So here you are, staring at the complete first draft of your novel. What do you do with it?
I’ve already told you not to send it to a publisher or post it on-line, so what’s left?
Put it aside for a while. Work on something else.
I know, this is really difficult to do. You’re on a roll – excited, eager to move on. Trust me, put it aside. When you go back to it after a month or so and start reading you’ll notice a lot of mistakes. Some will be simple: spelling and grammar errors, misplaced modifiers, awkward sentences, overuse of some words, weak words (you can find lots of information on these and more in any good book on writing). You’ll also notice rushed, overlong (if your story bores you, think about how a reader would feel) or confusing scenes, continuity mistakes, repetitions.
As you start making edits you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t catch all these (and others) the first time through. Simple. You were too close to it. You need to reset, clear your mind. Think of professional athletes who get into a slump. They generally can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong, so they have coaches to help them (in the midst of a season, they don’t have the luxury of taking a week or more off to reset). If you’ve ever gotten stuck on a crossword puzzle, or a mind game like FreeCell, walked away in disgust only to come back a few hours later, glance at it and immediately see the answer, you know what I mean. And by the way, many professional writers do this. It’s just due to the way human brains function.
So that’s why you need to set it aside.
When you pick it back up, the most important thing is to take your time – don’t try to rush. Make sure you clean up the manuscript to the best of your ability. But once you finish the second draft getting feedback is critical. I usually suggest joining a writers group (if there’s one in your hometown) or else try something like Book Country. But don’t try to post your entire novel. Post the first few chapters. One thing that’s important to remember is you need to be actively involved with the group. All writers want their work read and they all want feedback. But to get you also have to give. Be ready to spend some time reviewing other writer’s posts. Just don’t fall into the “I’ll give your story 5 stars, if you give mine 5 stars” crap. You want real feedback. Anything else is worthless.
That brings up the question of family and friends. You have to face facts. If you collected your laundry and shopping lists for a year and called them a novel your mother would tell you it was better than Shakespeare. Same for friends. Only you know which of your relatives or friends can be relied upon to give you frank feedback. Most won’t, because they either are afraid to hurt your feelings, or truthfully wouldn’t know good writing from bad if their lives depended on it. Even friends in publishing or with good critiquing skills will shy away because they know how poorly many people take criticism (try googling “No, I won’t read your novel”). So try to figure out who will help (“Chapter 3 was way too long, and frankly you need to work on grammar.”) and ask them for feedback. So that’s why you look for strangers at writers groups or online to read your work first.
Last, one thing that can work is to blog your novel. There have been some successful recent novels that got started that way (google that too). If you do it right (not a first draft), you can get helpful feedback, and build excitement and anticipation for your book.
Okay. Next time: Feedback.