So you’ve just typed ‘THE END’. Whatever it was, and no matter how long or short it was, you’re flush with a sense of achievement . You’ve done it – you started, got past the middle and romped home to the end. Time to stick it on the shelf and give yourself some distance.
Some writers keep everything on the cloud but I like a couple of ring binders and print off every chapter of the first draft as I finish it. Then it’s like a real book when I come to the critical re-read and it’s as though I’m approaching virgin territory. Did I really write that?
At least a month after finishing the first draft, I begin to read. The way I work is at the beginning of each chapter I insert a page. At the top I put a heading, ‘First Impressions’ and half way down the page another heading, ‘Narrative’.
First impressions are useful because sometimes there’s a distance of several months between writing the first draft and reading it again and that gives you the brutal honesty you’ll need to make it better. You know instantly when something isn’t working, when it’s not dramatic enough, even when it’s in the wrong viewpoint. And while your spirit might sink at the thought of all the work ahead, your pride won’t let you step away. You invested so much time in creating that world, no matter how many drafts it will take, you’ve going to get it right.
The Narrative section is perhaps more important. Under this heading as you read, you’re going to jot down the precise plot points of what has happened in that chapter. Even if you think you know it off by heart, when you strip away all the description and simply list the events that move the plot along, you can be surprised to find contradictions and improbabilities, sometimes downright hilarious.
You can also find yourself having to make big changes and it’s important not to fudge around them. You’ll know when something’s not working and has to be changed. Grasp the nettle even if you’ll need tons of imaginary dock leaves later.