Writing Tips: What to Do When You Finish the First Draft

What do to do when you finish your first draft

I was incredibly excited after I finished my first first draft! I still remember texting my friend up at midnight to see if she was up because I had to tell someone! But I also remember having no idea what to do next. I had put so much energy into writing and the only thing I was concerned about was finishing the draft. I hadn’t let myself think past that point. And once I accomplished that goal, I didn’t know what the next steps should be.

That was nearly twelve years ago. I know a lot more about the process now, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned for anyone who may have a first draft they have no idea what to do with. Here are seven things you can do after every first draft:

1) Celebrate

Always take time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished. So many people talk about “writing a book someday” and never actually make it happen. But you did! It doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth, it’s always incredible. For right now, it doesn’t matter if your book is a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if like it or not, or if it’s even any good. You wrote a book! Do something to celebrate that!! It doesn’t matter if that celebration looks like a dinner out with your family or an uninterrupted weekend of nothing but Netflix binging. Do whatever will make you happy to mark this accomplishment!

2) Take Time Away

Before you take a look at your draft, give yourself time away from it. You’ve spent a lot of time caught up with your characters and your world. In order to be able to accurately access your story, you need time away. This will help you clear your head of any expectations and misconceptions that you may have developed about your story as you were writing it and return with fresh eyes. How much time you take is up to you, but I would suggest at least a week, then adding on as needed. And if you feel like you need something creative to occupy your brain, you may want to start playing around with a new idea. Just keep it light and playful. Your brain is still in recovery mode.

3) Read and take notes

Once you’ve taken some time away, it’s finally time to see what you’ve got. Give your book a read through! I recommend printing your book out if you can. There are two benefits to this. First, it will help you have a more tangible idea of all the work you’ve done. You likely wrote hundreds of pages–holding that and knowing you wrote that much is a powerful motivator in and of itself. Second, it helps you give your project a fresh perspective. If you’ve only ever seen your project on a computer screen, it will look different printed out, which helps you see your work in a new light.

While you read, try not to get hung up on rewriting and making changes as you come across them. You need to see your project as a whole before you can really know what you have. So instead of actually making the changes, just take notes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a note and found I actually addressed the problem in a later chapter. It would have been such a waste to rewrite when I could just relocate a scene instead.

4) Assess problem areas

The biggest first draft issues tend to be plot, character, and world building. These are often central elements of a story, so you should put your attention there first. Again, before you start making changes, simply assess the problems. Are your characters consistent? Or does one of them go from a comic relief sidekick to serious brooder for no real reason? Are your plotlines balanced, and do they make it all the way through the book? Or does one of them disappear halfway through? Do we have a good understanding of the world you’ve created and how it impacts the events in your story? Take note of all of this an figure out what isn’t working.

Grammar, spelling, and typographical errors are so not important right now. There’s no sense fixing the grammar in a scene you may end up rewriting or cutting. For more on how to figure out what’s wrong with your book, check out this post.

5) Maybe get an early reader

If you’re having trouble figuring out what isn’t working, you may want to get an early reader. I tend to have a good idea of what I don’t like about my books at this point, so I don’t seek out a new perspective until after the second draft, but that may not work for you. If you’re struggling to either identify your book’s problems or come up with solutions, find someone who can help you. For some tips on how to find the right early reader for your book, check out this post.

6) Brainstorm solutions and make a revision plan

Once you know what your book’s problems are, it’s time to start making a plan to fix it. Even if you’re not a planner, I would suggest giving planning and outlining a shot at this stage. Get a blank sheet of paper and start with the problem, then brainstorm every possible solution and direction your story can take. If you have that inconsistent character point four of this post, consider what the book will be like if they were serious the whole time. Then consider what it would like if they were the comic relief the whole time. You may not have to do this for every single issue, but if you’re struggling or the problem is a big one, considering all angles can be a big help.

Then once you know how you want to fix the problem, go chapter by chapter and come up with a plan of action for how you’re going to weave that solution through your story. For more on how to create a revision plan, check out this post.

7) Get back to work and start revising!

Now it’s time to get back to work! That book isn’t going to revise itself and you put too much time into it not to see this through to the end. You’ve got this!!

I hope that helps give you an idea what to do after you finish your first draft!

Now it’s your turn: If you’ve finished a first draft, what’s the first thing you do (after you celebrate)? If you haven’t, what’s one thing you’re really looking forward to doing? Tell me about it in the comments!

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