It’s been more than a month since my cupcake celebration for finishing my latest first draft. It took great self-control to let the draft sit for that long, but I filled the time with critiques for other writers, a major contest, and a revision to DUET. But finally, this week it was time to start revising.
I decided to take a different approach to revision with this manuscript. Instead of jumping right in with changes from the first page, I read through the whole thing and made notes on the side. It’s so easy to do with Scrivener, a program that has made my writing so much easier, but that’s a topic for another day.
It took me two and a half days to read through approximately 45,000 words, and the last half I did in one. I didn’t want to stop reading! Since I let it sit, I didn’t remember exactly how I’d executed everything, and I was surprised it was in such good shape in first draft form. Of course it’s by no means ready even for beta readers, but it’s decent. Here are the factors that contributed to a much more polished first draft.
Practice. This WIP is my fourth novel. The first shelved manuscript really only got to a third draft or so, and I never had anyone else read it before I queried 20 or so agents–a rookie mistake I can’t say I skipped. The second (CAVEBOY) and third (DUET) I’ve talked about here before. CAVEBOY took forever to draft because I kept revising as I went. I completed DUET during NaNoWriMo last year. My planning for DUET consisted of laying out the alternate realities, so when I wrote the first draft, it was only 29,000 words that consisted mainly of her trips into the music. Fortunately that was only two weeks into NaNoWriMo, so I went back and filled in the character’s emotional journey. Not the best way to draft, but I did end up with a complete draft by the end of the month. As I explained here, for this WIP I took a similar approach with daily word goals, aiming to complete it in a month. The actual drafting wasn’t any easier–I just hate that part–but I knew what I was doing. I knew how to structure the story, how to develop the characters, etc., from the beginning instead of getting those notes from critique partners.
Critiquing. Many new writers think of the benefits of critiquing in the sense of what they receive from another critiquer, not what they learn from critiquing someone else’s work. I’ve come to see it both ways. I had an amazing CP for CAVEBOY who taught me a lot about my weaknesses as a writer, and I’m super-aware of those issues as I write now. At the same time, I’ve learned so much from reading other writers’ work. Often I’ll see something consistently in someone else’s work and then think, I need to fix that in mine. That translates into the initial draft, too, as I’m aware of not only my own weaknesses, but the things I’ve seen when I critique.
Contests. I’ve talked about contests before, here and here, so I’m not going to go into detail again, but whether you enter them or not, reading through a batch of entries gives great insight into what to do with your own work.
Reading. I started reading middle grade later than I should have, but once I made an effort to read it regularly, it made a huge impact on my writing. Now I have even more incentive to read MG since I started participating in Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. It forces me to have an MG ready to review every week. I think this is particularly important when you’re writing for an age group that isn’t your own. Especially for middle grade, agents say it’s hard to master the voice. Through reading, I’ve honed my middle grade voice and also been reassured that it wasn’t too off to start with. The other thing is that often in contest/conference critiques, people focus on things that they think MG readers won’t know (in mine, Bugs Bunny or Psycho). I’ve read books that have characters fixated on everything from a ’70s game show to an ’80s movie to a classic book. The key is to make sure it’s clear why the character knows about those things. As long as they have a base of reference for it, they can be an expert in anything. Maybe you just don’t mention it in the query or first page :).
So where is everyone else on this first draft issue? Do you notice each first draft is better, or is that just me?