So many of you made a point of letting me know that I forgot my weekly blog post this past Sunday. I didn’t forget, in fact I let my Facebook and Twitter followers know exactly why I didn’t post. I was finishing my novel.
Of course, by finish I mean putting ### (The End) on the first draft of my novel manuscript. It is in no way finished. But it sure felt nice to say it was finished. I let myself bask in the fact that I had completed my novel for a few days. And now, reality has struck. “The End” on paper doesn’t really mean the end.
Many of us can write. Most of us can write enough to create a short story. A few less can write enough to create a novel. But far fewer can keep following though on all the steps after “The End” to really finish a novel (or even a short story). I’d like to see a few more people reach the real finish line.
When it comes to writing works for publication (even self publication) there are steps you have to take to reach the finish. I’m going to clue you in on some steps so that you know what to expect after you type “The End” on your manuscript. I’m new to the Novel steps, but they are the same as those for a short story, just longer (and maybe harder).
Let it Rest
You have to let the story rest in your head for awhile. That is, you have to forget about it a little. If you finish the first draft and then start edits the next day, you’re bound to miss things because the ideas and words you typed are still fresh in your head.
How long is enough time? Well that is really up to you. I know fellow writers who wait months to touch a short story and years for a novel. I know others who can wait a week on a short story and two weeks on a novel. There is no right answer when it comes to time.
For my short stories, I post the first 13 lines (or the hook) in my writer’s group. I give them a week to ten days to share their thoughts and offer to read the story. After that I move to my second step. With this novel, I plan to wait until March to start the next step. I think it will be enough time for me. If not, I’ll give myself more time after the next novel.
You don’t need to forget the story as a whole. If you are like me that could be impossible. It’s just enough time to allow you to forget enough of the gritty details that you will see things like inconsistencies, grammar errors, missing words, POV errors, and other things.
Next, you will need to read your entire manuscript and self edit. Check for errors that don’t fit the story line. Maybe you typed a chapter thinking you’d go one direction and now it no longer belongs in the story. Perhaps another area needs more development to increase the story. Go though and edit all these things. If you find grammar errors, punctuation mistakes and typos fix those too, but that isn’t the main focus here. They point here is to begin to smooth out the story. Cutting out unneeded areas, and beefing up areas that need it. Once you are done with that, you’ve got a second draft.
Once you are done with that second draft you need some trial readers. You need someone who will give you HONEST thoughts on your story. This isn’t likely to be a family member or even a close friend. No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not those of a friend. Friends and Family are best left to read the final product, not your drafts.
This is where a writers group is very handy. You can get honest thoughts and critiques on your work from other trusted readers who also know a bit about the business. I’ve planned a blog post for later this month on critiques. Watch for it.
Now, you are likely to get responses at different times. One reader might be done in a week, the other might take two. Since you definitely need to have more then one trial reader, here in my suggestion: Don’t read any critiques or change anything until you get a response from all your trial readers. Otherwise you may change something one reader hated, but the other four readers loved. So save yourself the extra work and go through each critique after you have them all.
Self Edit: Part 2
Look at all these suggestions your trial readers gave you. Some of them you will find completely useless and you should ignore those. However, if all the readers point out the same trip up, you might want to fix it (even if you think it is fine the way it is). But remember, this your work not theirs. And only you know what is best.
You may really like a scene, but your readers have trouble with it. Rewrite it then, or cut it. That is up to you. But again, this isn’t about grammar and punctuation. You will be polishing this into a even better story. Soon, you will have something resembling a third draft.
Unless you made major story changes, it is time to move on to the final draft. I am a firm believer in four drafts and done (the done being the fourth). It keeps you out of the endless rewrite circle. I have a friend who is on their twelfth draft of a novel. As I have told that friend, that novel will not be published. They have become obsessed with making it perfect. It won’t happen.
Now, with my short stories my proofreader is my wife. She catches most, if not all, my typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation screw ups. And for a short story that is enough.
There are proofreading services out there. I haven’t use any, but I may use one when it come to my novel. I miss things, and a professional shouldn’t. Now, some people don’t feel comfortable with that. It is entirely a choice that is up to you. I see no reason to do it for short stories. But, my novel is 67,000 words. So after my wife reads it she may miss some things. If the rate is reasonable I will use one. Otherwise, I am an author that has no money. I won’t spend a lot on it.
However, no matter how you do your proof reading this is the time to go grammar cop. Fix all those little mistakes. Look for those rather then anything to do with the story. Fix them. Once they are fixed you have your forth draft and your completed manuscript.
You are done with your novel, right? Well not exactly. You want to see it published. That involves a lot more work. It is really a blog topic in itself. But you have already accomplished much more then the average person who sets out to write. You have a completed manuscript. Pat yourself on the back. Go get a snack, and then start working to get it published.