Finishing a first draft – what now?

Finishing the first draft of a novel is a great feeling. You have worked on the story, lived with the characters and in their world for a significant amount of time – but what’s next?

People have different ideas about what a first draft is. I depends on how you write – if you edit as you go along or if you download words onto the page. Either way, at some point you write THE END for the first time in this particular story, and that, for the purpose of this post if the first draft.

My first draft is completed in 6 – 12 weeks, depending on how busy I am with other projects and if i am taking part in words races or a ‘get-the-story-down’ process such as NaNoWriMo. I could write faster but they would mean more work afterwords – not in terms of the writing, more with completeness of ideas. It is only by writing the story down and getting to know everything about it that I can develop a deeper insight.

When have written THE END look at the list of notes I have kept while I am writing. It is often necessary to back-engineer the story to include strands or important character depth that crop up int e gaps in between writing. I add anything that the ending has brought about – payoffs, loose ends. Despite having dozens of notebooks, I keep my list in a Memo app on my phone. I use Samsung Notes and I can either write notes or leave myself voice notes.

Then I run the document through ProWritingAid. There are a lot of different opinions about online document editors. Some people swear by them, while others prefer to use a human editor throughout. I use ProWritingAid and Ginger Proofreader to do the following things:

  • ProWritingAid’s Identify Overused words function – I use ‘that’ far too much. This feature finds all your overused words and allows you to examine them in context
  • ProWritingAid’s Sentence Length graph – this function identifies long sentences and allows you to go through your document to split them. It also displays a graph sowing sentence length variation
  • ProWritingAid’s Spelling and sense check – the Grammar function goes through spellings in some context
  • Ginger Proofreader’s reading facility. I love this because it displays each sentence in a bar on the screen, highlighting any sense errors, missing words, potential wring usage and wrong spelling

There are many, many other useful features in both these apps but these are the ones I use most at this stage.

I check the formatting and then I made sure all the chapter page breaks and chapter titles are correct. Then I send the document to my Kindle Fire. I read it through once and make more notes. Then I listen to to it. Sometimes, depending on how much time I have, I will read it to myself. More often I will listen to it on my Kindle Fire speech function. I make even more notes as I go.

It is only at this point that I will even think about a second draft. This can be days, weeks, or even months after finishing the first draft. The second draft will be a fuller version of the first draft, but by no means a final draft. I repeat this process again, and then I will put my manuscript away for a minimum of a week before working on it again, adding ideas that crop up – and they do! – and working out n my mind where (if) these ideas fit in.

Finishing a first draft is very exciting! All the ideas that have been swirling in your mind for months are finally drafted out in story form. But it really is just the start of your story’s journey.