands on Henry Franks! 🙂
Marsha Sigman says
Great advice and what an incredible blurb for Henry Franks. I want to read it…right now.ha
Sarah-Ann B. says
Someone once told me “anyone can write. Real writers revise.” This has definitely become my motto as I work on my own novels.
I love your suggestions to step away from the first draft for a little bit. It’s amazing that some time away can help bring a fresh eye to the piece.
I also like to revise in reverse direction. Sometimes we focus so much on the beginnings of our books, or chapters, getting that hook perfect–that we often trail off and forget about the middle and end.
Thanks for all the kind words!!! I definitely found it difficult to understand and love revising…now I look at it much like I imagine a jeweler looks at a rock: great big lump. Polish, cut, refine and you end up with a diamond. Yes, you absolutely 100% MUST have that lump to start with so congratulations and celebration are definitely in order once you finish that first draft. I mean that: it’s a great wonderful accomplishment that deserves to be noted.
But it’s still just a lump. Must be polished, cut, and refined to dazzle and sparkle and shine.
Bish Denham says
Well, you know me Angela. Revisions are definitely hard, but I’m getting better. Slowly, on word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter at a time.
Angela Ackerman says
Great post, Peter! I am learning to love the process. I find the first few passes the hardest, but once the storyline is solid, that’s when I really begin to love revising. Thanks so much for sharing your insight today, and good luck with your book!
Thanks everyone for your comments–I really enjoyed reading your thoughts as so many echo my own. 🙂
Love this post – so true. I am not loving the revision process, but I’m trying! I’ll get there I’m sure. I have recently been struggling with motivation during editing so I tried to think of things that could get me through it.
I’ll leave this here in case it helps someone else:
I think the toughest part for me isn’t drafting, and it isn’t editing. It’s reading my work, especially when it’s the first read-through after completing a draft. It’s hard to describe how it makes me feel, but it’s strange.
David Jón Fuller says
Love this post. I learned to like, then love, the revision process a few years ago when I realized success didn’t depend on getting a submission-ready draft by some artificial deadline, but on how much better I could make the novel each time. Every revision was an opportunity to kick the whole story up a notch, knock it sideways, find deeper meaning in it. Still not done, and sometimes what I’m writing feels like absolute crap — but I am well into the can’t-tell-which-draft-it-is process and I finally feel the bones and the heart and the tone of the story are in place.
SA Larsenッ says
It’s great to meet Peter. Thanks for hosting him.
Leaving the first draft untouched for a bit is so helpful. Of course, I learned that the hard way. lol My issue is loving the revision process. Sometimes I forget that it’s through multiple revisions where the real story is born.
Laura Pauling says
I embrace the revision process and attack it head on. I think my attitude shift happened a couple years ago! I enjoy the first draft but it’s also nice to the story make more sense and the bad parts cut out!
Congrats on the release! Already heard good things about it!
E. Arroyo says
I love that blurb. =)
What helped me get through revisions and edits is remembering that the first draft was written for me. No one will ever see it. The subsequent drafts are written for the public. It helps when i have to kill my darlings. =)
Natalie Aguirre says
Thanks for the great advice Peter. I so agree that you have to love the revision process. I’ve been revising my first manuscript so many times that I’ve gotten to the place that I love revision way more than the first draft. And I learn something new every time I do it.
Good luck with your book..