First Draft: Don’t Get Stuck

Congratulations! You have finished the first draft of the story you have invested your sweat, tears, coffee/tea money, and sleep on. You feel a myriad of emotions, there is the well-deserved sense of achievement, the much-needed relief, the satisfaction from having finished what you started. But there is also the what-next dread, the uncertainty anxiety, the realization that this may have been the easy part because, well, you are a WRITER. This is what you do, what you are good at, what you enjoy doing. But WHAT NEXT?

Don’t work yourself up with this question. Because there is a solution, an answer. Not an easy one, no, not even a straightforward one, yet you can find one that works for you. Let’s take a look at a foolproof chain of events that you can follow to get “your precious” piece of work up on the Amazon best-seller carousel, your favorite local bookstores, and in readers’ TBRs. As I go through the steps, I will also talk about the hurdles that writers face while attempting to check off this list.

Steps to Take After Finishing the First Draft

📚 The first thing to do after you have finished writing your first draft is to let it sit for a couple of weeks at the minimum. Give yourself time to savor the feeling, get it out of your system, and hype yourself up for what is to come next.

📚 Start working on your second and third drafts. In your first draft, your focus was to put pen on paper, write what you know, bleed your story, your idea onto the virtual pages. Whether you are a plotter or a panster, each time you review your work, you will find things to improve upon like character arcs, plot gaps, setting of a particular scene, a dialogue or four, maybe even the big beats like the climax, or the catalyst. But you have to draw a line at “too many rounds of self-edits”. How do you identify when that point is reached? There is no right answer, but two rounds of self-edits are enough to review big-picture elements and spot glaring plot holes, issues in point of view (eg., two characters sounding very similar despite being from different backgrounds), one-dimensional character arcs, etc.

📚 At this stage, trust yourself and take the plunge into the next step. Get beta readers and critique partners for your book. Ask your peers and friends to read your draft. Try to find beta readers for your specific genre who are well-versed in the genre and also enjoy reading it. Besides the obvious pacing, engagement, enjoyability, plot suggestions, beta readers can be infinitely helpful as sensitivity readers, your first reviewers, market assessors, and morale boosters. Use their feedback to work on another self-edit. Do know that beta readers are not editors and are assessing a manuscript as an individual with personal opinions. You don’t have to accept every one of their suggestions if they do not go with your vision. But it is always a good idea to note all of the advice with an open mind.

📚 The next and one of the most debated steps is finding a development editor for your manuscript. A development editor will do everything that beta readers and critique partners do, but they will take the feedback ten steps ahead. A development editor goes through the overall story structure and narrative arcs to create a seamless story. But do you need one?

✏️ If you are looking to publish traditionally, that is, by querying agents and finding a traditional published, you do not need a developmental editor. Agents do not typically require professionally edited submissions. However, I have worked with authors who have received feedback from agents to work on the narrative arcs and the story structure. You should first go to beta readers and critique partners if you haven’t done so already. Chances are you will get relevant suggestions from these angels. However, if you don’t feel confident enough and have the resources, make use of them and hire a developmental editor.

✏️A development editor will charge anywhere between US$ 0.01 to 0.05 per word to provide their analysis. A specialist will charge toward the higher end, while you may find a talented newcomer in the industry who will do it for a lower amount. Still, it may be too much to afford for some writers. In such situations, I would recommend investing your resources on line editors and copyeditors than development editors. The reason is that you will find line editors who provide some development feedback without charging for it. As an editor, if I am line editing a manuscript and come across a plot hole or find a character arc too static, I will point it out to the author even if I am unable to spend time on coming up with solutions.

📚 While your manuscript is undergoing a development edit or beta read, as the case may be, spend time finding a line editor who is able to mimic your style and understands your vision before proofreading before and after your manuscript is typeset. During this time, start creating a list of ARC readers who will be the first readers for your manuscript right before publication. The purpose is to get publishable reviews and create a buzz around your book.

Next week I will talk more about what a development editor focuses on to provide invaluable feedback. Stay writing!

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