Okay, so we’re running on the assumption that you’ve finished your first draft at this point. Who knows, maybe you’ve stockpiled eight first drafts or so, sometimes that’s how it works. Either way, the question now is: what now?
Well, if it’s anything like my first few manuscripts, your first draft is a bloody mess that you love more than life itself, so you’ve got a big problem. You’ve got something in dire need of editing but that you’re too enamored with to look at objectively, and that’s good for nobody. So I think the first goal should be to put it in a drawer for 1-2 months and forget it exists. Start a new project. It’ll wait. So will we.
See? Now it’s two months later. Seemed like nothing, right? Right. So now it’s real simple: read the damn thing.
That’s it, just read it. Nothing fancy. You can do it on your computer or on a physical copy. I prefer to have a physical copy, a red Bic pen, and a cup of coffee (decaffeinated nowadays… People bug me.) But that’s me. Basically just take your manuscript to your reading space and read it. If you see errors, mark them with your little pen. But we’re not looking for them yet. What we’re looking for is things that MAKE NO SENSE.
They’re there. I don’t care how smart you are. You could be JK Rowling herself, I really don’t care. There are things in there that make no sense. I’ll give you a few tiny examples:
– In the first printing of Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” there is a character bound with a straight jacket that wipes the sweat from his brow. That’s clearly impossible, and makes no sense. Now to me that’s small enough to leave, but the publisher actually recalled and reprinted the books over that little gaff.
– A personal one: in Black Womb, the characters spend the first chapter of the novel talking about a big party that will be at Julian Grendel’s house on Saturday. Problem is: the party is on Friday. That’s embarrassing, and will be fixed for the next release. But here’s the thing: that book has been out for 4+ years, and it was only last July that someone noticed. That’s frightening.
So there are errors. And I don’t even mean editing slips, I mean stuff that makes no sense. In the original draft of Infinity, Abby Fisher yawns and goes to bed right after seeing Hunter murder someone. Yes, seeing a grisly murder always makes my eyelids hang. So that’s an easy fix.
The big problem are the logic gaffs. You’ll notice them. There are points when you’ll be reading and just go: what the fuck?
The issue is that most people are so in love with their first draft and want to protect the integrity of it that they convince themselves it’s okay. They shrug and move on. It’s not okay. If you’re reading and you come across a whole section that doesn’t feel right, circle it with your red pen and write FIX THIS, YOU IDIOT across the top. Then when the whole thing has been read, look up those marked pages on your file and get to rewriting.
And I know your gut reaction. The book is like your baby, and you don’t want to mess with it. You’re worried that by screwing with it you’ll make it less than it was before. I can assure you that’s not true, but just to quiet your mind, create a folder on your computer called “first drafts”. Put a copy in there and never touch it. Now, edit the real copy to death.
I didn’t have someone to tell me this with Black Womb or Transformations in Pain, and I feel both books suffered for it. While people tell me that Black Womb is great, there’s a part of me that’s still nervous about seeing someone read it.
By Smoke and Mirrors I’d gotten over it. The first draft of that is NOTHING like the printed version. How different? I literally rewrote it scene for scene. I was that unhappy with the first draft. All the events are the same, not one sentence is.
So yeah, get going. Read it. Re-Read it. Read it until it makes sense to you, because if it doesn’t make sense to you it REALLY won’t make sense to readers.
But whatever you do, never throw it aside. No matter how much you get frustrated with your abilities while reading your manuscript, never give up. The fact that you can see your errors means you have the skill and intelligence to fix them, just keep plugging.
It’s the people that can’t see them I worry about.
Never Look Back