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Writing A Novel: I Finished the First Draft, Now What?

paper editing

Well, I did it. I finally finished the first draft of my novel! It has been a two year journey and the relief I felt when that last chapter was written was incredible.

It was comparable to the feeling I had when I finished my last college final. No more late night studying and no more stressing out, because I was finished! I didn’t even realize how heavy the weight was until it was lifted off my shoulders. Suddenly, my world opened up as I realized that I could grab a cup of coffee with a friend again—and not a textbook!

Now, after a few days of elation, I’ve crashed back down on earth and realized that my book needs SO MUCH MORE WORK. Which I’m fine with—even excited about—because I actually love editing!

Here are just a few things I plan to focus on as I edit my first draft.

  1. Edit, edit, re-write, edit… and edit. 

Flesh out a scene, make sure the transitions in between chapters make sense, and make sure I’m writing in a consistent tone and consistent tense. Does this scene move the reader along quickly, or does it lag in parts? Don’t be afraid to cut scenes if they’re boring even you.

I liked this quote from The Creative Penn:

“Remember the wise words of Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird’ “Write shitty first drafts.” You can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them.”

She also has a lot more helpful tips on how to edit your first draft, so check her out.

2.  Read Something Else.

I’ve found that it’s so good to get some distance from my book and read something by another author who is in my genre. I always find myself admiring the seamless story telling, beautiful sentences, and effortless dialogue.  I always return to my book with fresh, inspired eyes.

I’m currently reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingIt’s much more fantastical and whimsical than what I’m writing, but the book is refreshing because her writing style is truly unique. I’ll also probably grab a Harry Potter to read too.

3. Get rid of backstory that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.

This blog article by Kristen Lamb is amazing and full of advice. She nailed me with this quote:

“We’ve all read books with page after page of backstory. Okay, we’ve all skimmed books with page after page of backstory. Where does that extra verbiage come from, and why does the author put it in? Easy. Excessive backstory is the visible evidence that the writer is telling herself her story. That backstory is there for her, not for us. It means she didn’t know what she was writing about before she started writing.”

I don’t have pages and pages of backstory, but still—Ouch! Definitely keeping my eye on that.

4. Print out a Hardcopy of my Draft.

I’d like to have it handy so I can scribble with a red pen and slap it full of post-it notes. But also because I think it’s helpful to look at my words on tangible paper and not a computer screen. I feel that they resonate differently and I’m more aware of my mistakes. Plus, I can’t wait to hold the 300 or so pages in my hand and know I created it!

So, time to get to editing, because I know my best writing is done when I am rewriting. What other editing tips or advice do you have for a finished first draft?

Find me here:

Instagram: @sarapetersen

Twitter @saraleepetersen

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6 thoughts on “Writing A Novel: I Finished the First Draft, Now What?

    1. I know! I have a very busy eight month old at home! I found that just thinking through my plot or storyline helps me write faster when I finally do get a few minutes. Keep going and I’ll be saying congrats to you soon! 😊 Remember a little progress is still progress!

      Liked by 1 person

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