The First Draft Thing
As you stare at your computer screen you get this sudden, exhilarating rush of emotion. You’ve done it! You’ve written a novel! Hardly able to contain yourself you want to high-five the world, but instead you just lean back with this stupid grin on your face and read those two words, those simple seven letters over and over again.
If you’ve printed out the manuscript, you pick it up lovingly, hold it like it’s your newborn child, run your fingers over the paper, feeling the texture, living the sense of accomplishment.
Now what do you do?
You should go back to page one and start reading, slowly.
Huh? But shouldn’t you send it to a publisher? Isn’t the world waiting for your novel?
In a word – no.
Look, I’ve been there, done that. Don’t get me wrong, you’ve just crossed the threshold of a major accomplishment in your life, something you should justifiably be very proud of. The important thing is to recognize that you still have a lot of work ahead of you. Don’t screw up by rushing things. It’s important to recognize that what you have is a first draft, and there’s a simple rule in writing – never submit a first draft.
Well, let me ask you a question. What is your approach to writing? Did you start with the first chapter and just chug along until you reached the end, or are you modular – writing chapters as separate entities and them stitching them together? (That’s what I do.) Do you force yourself to finish a chapter despite being tired, or even if the words aren’t particularly flowing? Think about it.
My point is there will be places where the writing isn’t particularly crisp (or even good English). It’s possible that in your rush you missed the spelling and grammar errors (homonyms are the worst because spell check doesn’t catch them, often resulting in ‘howlers’ – unintentionally hilarious sentences). Your characters may not be consistent (wasn’t that guy left-handed in the last chapter? I thought her name was Kathy, not Cathy). You may have over-described unimportant things, and under-written important ones. We all do these things when we first start writing, and the worst thing you can do is try to submit a first draft to a publisher, or even worse, get lured by the siren-song of self-publishing.
In the end you only hurt yourself. Your novel is an artwork and needs to be a highly polished work. If it’s not, people will mark it, and you, as not worth wasting their time on.
Think of it this way. If you went to a new car dealership and the cars in the lot had uninflated tires, doors with mismatched colors and stereo systems that didn’t work because someone forgot to connect all the wires – would you buy one of their cars? Well, that’s what a first draft is like.
I find it very sad when I see a book that’s been posted on Bookkus, or Book Country, or Wattpad, but has yet to receive a review despite having been available for weeks. Most often it’s because the novel is a first draft. You read the first few pages and there are so many errors of all types (although I will admit that misspellings are the worst and most annoying) that you can’t even decide where to begin to write a review. Most people don’t even bother trying, they just move on to the next available book. After all, if the writer can’t be bothered proof reading their story, why should anyone else bother?
So what should you do once you’ve finished the first draft?
I’ll run through that next time.